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!
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.
If your childhood was anything like mine, you also developed a healthy dislike for this much maligned root vegetable. For me, the road to loving beets has been a long one. My first exposure to them was less than positive. My mother used to serve these earthen tasting dark red disks directly from the can. They weren’t quite firm, but they weren’t quite soft either and they tasted like the bottom of a shoe. I protested loudly each time they appeared on my dinner plate. Just to prove my point I resorted to pushing them onto the floor and letting everyone see for themselves that even the dog wouldn’t eat them. For future reference to anybody considering this mode of communication using visual aids, I want you to know that the outcome was not good. If I remember correctly I went to bed early and with a sore bottom that evening.
Since I joined a CSA program about 15 years ago, beets were re-introduced to my life. I spent the first several years pretending like they didn’t really exist; often times giving them away, or leaving them in my refrigerator only to be found months later in a shriveled, moldy heap in the bottom of the crisper. About 10 years ago I decided that I would no longer waste these nutritious earth apples, and find a way to make them palatable. My first attempt was Beet Brownies. Looking back I am not sure what my motivation was here, because I don’t even like brownies! Maybe I was testing the math rule of two negatives make a positive, but I don’t even like math! Before the math geeks start to send hate mail, let me say this… I understand that math is necessary and all of the wonderful things that exist today, exist because of it, but math and I just don’t see eye to π. With that said, the brownie experiment was a huge fail.
My second attempt happened after I bought my first juicer. This was a HUGE success, as I could pretty much slip beets into all of my juice concoctions and enjoy it. I could have stopped there, but I didn’t. I went on to roasting them and eating them with a little bit of goat cheese and some vinegarette; sometimes on top of a salad made with beet greens, sometimes not, but I found that even this was too limiting for my tastes. I needed more options.
Shortly after I discovered the world of fermented foods through books like “Nourishing Traditions” by Sally Fallon and “Wild Fermentation” by Sandor Katz, and added Beet Kvass to the list. This became my preferred method of consuming beets and will likely remain so. Beet Kvass is considered a cleansing tonic by many people. Being a skeptic doesn’t allow me to subscribe to this idea, but what I can suscribe to is this; it is packed with vitamins and gives me energy and that’s enough of an endorsement for me. If you haven’t tried Beet Kvass, I highly recommend that you do and you can see for yourself. Please do read up on it before jumping straight in to drinking two glasses daily, as there are some who report varying ill effects associated with too much too soon. I myself never had any problems and started with two glasses a day out of the gate. Now I look forward to getting beets in my CSA box, and have been known to buy them at the farmers market, just so I can make a batch of Kvass to drink. I have been experimenting using raw apple cider vinegar instead of whey to inoculate my kvass, but haven’t quite perfected the recipe. When I do, I will post it. Until then enjoy a few other recipes I like to prepare when I have these sweet little beauties available to me. They can’t be BEET!
Pickled Beets, enjoy alone, or on top of salads and sandwiches.
Beet Pickled Eggs, these are tasty all by themselves, as well as on salads, or a yummy twist on egg salad.