Pickled vegetables have always been one of my favorite foods but it was only recently that I found out how beneficial these fermented vegetables are. In fact, fermented food is enjoyed in many different ways in different cultures. Not only are they delicious and healthy but they are also a good time saver for busy people as they can be prepared in bulk.
I wanted to blog briefly about the benefits of fermented food and how we can easily make them at home. I hope everyone will read and share this, and perhaps even incorporate it into your diet too!
So which are your favorite fermented foods?
The Benefits of Fermented Foods
There is much benefit to be gained from incorporating fermented food into your diet. Some are related to health while others are more general in nature.
General Benefits of Fermented Foods
- Budget friendly: While increasing the amount of healthy foods in your diet can be expensive, fermented foods are actually budget friendly. In fact, you can make many fermented foods at home for just pennies per serving. By including these foods in your diet, you can also reduce the number of purchased supplements you require, thus stretching your budget even further.
- Reduces wastage: Fermenting vegetables increases their shelf life, thus preventing them from going to waste.
- Changes taste: It can make food pleasantly sour or tangy, and develops flavor.
- Eliminates anti-nutrients: Natural or synthetic compounds that interfere with the absorption of nutrients, called anti-nutrients, can be destroyed by fermentation. Phytic acid, for example, which is found in legumes and seeds, binds minerals such as iron and zinc, reducing their absorption when eaten. However, phytic acid can be broken down during fermentation, so the minerals become available.
Health Benefits of Fermented Foods
- Probiotics: By eating fermented foods on a regular basis, you can benefit from the introduction of beneficial bacteria into your digestive tract. Along with being shown to slow down or possibly even reverse some diseases, probiotics also assist in proper digestion, improve bowel health, and improve immunity.
- Better absorption: When you are able to maintain a proper balance of bacteria in your digestive tract and possess a sufficient amount of digestive enzymes, you will be better able to absorb more nutrients in the foods you consume. When combined with a healthy diet, you may find that you no longer need as many vitamins and supplements.
- Their contribution of live microbes – ostensibly “good” microbes – to the existing colonies in our gut: Collectively called the microbiome, these microbes exert powerful effects on our body; when they’re out of whack they have been linked with intestinal and bowel conditions such as ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome, immune disorders such as allergies and type 1 diabetes and metabolism and metabolic diseases, including type 2 diabetes and obesity. They’ve even been linked with mental health disorders.
- Beneficial for people with diabetes: In addition to improving pancreatic function, which is of great benefit to diabetics, the carbohydrates in lactic acid–fermented foods have been broken down or “pre-digested.” As a result, they do not place an extra burden on the pancreas, unlike ordinary carbohydrates.
- Helps the body produce acetylcholine: Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter. In simple terms, it facilitates the transmission of nerve impulses. In practical terms, it helps increase the movement of the bowel, and can alleviate constipation problems. It also helps improve the release of digestive juices and enzymes from the stomach, the pancreas, and the gallbladder. So by helping your body produce acetylcholine, fermented foods act as potent digestive aids.
- Balances the production of stomach acid: Fermented foods have the unique ability to ease digestive discomfort related to having either too much or too little stomach acid. When the production of hydrochloric acid by the stomach is low, fermented foods help increase the acidity of gastric juices. On the other hand, when the stomach produces too much acid, fermented foods help protect the stomach and intestinal lining.
Dr Mercola Interviews Sandor Katz about Fermentation
Or view the video on the server at:
How to Make Fermented Vegetables
Here’s how to get started.
What Type of Container Should You Use?
There’s no need to over-think or spend large amounts of money on containers. The material they’re made of is important however. You do NOT want to use plastic or metal. Plastics are loaded with chemicals you don’t want leaching into your food, such as bisphenol-A (BPA) and phthlalates. Metal is also inadvisable as salts can corrode the metal. Even if you don’t add salt, most vegetables have some natural salts in them. Good options include:
- Glass jars (wide-mouthed Mason jars are ideal, so that you can get your whole hand in there to press down the vegetables)
- Ceramic crocks
- Wooden barrels
To Salt or Not to Salt?
Whether or not to use salt also largely comes down to personal preference. While it’s not a necessity, Sandor does provide some compelling reasons for adding a small amount of natural, unprocessed salt — such as Himalayan salt — to your vegetables. For example, salt:
- Strengthens the ferment’s ability to eliminate any potential pathogenic bacteria present
- Adds to the flavor
- Acts as a natural preservative, which may be necessary if you’re making large batches that need to last for a larger portion of the year
- Slows the enzymatic digestion of the vegetables, leaving them crunchier
- Inhibits surface molds
What You Need
- Fresh vegetables
- A knife or grater
- A glass or ceramic jar for fermentation (quart sized, wide-mouthed canning jars work well)
- A smaller jar that fits inside the fermentation jar (small jelly jars work great)
- Clean water
- A clean towel
- Rubber band to fit over the mouth of the fermentation jar
- Herbs and spices (optional)
What To Do
- Chop/shred/grate vegetables, salting lightly as you go. You want to get all of the vegetables as uniform in size as possible. This way, they ferment at the same rate. Vegetables like carrots and radishes do well grated, while it’s best to slice up that cabbage or onion. As you chop or grate the vegetables, add small pinches of salt. But not too much — fermentation only needs a little. Try tasting as you go. The vegetables should taste only slightly salty.
- Mix the veggies well. You want to make sure that the salt is spread out evenly throughout all the vegetables. Taste the veggies, and add more salt to taste if needed. If you are going to add any herbs or spices, add them now.
- Let the vegetables sit for 5 to 10 minutes. As they sit, the salt will start to draw the liquid out of the vegetables.
- Squeeze the vegetables to release their juices. Take handfuls of vegetables and squeeze as hard as you can, keeping the juice that comes out. You want to get as much juice out of them as possible.
- Tightly pack the vegetables into the fermenting jar and cover with collected juice. As you fill the jar with the vegetables, be sure to pack them down tightly to the bottom of the jar. This will help release more juice, and remove any air bubbles that get stuck in the vegetables. Add any remaining juice once the jar is filled. Be sure there is enough liquid to completely cover the vegetables. If you need to, use a mixture of salt and water to bring the juice level up over the vegetables. You don’t need too much salt for the water, just enough to make it taste like seawater.
- Fill the smaller jar with salt water, then place it on top of the vegetables in the fermenting jar. The purpose of the second jar is to hold the vegetables under the liquid in the jar. This will help the fermentation process by preventing “scum” from forming on the top of the ferment.
- Cover the fermenting jar with a clean towel, and secure it with the rubber band. Using a towel to cover the jar ensures that gases can escape, without letting any dirt or bugs get in.
- Let it ferment! Put the jar in an easily accessible area, and keep an eye on it. In about 24 hours, you will begin to see air bubbles in the vegetables. This is how you know it’s working. After a few days, the ferment will start to smell sour. Taste it at every stage. This will help you determine how fermented you like your vegetables. Some people like “young” ferments that have only fermented a few days, while others like “mature” ferments that have been fermenting for months. If there is a white layer of “scum” that forms, just scrape it off. It’s ok if you don’t get it all. When you like the flavor, remove the towel and smaller jar, put a lid on the fermentation jar and put it in your refrigerator. When the ferment cools down, the fermentation process rapidly slows, and you will be able to enjoy your fermented foods for several weeks or longer.
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