For years, I struggled with a myriad of unidentifiable health issues. I saw doctor after doctor, and they ran test after test. I always came back with picture perfect health. So, why did I feel so crummy? Why was my immune system so compromised that when everyone else got sick in my home, they recovered easily, while I would find myself fighting for months on end, and returning to the doctor over and over for more prescriptions.
And then one day, I came to realize that my diet was playing a huge role in the big picture. Let me first start by saying, I do not support fad diets. Not a single one of them. They come, and they go, but they all have one thing in common, they are fads.
I do, however, think that our creator had it right. I think that ancient food traditions and whole foods are where the answers lie. I think that to find our health, we need to step back in time, and look how people ate before we had the technology to mass produce and alter our food source. To that end, I find that ancient food traditions are the one “diet” that doesn’t fade with time. It remains nutritious, it remains wholesome, and through all the years, it is the one “diet” that holds its own. And for good reason. It is wholesome, nutritious, and well balanced. I could list a dozen ways in which a diet consisting of whole foods is better for us on every level of our existence, but that is for another time. Today, I want to talk about just one aspect of ancient food traditions. Fermentation.
Why fermentation? Because our health starts in our guts. If our digestive organs are not functioning properly, none of our body will be at its prime function. We need to be able to properly digest, absorb, and eliminate the respective aspects of our nutrition properly. If any of those factors are missing, then we will surely experience some physical ailments in response. Our bodies were designed to have healthy flora functioning inside of them, and the way we have streamlined and created a processed food system, we have greatly depleted many of those necessary cultures from our diets. Lacto-Fermented foods have a huge array of health benefits and have even been known to help ease symptoms of some auto-immune and neurological disorders. I know one family that swears on Lacto-Fermented foods for their severely autistic child, and serves them at every meal. They were passionate about the many ways it has changed her life.
Lacto-Fermentation is the process of fermenting foods. Lactic acid, created in the process of breaking down sugars, destroys and inhibits the bad bacteria, while promoting the growth of wonderful organisms called Lactobacilli. These Lactobacilli have all kinds of wonderful properties. They contain anticarcinogenic and antibiotic properties. They increase vitamin levels and digestibility. Lactic Acid is the main by-product that Lactobacilli produce, and it maintains healthy flora throughout the intestines, and preserves fruit and vegetables perfectly. I First learned about all of this when I was gifted a copy of “Nourishing Traditions” by Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig, PH.D. If you are even the least bit interested in learning about traditional food systems, then I highly recommend this book as a comprehensive guide to get you started. It can be found on the website linked in the title or on Amazon. In the meantime, you can get started on your adventures by just checking out Sally Fallon Morell’s website.
Another source I really like is Weston A. Price Foundation. Here you will find a wealth of information and resources to look at fermentation or other ancient food traditions more closely.
Before we had all this helpful technology, there had to be a way to preserve food. Fermentation dates back to at least 6000 B.C. and has continued to permeate every culture since that time. With our fast paced, instant gratification lifestyles, we no longer consume all of these wonderful ferments that have so many amazing health benefits.
Ferments are things that you have heard of. Things like pickles and sauerkraut were originally made by fermentation. Vinegar can be made by fermentation, but is often times commercially manufactured by mixing acetic acid and water. The vinegar containing acetic acid and water is much more acidic, and thus preferred in home canning, so one can be certain of acidity levels. Raw Apple Cider Vinegar that contains the “mother” is an example of fermented vinegar. Maybe you have tried Kimchi or Kombucha. Most commercial things, like pickles and sauerkraut, are no longer made by fermentation, and instead, a non fermented vinegar is used to replace that sour, tangy flavor. Thankfully, fermentation is easy to do at home.
I personally prefer to use a fermentation kit in my fermentation. But, that is completely a matter of preference. There are many styles available on Amazon. Ferments will create a whitish “scum” on top of them, that needs to be scraped off every day. It is a harmless substance of yeast/fungus. It means everything is working the way it should. I, however, have an aversion to the idea of skimming scum off of my food, even if it is harmless, and possibly even good for me. I am probably just spoiled, but I am working on it. In the meantime, I use fermentation kits that have become quite popular. I use the style that come with an airlock, because that is what was available when I first started fermenting, but there are some really great new options out there that do not require an airlock. I personally use plastic fermentation lids, because I am apprehensive about how metal lids would hold up, but a quick web search should provide many options to choose from, and these days, they are fairly inexpensive. I use half gallon mason jars most of the time, unless I have a small quantity. If you are using fermentation lids, you will just want to be sure you have wide mouth jars on hand. The other critical item is a weight, to hold your vegetables down in the brine. Any that float on top of the brine can potentially mold and spoil the whole batch. I found I prefer a zip lock style baggie filled with water or small glass marbles. Airlocks are not necessary. A piece of cheesecloth and a rubber band or string tied around to hold it on can be sufficient for a jar, and if you choose a crock, then a plate with weight on it to hold it down also makes a suitable “cover”. In these instances, you will want to watch for the white “scum” and skim it off as it forms.
To begin, you will need your jar or crock, your produce, and Brine, which is made from Sea Salt and water most of the time. There are some exceptions, for example, cabbage will make its own brine when you add salt and crush it up a bit. There is no brine, or salt in yogurt, but you do need a good starter culture (I used Fage unsweetened 5% milkfat, because my husband loves a thick, rich yogurt). You only need to buy a starter culture once, After that, you can just use a culture from the yogurt you have made. Yogurt is a separate topic, that deserves a post of its own. It is not made with the same process that lacto-fermented vegetables are.
Sometimes a recipe will call for whey. Whey is loaded with calcium and protein. It can be purchased, but is unnecessary if you have any cultured cream products around the home. It is the clear, watery stuff on your yogurt and sour cream. Many people will use whey from yogurt, but the flavor of the yogurt will affect the flavor of your ferment, so you want to be sure to have a good tasting culture to borrow from. There are commercially available cultures produced specifically for fermentation and yogurt making, but I have never tried any of them, so cannot advise. What I can say though, is that people were fermenting foods long before there were cultures commercially available.
One of my all time favorite recipes comes from this book by Kirsten K. Shockey and Christopher Shockey, titled “Fermented Vegetables“. I absolutely love the Garlic Dill Slices recipe. I get rave reviews from everyone who tries them, and they don’t last long around here at all.
The list of produce that can be fermented is long and extensive. If you have been thinking about jumping in to fermentation, I urge you to take the plunge. What is your favorite vegetable? Perhaps Beets? Dilly Beans? Maybe some good old dill pickles, or a beginners favorite, simple Sauerkraut. Just pick something and jump in.