An unhealthy gut contributes to a plethora of maladies, and is often overlooked as a simple solution to a number of chronic problems like IBS, leaky gut, inflammation, eczema, acne, weight problems, fatigue, and more.
It’s important to pay attention to what is going on in the gut. Are you digesting properly? Are you bloated? Are you getting sick often? Keeping your gut’s “good bacteria” happy is a great way to arm yourself against both common and serious sickness and disorders.
Introducing more beneficial bacteria to your body can help rebalance and promote healthy intestinal flora. Making ferments a part of your daily diet may help to: (1)
Fermentation was originally acclaimed for its food-preserving capabilities without the need to dry, freeze, cure, or can. Fermentation breaks down raw food into more easily digested components, and preserves the food by inhibiting harmful bacteria growth, and also releases helpful and gut healing bacteria. Ferments are a good source of live Lactobacillus, one of the beneficial types of gut bacteria.
There is a lot of awesomely-heady science behind fermentation. As far as incorporating ferments into your daily Paleo diet, here is the simplified version.
Lacto-fermentation is the traditional process of fermenting fruits and veggies. It is likely that your ancestors made lacto-ferments to preserve their summer harvests for the cold and dark winters! The ‘lacto’ refers to lactobacillus, aka “friendly bacteria” or “the good guys.”
There is beneficial bacteria present in the air, on your skin, and also on the skin of fruits and vegetables. This bacteria feeds on the naturally occurring sugars and starches of the fruit or vegetable that you are fermenting, encouraging the growth of more beneficial bacteria which in turn metabolizes the sugars and creates a brine of sorts, which is lactic acid.
The lactic acid produces an anaerobic and acidic environment, in which probiotics can thrive. Keeping your item submerged beneath this beneficial brine is important since oxygen exposure to your ferment risks pathogenic bacteria, or the bad type. Additionally, stray mold spores getting in and disrupting all the work that your “good bugs” are up to can contaminate and ruin your ferment.
Lacto-fermentation produces lactic acid which can only be created in an anaerobic environment, one that lacks oxygen entirely. Krauts, pickles, kimchi, chutneys, and other fruits and veggies that you can ferment at home will rely on this anaerobic environment.
Aerobic fermentation is when oxygen is present. Ferments like beer, wine, apple cider vinegar, and kombucha are exposed to oxygen in the beginning stages to develop flavor and to create the proper pH levels. The sugars present are converted into ethyl-alcohol in the case of these tasty beverages.
Ferments are spontaneous by nature. So you will be hard pressed to find big business lines of food ferments, like yogurts, pickles, and krauts that actually have active probiotics. Large scale production of many food stuffs rely on consistency and sterilization. The art of fermentation is a far cry from these large-scale protocols.
If the container of your favorite store-bought fermented food uses tricky language, like “MADE with live and active cultures,” that doesn’t mean that it still contains those after processing is done. All fermentation—commercial or homemade—starts out with live and active cultures. Commercial, big-batch lines treat with heat for a longer shelf life and consistency of product, thus killing any live cultures that were once present.
Some storebought ferments are possible thanks to small batch producers that continue to use the lacto-fermentation methods. These items are usually found in health food stores in the refrigerated section and expressly say “contains live and active cultures.” It may even state that they do not use high heat to pasteurize their products, thus leaving the gut-healing properties intact. Small batch is best!
Most pickles you see on the shelf at your supermarket are stored in vinegar and are not fermented. Vinegar is a tasty way to pickle but definitely lacks any enzymatic or probiotic benefits.
Traditionally fermented pickles, also called sour pickles, are fermented by using a simple solution of unrefined sea salt and clean chlorine-free water. Lactobacilli is present on the outside of the cucumbers and creates lactic acid which then pickles the product.
Perhaps you take a probiotic supplement, or you have found your favorite line of small-batch local kraut teeming with live and active cultures, but the best way to get fermented foods into your life is to make them yourself! Here are some tips for home-fermentation, and my favorite, very simple, recipes!
Do not be discouraged if something doesn’t go perfectly the first time. Fermentation is a spontaneous practice. Environmental conditions, contaminants, and the bad bacteria can and do happen from time to time. The more you ferment on your own, the more you will learn and can tweak your recipes, whether it’s the amount of salt you use for taste or tweaking the amount of time you leave your jar to ferment. Hint: it happens faster in warmer and humid months, but requires more time in the colder, damper months.
A tinge of green or clear liquid floating to the top of your ferment is a natural separation of liquid and is harmless, go ahead and stir it in and enjoy. If your item has a smell beyond a touch of sulphur or is slimy and heavily molded with colorful reds, brown, and black, toss it out. The air got in there somewhere in the process and disrupted the anaerobic environment. Keep on trying and tweaking, because once you get the hang of it, fermenting is fun!
When fermenting, always use high quality and uniodized sea salt and unchlorinated, clean or distilled water.
Using official fermenting crocks, lids, weights, and airlocks is much more foolproof than attempting the first time with random jars. You can ferment in a variety of homemade vessels fitted with homemade lids and the like, but if you are new to fermenting, getting the official gear is a great way to get started. It will also help you get more comfortable with the process before you get creative with your fermenting vessels.
If you are using homemade fermenting vessels, like mason jars, be careful to sterilize first and also to ‘burp’ them often to release the pressure built up from the fermentation process.
You can taste your ferments as you go to get an idea of where they are in the process, but know that the more you open and expose your ferment to oxygen, the more at risk it is to developing bad bacteria. Use clean utensils to taste, and always clean utensils or hands to press and pack down your fruits and veggies below the brine.
If there is not enough “brine” being created from the massaging process, make your own brine of one part salt to four parts water. It is important that your ferments are always submerged beneath the brine while fermenting so that they don’t develop bad bacteria with exposure to air.
If your final product is too salty for your taste buds, add a few tablespoons of water. Do not rinse, since that will also rinse away the good bacteria that you so carefully crafted.
Chilling your cucumbers, cauliflower, carrots, berries, etc. in an ice water bath before you start to ferment helps to perk them up! A 20 minute ice bath will help the items maintain a good texture by the end of the fermentation process and improve their taste, especially for people who are sensitive to food textures.
You can eat your ferments on their own, but you can also use your ferments as a condiment. Add them to the top of eggs, salads, incorporate into collard wraps, and use as a side dish with steak, chicken, and fish! If you’re new to eating fermented foods, easing in and getting creative with how to use them will make them easy to eat.
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