Monday, July 9, 2012

Fantastic Fermentation

Zymology, the study of fermentation
Ever since starting at NW&W, I've been intrigued by fermented foods and their health benefits.  As nutritionists and educators we encourage our clients to consume more fermented foods (yogurt, kefir, miso, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha).  Why?  These fermented foods contain good bacteria; probiotics, that when eaten on a regular basis populate in our intestines and push out bad bacteria, viruses, and candida.  The United States, is one of the few countries that does not eat a fermented food at every meal, or at least 1+ times per day.  In Korea people eat a small amount of kimchi with each meal.  In Japan, miso broth is served with meals, or is incorporated into the meal.  In Poland, some people consume up to 1 quart of plain full fat yogurt each day.  And what do people in these countries have to boast about thanks to these fermented foods?  Happy digestive tracts and therefore fewer illnesses!  Our intestinal tract houses a majority of our immune system; if bad bugs can't multiply there, we stay healthy.  

Growing up in the midwest I learned to enjoy sauerkraut with my brats and pork chops.  However, I've learned that the canned varieties and even the refrigerated ones packaged with vinegar do not contain probiotics.  These types have been heated to too high of a temp, and this kills off any happy bugs they may have contained.  Instead, you must buy kraut with only three main ingredients: cabbage, water, and salt.  A very tasty brand is Bubbies, they also make great pickles.  Ryan has now become addicted to both.

So how do these happy bacteria get into these fermented foods?  We either add them from previous batches of fermenting, or they enter on their own through the air (think sour dough bread starter).  Instead of going to in-depth, checkout this website for more on how fermentation works.

Just like sauerkraut, not all fermented foods are created equal.  Kombucha is a great example.  Yes, its a  nice effervesant treat, but many brands contain too much sugar, and too few live organisms to really do much good.  Yogurt, including Activia, has become a perverse version of its original self.  Yogurt is supposed to have fat and be tangy.  It's not supposed to be pink, blue, and sickeningly sweet.  Excess sugar in our diets will feed the bad bacteria in our guts.  Instead, choose full fat plain yogurt and add your own fruit and a drizzle of honey.

Maybe you are like me and want to try making your own fermented foods.  Guess what?  It's supper easy!  Even though I have never eaten Kimchi, I've been curious about it, and decided to make my own after reading about it in my Urban Farm magazine.  The recipe they suggested came straight from "Nourishing Traditions"  by Sally Fallon.  After having already made my kimchi, I looked at several recipes online, and I believe Sally may have simplified her recipe and toned down the flavors for American taste buds.  Here are a couple recipes that seem much more traditional and probably pack quite a flavor punch.  All Recipes  and Maangchi

For my first batch I'm pretty happy.  After one day on the counter I could start to see small bubbles, and the cabbage mixture began to rise to the top.  Once refrigerated it dropped back down into the jar.  But it's fun to see how much it "expands"  This batch was salty, not really spicy at all, but very fermented.  I've enjoyed adding a fork full to my salads, using it as a burger topping, and having a few bites with stir-fry.  I now feel confident that I can try fermenting other foods.  Think I'll try radishes next.  The process is very easy, and is a great project for kids.  It will teach them about food science, and give them a chance to incorporate more probiotics into their diet.

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