Fermentaholic – A Look at Fermented Foods

How many ferments are too many? I say, there are never enough!!! If there were a way to ferment this post, I would do it. Currently I have 6 ferments going; water kefir, beet kvass, hard apple cider, two different sourdough starters and Sally Fallon‘s heavenly fermented raisin chutney. I do love me some fermentin’ and at times my kitchen counter looks like one big science experiment. It ain’t pretty, but it sure is fun. Fermenting and fermented foods have been around since humans. Well, technically it was happening before then, but controlled fermenting of foods and beverages didn’t begin until humans got involved. It is arguably the oldest form of food preservation there is. The benefits of fermented foods are widely debated among health practitioners, nutritionists and scientists. The biggest benefit is that it is an easy way to preserve fresh food for later consumption. It certainly was handy before we came up with a little thing called refrigeration.

I began my foray into fermenting at home shortly after joining a CSA. A large box of seasonal/fresh veggies each week for one or two people is a lot to get through and sometimes it requires some method of preservation so things can be eaten at a later time. Also there are veggies that are just kind of meh, and need improved flavor to get me excited about eating them. Sauerkraut it a perfect example of turning cabbage (meh), into enjoyable yumminess. I eat it very regularly and so does my three year old. Incidentally it is the only way I can get the kid to eat cabbage. The great thing about kraut is that the act of fermentation makes the nutrients in cabbage more bio available (fact), and much easier to digest (fact). If you eat cabbage this way, you will never again do the cabbage flatch. This is what I call the intestinal gas often times associated with consuming cabbage. I am embarrassed to add that I also do the dumb dance (the cabbage patch) when I let one rip after eating cabbage. And I wonder why my kid thinks farting is funny…

Let’s do a quick run down on the pros and cons of fermented foods. I will also note where things should be taken on with a fair amount of skepticism. Everyone makes up their own mind about things, and I will leave it up to you to do your due diligence and form your own educated opinion/theory.

First the PROS:

As in Probiotics (meaning pro life) to start with. Many studies have been done on beneficial bacteria in the gut. They promote good digestive health. They improve immune function. They even keep the bad bacteria in check. PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), have released several studies on gut bacterium across many different health related issues, including the reduction in diet related obesity. You should check out their website if interested. Plus it is fun to say… PNAS! PNAS! PNAS!

Fermenting foods also makes nutrients in foods more bio available to you. The act of fermentation breaks down the cellular walls of the food, thus making nutrients available for your body to absorb and use. Chewing food does the same thing, but on a much smaller scale. The macrobiotic diet espouses the benefits of chewing your food thoroughly for the same reason. Adding acids such as lemon juice, or vinegar to vegetable preparation is beneficial in doing the same thing, as well. I love having different options available to me, don’t you?

(put your skeptic hats on) Fermented foods have also been associated with panacean claims such as curing cancer, removing heavy metals from your system (detoxifying), curing autism, curing diabetes and the common cold, as well as many other claims. Folks, there simply isn’t any real data supporting these claims. Integrate these foods into your diet as complimentary to the treatments recommended by your doctor for these conditions.

Now the CONS:

A natural byproduct of fermentation is alcohol. The harmful effects of alcohol on your body are well documented and can be easily found by doing a google search. With that said, the amount of alcohol found in fermented foods is very minimal unless the ferment in question happens to be beer or wine (which both happen to have their own health benefits).

Fermented foods have a high salt content. Many fermented foods use salt to create an inhospitable environment for bad bacteria, such as botulism. This is not across the board for all fermented foods, just the ones that use salt. If you are in a position to watch your salt intake, you should probably avoid ferments that use a heavy amount of salt in the fermentation process.

(put your skeptic hats back on) Raw foodies love to bash fermented foods as being low in nutrition and hard on digestion, despite the fact that there are scientific studies that prove otherwise. Many cruciferous vegetables are just fiber unless an acid is introduced or fermentation has occurred. The body simply can’t break down the cellular structure of these foods to access all of the nutrients inside. While a raw piece of broccoli may have more nutrients in it, they don’t do your body much good if they can’t be accessed though normal digestion. You can’t taste the doughnut if it’s wrapped in plastic, so whats the point in sticking it in your mouth?

There is also concern with harmful bacterias in fermented foods causing health concerns. One needn’t look very far to see higher incidence of this in conventionally grown vegetables, factory farm meats and dairy, and even heavily processed/pasturized foods that line our grocery store shelves

There is a wealth of information out there if you are interested in learning more, just seek it out. Beware of ambiguous references to “Bulgarian studies” and the like. Spend your time collecting facts and data. The once you’re done, sit down with a nice glass of red wine, slap some lacto fermented raisin chutney onto a Raincoast Crisp smeared with goat cheese (another fermented food) and pontificate on how you feel. If you follow this specific recipe, I can assure you, you’ll feel pretty damn good!

Image by Skepclectic Mom

This is my chutney on it’s way to becoming splendid.

Image by Skepclectic Mom

My new bubbly sourdough starter!!! I love her already.













DISCLAIMER: The statements made here have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. These statements are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure or prevent any disease. This notice is required by the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.


About skepclectic

I am a forty something mother, living in Northern California. Here I will be sharing my adventures, misadventures, frolics and foibles with food, friendships, family and trying to raise children in a secular/humanist environment. Posts will run the gamut as far as subjects go, and nothing is off limits. I hope you find my posts amusing, informative and somewhat insightful.

Posted on May 21, 2013, in Fermented Foods, Fermenting, Food, Health, Healthy Eating and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. You mention, in one of your cons, the presence of alcohol in fermented foods. This would only be true for foods fermented by yeasts. Lacto fermented vegetables are the result of a process that uses lactic acid producing bacteria. These bacteria should eliminate yeasts and thus prohibit alcohol productions. Another point, I would like to mention, is that one should avoid using refined salt. A good, well balanced sea salt provides a balance of minerals to the end product that a refined salt can’t.

    • Correct on both counts. Thank you Ellis! To be fair, I am pro fermentation, and pro alcohol for that matter. I just wanted to address common arguments regarding fermented foods overall. It hard to cover everything and these are very important points.

  2. Nice post! Since you asked me, I’m leaving you a few comments on your post.

    1. Alcohol is an issue with fruit ferments – they can easily go to alcohol if attention to salinity, temperature and duration are not monitored carefully.

    2. Salt plays an important role in vegetable fermentation. Here is a more detailed post on salt from my blog: http://www.lisascounterculture.com/reviews-tips/stalk-your-salt/

    3. Vinegar – I don’t recommend using vinegar in lactofermented vegetables. Vinegar is the result of an acetic acid aerobic ferment and it throws off the proper balance of lactic acid bacteria trying to dominate during the initial stages of lactofermentation. I recommend lemon or lime juice instead.

    4. Lactofermented vegetables are the result of an anaerobic environment which means no air is entering into the container while it is fermenting. This is not possible with a standard mason jar so that is not a method that I use or that I teach others to use.

    Otherwise – love the post – I’m crazy happy to go on and on about fermenting – and I bet it would be fun to meet “for real” and exchange stories 🙂

    Lisa of Lisa’s Counter Culture

  3. Thanks Lisa, totally appreciate it! The only ferment I use vinegar in is beet kvass, and that is because I don’t like to use whey and the raw vinegar works as an inoculent. The vinegar I mentioned is just for cooking vegetables, not fermenting. I should have been more clear there. My point was that is requires acid or fermentation to break down the cellular structure so your body can actually access the nutrients inside.

    As far as anaerobic environment goes, I know this is a hot button for fermenters and people tend to really dig in on this topic. I understand both sides and only use mason jars because I do not have a pickle it or any other vessel to reproduce that type of environment, so I just plunge and push out gasses in my mason jar and have had no complications with that method.

    Lisa, I have had your “odd bits” class on my radar for a couple of years now, and for some reason it always falls on a day I can’t take it. BOO! June’s class happens to fall on the same day my hubs leaves town and my sitter is moving that weekend. Double BOO! One of these days the stars will align. I’d love to meet you and learn from a pro!

  4. Thanks Adrienne for your thoughtful response 🙂
    You could increase your salinity on the kvass and skip the vinegar -or use lemon juice instead – than you would get a true lactoferment. I also add ginger slices which add great flavor and helps to protect the ferment in the initial stages.

    I’m likely moving the Odd Bits workshop so stay tuned 🙂 I’m considering moving it to either one of the two following weekends. That’s a great class – one of my favorites – we get to all cook, eat and rank our favorites the whole time. A very hands on workshop.

  5. Hi Adrienne, I’m a distant relative of yours back east! Your father-in-law tipped me off about your blog and I’ve just enjoyed reading (so far) about fermentation – I love kimchi and have made that, and you’re inspiring me to do so again this summer, and maybe some pickles too. You sound like you know how to spot bad science, which really impresses me! I’ll be back soon to read more.

    • Hi Faith! John has sent me some of yours as well. I have seen some nice tributes to your family over the last few years. Thanks for checking in here. I hope you enjoy 🙂 Get on that delicious kimchi!!! Thats one of the only ferments John jr. will eat in this house. Yummy!

  6. I LOVE fermented foods and since the beginning of the year have been attempting to master kombucha fermentation! You blog is great, especially the ferment related ones. I found you via Love Apple Farms post on facebook. Thanks!

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