Why Fermented Foods for Wellness

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Finished raw milk kefir, ready for the fridge.

You may or may not have heard all the fuss about fermented foods. And you may or may not have starting fermenting at your house. But either way, it’s something which you may want to follow.

Why? Because unlike many of the health fads, fermenting is…well, not a fad. It’s been around from the beginning of time, not just to break down waste into compost, but to break down FOOD into more absorbable, nutritious, and tasty eats. In every culture, you have mums intentionally fermenting foods and feeding it to young and old alike. Some may not call it fermenting, or may not know a thing about lactic acid or good bacteria, but they are doing it none-the-less: kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, salami, pickles, kombucha, yogurt, cheese, wine, tamari, miso, tempeh, natto, sourdough.

So you probably HAVE heard of probiotics. Good bacteria, normally found in the gut of every living mammal, which keep the immune system healthy but not over-reacting, stabilize mood, keep us regular, create vitamins like folate and B12, speak to the brain in many chemical ways to keep us thinking clearly, and detoxify a lot of nasty stuff, including some of the pesticides and chemicals and heavy metals we eat (oops). This is not an exhaustive list. There’s a TON of research done on these good little microbes. Like, upwards of 29,000 studies come up on PubMed just by searching “lactobacillus.”

We know that:

You can buy probiotics in many different combinations of strains, quantities, and delivery methods. Which I have done regularly for over a decade, and I’m grateful for the availability of these specific strains (because sometimes, it’s good to troubleshoot with specifics). But, I’ve found the most help over the years by the foods that are packed with good bacteria, so I’m cranking up my ferments. Raw milk kefir is an every-week staple here, but this week I’m excited to try a watermelon juice, a Daikon radish ferment, and a Jun variety of kombucha.

I’m following a fermenting expert I’m lucky enough to know as a friend: Jane Casey of Jane Casey’s Kitchen. She’s amazing, fun, and has an amazing true story of twin sons who were profoundly autistic, but now aren’t. At all. Because of ferments.

I’m learning a ton (like: using ingestable essential oils to promote fermentation…wha??). Best tip of the week: use folded fresh grape leaves to keep the veggies all submerged (this is like the main rule of fermenting veggies: keep them under the brine so they don’t mold). I will keep you posted, because we have a special project coming for these classes, live and local.

Do you ferment? What’s on your counter now?

And for those who want to geek out with me, here are a few interesting studies on the benefits of probiotics which I stumbled across on PubMed. Not that the other 29,000 aren’t interesting too…

This study links good gut bacteria (L. Reuteri in this case), with immune regulation and folate metabolism. So all you MTHFR people (I’m one too) can go crazy about that. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27353144

This study notes the protective effect of friendly bacteria against bladder infections in pre-and-post-menopausal women (different strains are more effective for pre- or post- menopausal). http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27092529

Probiotics in critically ill children: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27081478

This study showed that stressed mice had changes to their gut microflora, specifically reduced L. Reuteri. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25028050

 

How To Make Ginger Kombucha

What is it? A fermented tea drink, sweet and with a kick (though non-alcoholic).

Why make it? Taste’s yummy, and it’s good for you. Here are some of the benefits:

  • full of probiotics: good bacteria and good yeasts
  • the amino acids created by the fermentation process help with liver/body detox
  • reported to prevent cancer in peoples from a polluted area of Russia where it was widely consumed (probably a result of the first 2 benefits)

How To Make Ginger Kombucha

Kombucha is made by fermenting sweet tea for several days or weeks. I have been making it off and on for about 2 years, and our favorite is Ginger Kombucha. My children love it; since it is strong I only give about 1/4 cup to them at a time.

Ingredients

1 Scoby with some starter Kombucha
3 qts. purified water
2 Tbs. organic black tea
1 cup organic sugar
candied ginger
Equipment

large stainless kettle
gallon size glass jar
cloth cover (tea towel or handkerchief)
rubber band
strainer
large knife
funnel
1 qt. glass bottles for bottling

 

Boil about 3 qts of water in the large kettle. Remove from the heat, and add 2 Tbs. black tea* (see note below) and 1 cup sugar.

Stir to dissolve the sugar. Allow to cool on the counter for several hours. If scalding tea is added to a scoby, it will kill the yeast.

Here is a scoby in finished Kombucha. You can see there are three pancake-like pieces (2 are floating sideways). The three can be separated to start three new batches. The newest one always forms on the top of the Kombucha.

When starting out, you will place 1 scoby and about a cup of Kombucha in a clean gallon glass jar, and then add the tepid sweetened tea to it. Use a strainer to catch the loose tea leaves.

Then place a clean towel over the jar, fasten with a rubber band. Leave on the kitchen counter, or another clean warm place, for 7-14 days. You can go longer if you like, but it will taste like vinegar. The warmer the room (or season), the faster the Kombucha will ferment, so begin to check it after 7 days. When it is fermented to your liking, it is ready to strain into bottles.

To flavor it with ginger, I chop up candied ginger to place in each bottle; just a few pieces for each bottle.

Chop it finely so that it doesn’t get stuck in the bottle after the Kombucha is gone and you want to wash the bottle.

Then put the ginger in the bottles.

 

Then pour or ladle the fermented Kombucha into the bottle; leave a few inches at the top. I use a funnel with a strainer piece fitted inside it.

Close the bottles of Kombucha, and leave them on the counter for 2 more days. This allows the Kombucha to continue fermenting the sugar in the candied ginger. Carbon will be formed and trapped in the sealed bottle, which will give the drink a nice bubble when it is opened. After 2 days, place the bottles in the refrigerator to halt the fermentation. Drink chilled, using a tea strainer to strain ginger pieces as you pour.

*Organic tea is preferred to conventional, as conventional often has aluminum residues from processing. Any black tea will work; English Breakfast and Oolong are both delicious varieties I have tried.

Although some people use green tea, I found that there wasn’t nearly enough flavor.

For this batch I used Hampstead Tea and Now Foods Ginger, which can both be ordered from iherb.com. If this is  your first order with iherb, use my coupon code: RON268 and receive $5 off your order.

You can order and scoby from Cultures For Health. Or, if you live near me (Portland area) email me and I’ll give you one!