Curious about fermented foods and how they can help keep your gut healthy? Here’s some fermentation basics to get you started.
Welcome to Part 1 of my fermentation series! (See Part 2 HERE.) Today’s post will go over some fermentation basics to help you get familiar with the process. Be sure to also check out 85 Ways to Eat More Fermented Foods.
If you are serious about getting started with making fermented foods, I highly recommend reading Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz. It’s the first book on fermentation that I read, and I still refer to it to this day.
WHAT IS FERMENTATION?
When we are talking about fermented foods, we are talking about lacto-fermentation, meaning that the starches and sugars in vegetables and fruits are converted into lactic acid by the many species of lactic-acid-producing bacteria present on the surface of all living things. The “lacto” portion of the term refers to a specific species of bacteria, namely Lactobacillus.
Lactic acid is a natural preservative that inhibits putrefying bacteria. All you have to do is to add SALT. Bacteria that could be harmful to us can’t tolerate much salt, but there are healthy bacteria that can. Lacto-fermentation wipes out the bad guys , then lets the good guys get to work . The product is a living food, full of enzymes and probiotics.
Creating an anaerobic environment (free of oxygen) is crucial for proper fermentation as the lactic-acid bacteria thrive in a no-oxygen environment. Oxygen actually neutralizes them.
TYPES OF FERMENTED FOODS
The diets of every traditional society have included some kind of lacto-fermented food. Some common fermented foods you may have heard of include sauerkraut, kimchi, fermented cheeses, yogurt, kefir, kombucha, and pickles. It is also possible to ferment root vegetables, grape leaves, and some herbs.
Be aware that most commercial pickles and relishes that you find in the supermarket use vinegar, which offers more predictable results, but no lactic acid. This does not have the health benefits of traditionally fermented foods.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF FERMENTED FOODS
1. Fermented foods improve digestion:
Fermenting our foods before we eat them is like partially digesting them before we consume them. Sometimes people who cannot tolerate milk can eat yogurt. That’s because the lactose (which is usually the part people can’t tolerate) in milk is broken down as the milk is fermented and turns into yogurt.
Raw, fermented foods are also rich in enzymes. Your body needs enzymes to properly digest, absorb, and make full use of your food.
2. Fermented foods restore the proper balance of bacteria in the gut:
Remember that almost 80% of your immune system originates in the gut. Eating fermented foods adds good bacteria to your gut and supports the proper balance of good bacteria. Lactose intolerance, gluten intolerance, constipation, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, yeast infections, allergies, and asthma have all been linked to a lack of good bacteria in the gut.
3. Fermenting food actually increases the vitamin content.
Fermented dairy products consistently reveal an increased level of folic acid, as well as pyroxidine, B vitamins, riboflavin and biotin depending on the strains of bacteria present.
4. Eating fermented food helps us to absorb nutrients.
You can ingest huge amounts of nutrients, but unless you actually absorb them, they’re useless to you. When you improve digestion, you improve absorption.
5. Fermenting food helps to preserve it for longer periods of time.
Milk will go bad in the fridge, but kefir and yogurt last a lot longer. Sauerkraut, pickles and salsa will keep for months.
6. Fermenting food is inexpensive.
The foods required to make fermented foods are cheap. It is by far the easiest and most economical way to ensure that your gut flora is happy.
WHAT EQUIPMENT DO I NEED?
I have been fermenting foods for years now and have found that the best and most consistent results come from a closed-system fermentation system that keeps oxygen out but allows CO2 to be released.
I have experimented with fermentation crocks and mason jars with air-locks but have found my results to be inconsistent. This mainly has to do with the fact that neither of these systems is completely air-tight, leaving my ferments open to oxygen, molds, and bacterias in the environment.
SO WHAT SHOULD I USE?
I have been fermenting foods for quite some time now. I have experimented with many different jars. The ones that I personally use are no longer available online, but I have seen similar ones HERE. These type of fermentation jars come with an airlock that needs to be filled with water and work great at keeping oxygen and pathogens out.
I also really love THESE fermentation lids that fit right over wide mouth mason jars. They are so easy to use and super affordable.
You’ll want to add a weight on top of your fermenting foods so they stay below the brine. I use glass fermentation weights made specifically for that purpose. I know some folks get creative and use rocks or other clean/sterile items.
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