So many of us had parents and grandparents that had a “science experiment” bubbling away in the pantry of fermented goodness. Our ancestors have been fermented foods for thousands of years to preserve the harvest and make their food last longer. However, the more research is done on these foods, the more we are discovering how healthy these foods are for us!
There are so many types of fermented foods, including:
- Kefir (dairy or water)
So why should you be eating fermented foods?
- Fermentation pre-digests the foods and makes the nutrients more available for you to absorb.
- This pre-digestion increases the absorptive doses of B-vitamins including thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin.
- Fermentation also decreases anti-nutrients that block your body’s ability to absorb vitamins and minerals.
- Most importantly, naturally fermented foods help to provide good bacteria for your gut. Your gut is often referred to as a second brain, so supporting this “gut-brain’s” health, will help support your brain’s health helping to improve anxiety, depression, and long-term memory.
- A healthy gut has also been shown to help support a healthy weight and proper digestion.
- Another bonus benefit from eating probiotic-rich foods is healthy skin. Your digestive tract’s health plays a part in how your skin looks and can help prevent acne.
Ideally, I recommend ¼- ½ cup of something fermented daily. I prefer this over supplementation most of the time because it is cheaper, tastier, and provides the food your probiotics need to eat (aka: pre-biotics) all in one package.
Many mass-produced pickles and sauerkraut have been pasteurized- killing good bacteria along with the potential for bad bacteria. When purchasing fermented foods, look for “raw” or “contains live bacteria” on the label. These will always be in the refrigerator section of the grocery store.
However, it is not difficult to make naturally fermented foods at home (and significantly cheaper). I have included one of my favorite pickle recipes below from Cultures for Health. Make sure to include the grape or other type of leaf to help keep your pickles crunchy.
- 5 Tbsp. sea salt
- 2 quarts chlorine-free water
- 4-6 grape, oak, horseradish, or bay leaves
- 6-9 cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 large heads of dill
- Spices to taste: black peppercorns, red pepper flakes, mustard seeds, etc. (Secret ingredient: for an extra bite, add a few strips of fresh horseradish to the spice mix!)
- Enough pickling cucumbers to fill a ½-gallon jar
- Make a brine by dissolving 5 tablespoons sea salt in 2 quarts of chlorine-free water. (Note: this recipe will possibly make more than what is needed, you may save extra brine to be used in future ferments.)
- In a half-gallon jar add a couple of the tannin-containing leaves, a few cloves of garlic, the heads of dill, and ⅓ of the spices.
- Pack half of the cucumbers tightly on top of the spices. (The longest ones work best at the bottom.)
- Repeat a layer of leaves, garlic, and spices. Add another tightly packed layer of cucumbers and top them off with more garlic and spices.
- Pour the brine over the pickles, leaving 1-2 inches of headspace. Place another tannin-containing leaf on top of the pickles as a cover between the pickles and the surface of the brine. Use a fermentation weight to keep the pickles under the liquid, if necessary. Cover the jar with a tight lid, airlock lid, or coffee filter secured with a rubber band.
- Ferment at room temperature (60-70°F is preferred) until desired flavor and texture are achieved. If using a tight lid, burp daily to release excess pressure. The brine should turn cloudy and bubbly, and the pickles should taste sour when done.
- Eat right away, or store in a refrigerator or root cellar for months and enjoy them all winter long.