You know the phrase “sick to my stomach”? There’s more truth to that than you may think!
Researchers estimate that up to 85% of our body’s immune response is attributed to our digestive system. More than five hundred species of bacteria live in our gut, referred to as “gut flora”. In fact, the amount of bacteria in our gut out-numbers the body’s cell count by ten times.
Though we’ve just begun to discover the intricate relationship between our bodies and bacteria, it’s known that these creatures play essential roles in homeostasis. Friendly bacteria are responsible for things such as nutrient absorption, mucosal barrier function, upkeep of lymphoid tissue, and optimal functioning of our immune system.
To keep our flora friends happy, the pathogenic bacteria must be starved and replaced with probiotic bacteria. Pathogenic bacteria feed on refined carbohydrates, so the first step to overall health is cutting back on sugars and heavily processed food. Probiotics—the “friendly flora”—are live microorganisms that provide many powerful benefits to your body. Probiotic bacteria creates a protective layer on the small intestine’s inner lining, helping to inhibit harmful pathogens from growing and making us ill.
While you can certainly get probiotics from supplements, who wants to miss out on an excuse to snack on something delicious?! Let’s explore the delectable world of fermented foods!
What is Fermentation?
The process of fermentation was originally utilized to extend the shelf-life of foods. Lacto-fermentation uses microorganisms to produce lactic acid, a bio-preservatives that allow food to retain its nutrients while preventing spoilage. Lactic acid reduces pH levels, thereby inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria. Lacto-fermentation also creates B vitamins, folic acid, riboflavin, niacin and thiamine, and improves the digestibility and amounts of certain essential nutrients.
Common fermented foods available at most grocery stores include:
- Apple cider vinegar
While it’s thrilling that these foods are lately more accessible in stores, fermenting food at home is beneficial for your body and your bank account. All it takes is a little bit of patience and, of course, bacteria!
You can lacto-ferment pretty much any produce, as the traditional technique utilizes bacteria already living on its surface. Carrots, radishes, peaches, cauliflower, peppers and—of course—cucumbers are all common choices, though you can get infinitely creative. (Hint: Watermelon rinds become delicious when fermented!)
If you have anything already fermented in your fridge, then you have a starter culture and are on your way to creating your own fermented food! Every starter culture has it’s own unique microorganisms that will lend themselves to the fermentation process. Foods such as yogurt and kefir emphasize the bacterial side of the organism set while kombucha is rich in both bacteria and yeast.
Simple Sauerkraut Recipe
Traditionally, sauerkraut relies only on cabbage and salt. Through time and the work of beneficial bacteria, it creates a tasty condiment or side dish. Sauerkraut is a staple in colder months, pairing beautifully with hearty stews or as a crunchy, tangy snack.
2 medium organic cabbage heads
2 tablespoons finely ground sea salt
- Pour boiling water into a wide-mouthed Mason jar to kill off any potential lingering bacteria.
- Don’t wash the cabbage! The natural healthy bacteria that lives on the leaves is necessary for the fermentation process.
- Cut cabbage into quarters, leaving the root-end attached so it’s easier to chop or shred. Discard the outermost layer. Slice into ribbons of your desired size.
- Add the cabbage to a large mixing bowl and cover with salt.
- Wash your hands! Then massage the salt into the cabbage for about 30 seconds. You’ll see liquid released.
- Let it sit for about 3-5 minutes; the salt will draw more liquid from the cabbage.
- Massage again another 30 seconds. It should be very liquid-y! The liquid is your fermenting brine.
- Add the cabbage and all of the brine to your jar. Use a clean wooden spoon to push down the cabbage in to the brining liquid. (It may take up to four hours for enough liquid to extract and cover it. After, it needs to remain fully submerged.)
- Cover the jar with a breathable, clean cloth and use a rubber band to secure it.
- Let it sit at room temperature for up to a week. The longer it sits unrefrigerated, tangier it will get. Within 24 hours you’ll see little bubbles—that’s the lacto-fermentation!
- After it’s as tangy as you like it, cover with a sealing lid and store it in the refrigerator.
Once you eat all your kraut, the leftover brine is packed with probiotics! Whisk it with some olive oil for a tasty salad dressing.
Fascinated by Fermentation? Become a Probiotic Pro!
Southwest Institute of Healing Arts’ Holistic Nutrition program will teach you all of the basics of an organic and unprocessed diet. Additionally, you will learn food preservation techniques including fermenting, pickling, and canning, and learn to market and sell your preserved foods!
Join SWIHA’s Holistic Nutrition instructors, Janet Lee, Dee McCaffrey, and Elise Rathke on Facebook Live for a Holistic Nutrition Holiday Lunch and Learn on November 1st! Learn how to enjoy the holidays with healthy choices that address us physically and emotionally, and ask your questions about SWIHA’s Holistic Nutrition program, online & on campus!