Let’s define fermentation. What is it?
What is Fermentation?
People have been fermenting since the beginning of time. It was a way of preserving food before refrigeration. To define fermentation simply, it is the process in which yeasts and bacteria consume sugars and converting foods to be more digestible. Yes, it is pre-chewed for us!
My hero, Sandor Katz, defines fermentation as the intended “transformative action of micro-organisms.” The transformative aspect of foods can be good or bad. That’s where the intention comes into play. We get to control the environment in which the transformation is for the better.
Fermentation is what makes effervescent bubbly drinks like kombucha tea and water kefir. You can ditch your soda habit with these in your arsenal. Plus, fermentation is what gives sauerkraut that distinctive sour note.
There are good bacteria already on all the fruits and vegetables that we eat. Salt helps the beneficial bacteria to thrive. By creating the right environment, we turn those good bugs into super hero bugs (that is how I explained it to my son’s kindergarten class when I taught them how to make sauerkraut).
That, my friends, is the difference between rotten food and fermented foods…or rotten people vs cultured people. 😉
Health Benefits of Fermented Foods
The process of fermentation makes foods more bioavailable to our bodies. It is more digestible.
Plus, it is full of natural digestive enzymes, lactic acid, b-vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids.
- Helps to Reverse autoimmune diseases:Our body is like a Swiss clock. If any part is broken, it’ll lead to a host of other symptoms. Healing our gut with real whole foods will aid in reversal of many diseases. My friend Astrid from Heal Me in the Kitchen is in remission from Ulcerative Colitis and Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Fermented foods are a huge part of her diet.
- Helps with cold and flu symptoms: Even if you have the cold or flu, load up on fermented foods. I have not used conventional over-the-counter cold medications in years. What I use will vary, but it’s usually honey fermented ginger, honey fermented garlic, sauerkraut, and fire cider. Fire cider in itself it not a ferment, but an infusion. I do make the vinegar so I’m going to count it!
- Weight loss: Fermented foods curbs sugar cravings and helps with weight loss. I never thought I was “fat.” We took going-home family photos at the hospital after having our children. My face and body was drastically more chubby in the first photo with my first child. With my third baby, I looked just like I did before I got pregnant. Pictures here and here if you want to see.
Why should I eat fermented foods?
- Probiotics: The process of fermentation makes your food probiotic and will aid your body with better digestion leading to better gut health.
- Saves Money: Ditch the bottled probiotics. There are more probiotics in a teaspoon of sauerkraut than in a whole bottle of store bought probiotics. All you are really buying are cabbage and salt. You can even splurge on organic cabbage and the fancy sea salt.
- Food preservation: Fermentation will preserve your food for years. Before canning, this was how our ancestors preserved their summer harvests. Instead of vinegar pickles, try fermented pickles instead. Both will have the same taste but you’ll be eating a live food with the fermented pickles.
Will I die if I eat my own fermented foods?
One of the biggest fears that people have about making their own fermented foods is that they are afraid of making themselves or loved ones sick.
That, indeed, is a legitimate concern. That is the same as possibly eating undercooked meat or eating spoiled leftovers. But with fermented foods, it is more straightforward. My general guideline is if there is no mold, and you still like the taste, you’re good to go. Fermented foods stay good for years. The taste may be off, but if there is no mold, it is perfectly fine to eat.
But I’m allergic to dairy. Do I need whey?
No Whey! Don’t confuse lacto-fermentation with lactose. It simply refers to the lactic acid and has nothing to do with dairy. Many recipes on the web will use whey as a starter. I am in the school of thought of No Whey Jose! If I have it (I won’t anymore since my last born is allergic), I will find uses for it. But I will not go out of my way to put whey in my vegetable ferments especially. All you need are salt and vegetables. It doesn’t make sense to add dairy to vegetables. It would make a vegetable ferment quicker but I’d rather go the traditional way.
What are the best fermented foods? List is based off of the ease of making it since all fermented foods are great!
- Milk Kefir – Oftentimes, referred to as a yogurt drink, milk kefir has a much higher probiotic profile than yogurt. If you can tolerate dairy, this is a good choice. Though, you can also make non-dairy milk kefir but if you are allergic, it is hard to find non-dairy sources. If you can tolerate a minute amount, use the dairy milk kefir culture (called grains bc of its appearance) to ferment non-dairy milk. It is easy to make and ferments in just 1 to 2 days.
- Sauerkraut – Easy to make with just two ingredients and full of probiotics. It takes 3 to 10 weeks to ferment.
- Water Kefir– Another fast and easy ferment that will have you kicking soda to the curb. Bottle it up with flavors of your choice and you will have a bubbly drink just like soda.
- Kombucha– Well, this is kind of on the border. It’s easy’ish. Lol. Kombucha tea is made with a culture called a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of yeasts and bacteria). It does not have probiotics but do have beneficial yeasts. Most commercial brands add in probiotics to their drinks so they can make the claim on the bottle. You need some time to get to know your “mother” and how she behaves. 😉
Where to Buy Fermented Foods?
Homemade is always best as you get the best quality with a lower price. But there are times when life gets in the way. Fermented foods are having a resurgence in popularity thanks to Sandor Katz and can be found in most grocery stores. Even Costco sells sauerkraut and kombucha these days.
Always buy items that are stored in the refrigerated section instead of the store aisles. That can of sauerkraut in the pickled section of the grocery store is deader than dead and has no probiotic value. Look for words like “raw” and “unpasteurized” on the label.
Fermentation is Great. Now what?
I hope I’ve been able to help you understand and clearly define what fermentation is.
In the coming days, I will make a series of videos with all my favorite recipes and more. As I am a rebel, I will show you how to ferment my way.
What would you like to learn to make? Let me know in the comments below.