Why not make your own fermented food to reap microbial benefits?


It seems like not a day goes by without hearing of the health benefits of healthy bacteria. But as is often the case, we look to quick fixes for a healthy microbiome (that collection of trillions of bacteria in your gut). Many turn to a probiotic supplement, perhaps, or a probiotic yogurt and bam, your microbiome is taken care of.

But not so fast.

Research is showing that different bacteria are responsible for some of the amazing advantages of a healthy gut – from head to toe, whether it be perks for your immune system, blood sugar and blood pressure regulation, emotional health and even weight management.

At the same time, studies are demonstrating that the diversity of gut bacteria strains is decreasing with each generation. So don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

You can start diversifying your sources of beneficial bacteria by adding fermented foods such as miso, sauerkraut, , kimchee, and tempeh (fermented soybeans) which are all great choices available commercially (but only contain these bacteria if they’re not pasteurized. Look for them in the refrigerator section if the store as those on store shelves have been pasteurized).

But at this time of year with so much local produce available, why not make your own? And you don’t have to stick to the standard offerings. You can ferment all kinds of produce besides cabbage. Go for onions, carrots and more. By making your own, besides feeding your gut, you can also decrease your food waste. I’ve made preserved lemons when I had a batch of them that I had not used for what I had planned.

Many people are now getting back to fermentation which was an age old practice used to preserve foods. Sandor Katz, author of “Wild Fermentation” and a.k.a. Sandorkraut, points out that in the past, fermentation was the only way for many populations to eat these foods during the winter. While the global food supply and modern technology has changed what’s available in the winter, our microbiome may be paying a partial price (as fruits and vegetables all benefit our microbiome).

Here are some tips from Sandor Katz about making your own fermented food. He suggested tasting after just a couple of days and at regular intervals to discover what you prefer – if it’s just a mild kraut that has been lightly fermented for just a few days or a stronger stronger, more acidic flavor that develops over weeks or months. In addition, a lightly fermented product is more crunchy than a longer fermented one. To stop the fermentation, simply put your jar (s) into the fridge.

Katz also points out that if, while you are fermenting vegetables, you encounter surface growth of yeasts and/or molds, remove as much of it as you can, along with any discolored or soft kraut from the top layer, and discard. The fermented vegetables beneath will generally look, smell, and taste fine. The surface growth can break up as you remove it, making it impossible to remove all of it but it’s not a concern.

Another reason to make your own is that you can use less salt than may be found in commercial products. Large amounts used to be required as traditionally they were kept without refrigeration. Nowadays, we don’t need to use as much salt.

Low Salt Sauerkraut

This method of making sauerkraut, from Sandor Katz, is also referred to as dry-salting, because typically no water is added and the juice under which the vegetables are submerged comes from the vegetables themselves. The timeframe for enjoying it is anywhere from 3 days to 3 months (and beyond). Katz recommends using a 1-quart/1-liter wide-mouth jar, or a larger jar or crock and suggests seasonings as desired, such as caraway seeds, juniper berries, dill, chili peppers, ginger, turmeric, dried cranberries, or whatever you can conjure in your imagination. He also suggests using non-iodized salt as it can delay fermentation.

Ingredients (for 1 quart/1 liter):
2 pounds/1 kilogram of vegetables, any varieties of cabbage alone or in combination, or at least half cabbage and the remainder any combination of radishes, turnips, carrots, beets, kohlrabi, Jerusalem artichokes, onions, shallots, leeks, garlic, greens, peppers, or other vegetables
1-2 tsp (5 -10 mL) salt (or less)

Prepare the vegetables: Remove the outer leaves of the cabbage and reserve. Scrub the root vegetables but do not peel. Chop or grate all vegetables into a bowl. (The purpose of this is to expose surface area in order to pull water out of the vegetables, so that they can be submerged under their own juices. The finer the veggies are shredded, the easier it is to get juices out, but fineness or coarseness can vary with excellent results.)

Salt and season: Salt the vegetables lightly and add seasonings as you chop. Sauerkraut does not require heavy salting. Taste after the next step and add more salt or seasonings, if desired. It is always easier to add salt than to remove it.

Squeeze the salted vegetables with your hands for a few minutes (or pound with a blunt tool). (This bruises the vegetables, breaking down cell walls and enabling them to release their juices.) Squeeze until you can pick up a handful and when you squeeze, juice releases (as from a wet sponge).

Pack the salted and squeezed vegetables into your jar. Press the vegetables down with force, using your fingers or a blunt tool, so that air pockets are expelled and juice rises up and over the vegetables. Fill the jar not quite all the way to the top, leaving a little space for expansion. The vegetables have a tendency to float to the top of the brine, so it’s best to keep them pressed down, using one of the cabbage’s outer leaves, folded to fit inside the jar, or a carved chunk of a root vegetable, or a small glass or ceramic insert. Screw the top on the jar.

Wait: Be aware that fermentation produces carbon dioxide, so pressure will build up in the jar and needs to be released daily, especially the first few days when fermentation will be most vigorous. Be sure to loosen the top to relieve pressure each day for the first few days. Make sure vegetables are fully submerged and add a very little bit of water if necessary.

Makes about 2 quarts/ litres

Nutritional breakdown per cup serving when made with cabbage and 1 tsp/ 5 mL salt:
6.6 g carbohydrate, 1.5 g protein, 0 g total fat, 0 g saturated fat, 2.8 g fibre, 250 mg sodium, 28 calories

Recipe © Sandor Katz 2016

Here’s another beauty from Chef Catherine Brown. Check out her website A Seat at My Table for fabulous looking eats that will tempt even those who are not health-minded.  Here’s the link for these delicious  Lacto-Fermented Spicy Carrots  pictured above!




Tags: , , , , ,

Categories: Recipes, Tips and Tricks, Uncategorized

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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