Published Tuesday, August 14th, 2012
by Alex Ortner
Just a couple weeks ago, I took a look at how to separate quality probiotics from “the other stuff” – those oversweetened, under-researched “probiotic” foods that are flooding the market claiming to help you with your digestion. The basic conclusion was this – most of what passes as probiotic in your grocery these days barely makes the grade and has minimal effect on your digestion and overall health.
Hopefully you used the tips in that article to make sure you’re buying the right kind of probiotics for your family. Today, I want to take you one step further, showing you how ridiculously simple it is to make your own probiotic–rich foods at home. The result will be a boatload of saved money and some tasty new treats to stock your fridge with.
The Magic of Fermentation
Although probiotics may be the latest health food fad, there’s nothing new about them at all. For centuries, people around the world have been crafting fermented foods for their wondrous probiotic properties that yield a whole host of health benefits. From Africa to China, these foods have been praised for their ability to stop diarrhea, prevent infectious disease, and generally promote good health. Whether it was the yogurt of ancient India and Persia, or kombucha, the first record of which appears in China some 2000 years ago, these foods have always been simple, homemade dishes that were meant to be a regular part of the diet in order to stave off disease.
If They Could Do It, Why Can’t We?
These ancient people didn’t have pharmacies or health food stores to go to, and while you may think you’re too busy to prepare probiotic dishes, you’re probably flat-out wrong about that. In fact, the hardest part about fermenting your own foods may be the waiting period necessary while your foods slowly come to life with the marvelous strains of bacteria your digestive system is so fond of.
If you’re a newcomer to home ferments, then I like to recommend the beginner’s recipe over at Body Ecology. Quick and simple, this recipe produces a dish very close to sauerkraut that will be exponentially better for you than that stuff you get at the hot dog stand. To get things rolling, you’ll need a few simple ingredients and tools.
· 3 heads of shredded cabbage
· 1 bunch of chopped kale
· 2 cups of wakame seaweed
· 1 Tablespoon of dill seed
1. Thoroughly wash and clean every surface and kitchen tool you’re going to use, first with soap and water and secondly with white vinegar. You want to be sure there aren’t any traces of food or bacteria which will spoil your ferment.
2. Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl
3. Remove a few cups of this mixture and blend them with enough filtered water to make a thick brine. Add this mixture back to the other vegetables in your bowl and mix it all up.
4. Pack this all very tightly into a 1.5 quart glass or stainless steel container. Leave about 2 inches of space at the top of the container as your veggies will expand once they begin fermenting.
5. Fill that 2 inch space with tightly rolled cabbage leaves and then seal your lid on tightly.
6. Let this container sit in a 70 degree room for anywhere from 3 to 7 days, at which point you can begin eating it and storing it in the fridge.
You will definitely be surprised at how quickly you’re able to prepare this dish, and probably even more surprised when you come to the realization that this preparation contains many – if not more – of the same strains of bacteria you’ll find in the probiotic yogurts that are littering your supermarket shelves these days. Pat yourself on the back – you just made your own probiotics!
What’s happening under the lid
During the fermenting period, lactic acid is released from the food, killing off the “bad” bacteria that would ordinarily cause your food to turn rotten. Slowly, beneficial bacteria and enzymes emerge which increase the digestibility of your food, and in turn, helps restore these wonderful “missing links” to your gut which may have been harmed by a diet rich in processed or packaged foods.
Mind you, this is just the tip of the iceberg – there are dozens, if not hundreds of fermented recipes from around the world which bring your food to life with beneficial, probiotic bacteria. The key is to understand what’s at work when you ferment your foods so you can begin experimenting with recipes of your own.
In addition to starting your own ferment from scratch, you can also buy a culture starter kit package which can be added to your brine to ensure that you’re getting a whopping dose of the bacteria strains your gut needs. In our house, we use Body Ecology’s Culture Starter kit to prepare a coconut water kefir. It’s been a tremendous help to our 1 and a half-year-old, whose digestive health was compromised after a hospital visit that resulted in some heavy doses of antibiotics.
Mind you, this isn’t meant to deter you from continuing to buy your probiotic of choice, but to help you realize that you can easily tend to your digestive health at home by learning this ancient process. You’ll be amazed how quickly these truly awesome foods become a part of your regular diet.
To your health,