I love me some good sauerkraut. OK, maybe that's not your thing, but what about sourdough bread, kombucha, or yogurt? Fermented foods have a delightful sour taste that gets the taste buds going. These kinds of foods are older than recorded history and are found in culinary traditions in almost every part of the world. Not only are they delicious, but fermented foods are tremendously beneficial to our health, our gut health in particular. Why is that?
What are fermented foods and why should I eat them?
Fermentation is a process where microorganisms like yeast and bacteria convert starch and sugar into alcohol or organic acids. That's the sour you taste. These acids naturally preserve foods and promote the growth of beneficial bacteria like lactobacillus, acidophilus, and bifidobacteria. These helpful little organisms pre-digest food making some otherwise unavailable nutrients more useful while supplying a diverse range of probiotics (the good microbes) to aid in diversifying our friendly little microbes that live in our gut.
Remember my last article about gut health? The biggest indicator of good health is having a robust and diverse gut microbiome. Guess what? Eating fermented foods is one of the best and cheapest ways to increase diversity within your microbes. These probiotic-containing foods have become trendy these days (yay!) so it's quite easy to find high-quality brands in the store, but they are also extremely easy (and super cheap) to make at home.
What you should know about store-bought ferments
Keep in mind, not all fermented foods are treated equally. If you are going to eat yogurt, make sure that it contains live cultures and not a ton of added sugar. Some commercial foods (like canned sauerkraut) have been pasteurized which kills off the beneficial microbes. Also, keep your eye out for preservatives as they will greatly reduce the microbe count.
How can you start making fermented foods right in your kitchen?
It can be a little intimidating to start to ferment at home, but it's really quite easy. I would recommend starting with a simple ferment like sauerkraut, or dosas. Dosas consist of beans and grains (I use black beans and quinoa) that are blended up and fermented. This turns into a batter that makes delicious little pancakes. Yum! I add some fermented coconut sour cream (another REALLY easy ferment) to make for a gut-healthy, fiber-rich snack. Sauerkraut is made with cabbage and is a simple fermented food to make and can be added to just about every dish as a gut-health booster. The more variety of ferments you add to your daily menu, the more variety of probiotics and fiber you are ingesting which is just grand for your overall health! So, get your ferment on!
I have included some of my favorite recipes so you can start fermenting in your kitchen right now! Have fun and happy fermenting!
Recipes to get you started
Quinoa and Black Bean Dosas
(don't be scared of the multiple day thing, it's so super easy)
Day 1 ingredients: 1.5 cups ifof dried quinoa
3/4 cup dry black beans
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
Day 2 ingredients: 1.5 cups of water
1 tsp salt
Day 3 ingredients: virgin coconut oil for cooking
On day one, rinse the quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer. Place it in a small mixing bowl along with the beans, apple cider vinegar, and warm water. Make sure there is at least an inch of water covering the quinoa and beans, as they will expand quite a bit while soaking. Let them soak for about 24 hours.
On day 2, drain and rinse the quinoa and beans and place them in the blender along with the water and salt; blend on high until smooth and creamy. If you're like me and try the batter, do not be alarmed.....the final product will taste nothing like that! Pour the mixture into a large, clean mason jar or bowl, cover with a kitchen towel, and let the mixture ferment for 24-48 hours (If it is winter and your house is a bit chilly, the fermenting may take a bit longer). When it is good and fermented, it will smell slightly sour and have bubbles throughout. See? Those little microbes did all the work! Well, not all, but the cool part of the job.
When you are ready to cook, heat a pan and add a few teaspoons of coconut oil. Pour 1/3 to 1/2 cup of the batter into a hot skillet; spread it into a thin pancake in a circular motion with the back of a spoon. Cook for about 2 minutes on the first side, then flip and cook for about 1 minute. Place the dosa on a plate and continue with the rest of the batter adding more coconut oil as needed.
Coconut Sour Cream (So delicious on the dosas!)
Just a side note: High quality organic sour cream contains probiotics but I find that dairy doesn't do good things for my gut so I mostly eliminate it. This has been such a nice substitute.
Ingredients: 2 cans of full-fat coconut milk
(make sure to buy it without guar gum - it's a thickener that is just not necessary! It's already thick!)
1 tsp probiotic powder
(I open up a couple of capsules of my probiotic supplement, works perfectly.)
Place the cans of coconut milk in the fridge for about 24 hours. Then open the cans and scoop the thick white cream at the top into a small saucepan. Pour off the water into a jar and reserve it for another use like smoothies! Heat the coconut cream over the lowest heat to about 97-98 degrees. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the probiotic powder. Pour the mixture into a clean quart-sized mason jar and cover with a clean dishtowel secured with a rubber band. Let the jar sit out on your kitchen counter for about 24-48 hours to culture. Then stir a pinch or two of salt, cover the jar with a lid, and refrigerate to solidify. Boom! You just made sour cream!
Both of these recipes are from the book The Elimination Diet by Alissa Segersten and Tom Malterre - This book was basically my bible as I did the complete elimination diet. Fantastic recipes and fantastic guides!