Friday, October 23, 2009

Fermenting Foods for Health

Almost everyone has tried sauerkraut at one time or another, whether store-bought or homemade, and decided right then and there whether it was something that they would have again or not. I grew up on the store bought stuff and have to say, was not a fan. I LOATHED St. Patrick's Day because it meant that my mom would cook corned beef and kraut. Ugh. Just the smell of it cooking would send me into a panic! I also knew that no matter how much I complained, I would be sitting at the kitchen table for a very long time. Usually until it was time for bed. (In an "ah-ha" moment, I fully understand why my children are so stubborn!) But, I have to hand it to my parents, they never gave in!

I am happy to say that my early years with pickled cabbage did not deter me from trying it as an adult. But now, instead of store-bought, we make our own, using only cabbage, salt and a crock. This isn't going to be a tutorial on the art of kraut making, but more of an introduction to fermenting your own foods.

Back in the "olden" days, before refrigeration (*gasp*), people used to ferment their foods as a means of preserving them. They also knew that "soured" food made them feel better. Fermented foods were commonly prescribed for digestive problems, aches, and illnesses. What they didn't know was that foods that had been salted and left to sit on the counter, not only soured, but "grew" healthy bacteria. This process is called, "lacto-fermenting." When the newly grown bacteria enters the body, it needs to "eat", so it goes after the bad bacteria. It's kind of like an internal game of "Pac-man". (I figure that if the Pac-man is happy and well fed, he won't turn on me!) When we're sick and are prescribed antibiotics, it is important to take a supplement like Acidophilus, or eat yogurt that has live cultures. Antibiotics are not "good/bad" driven...they kill ALL of the bacteria. Our bodies were not meant to function without the "good" stuff.

What kinds of foods can you ferment? Vegetables, fruits, dairy products and grains are all good choices. In fact, I regularly soak my fresh ground whole wheat flour overnight in buttermilk to make the wheat easier to digest. (Only soak what is needed to complete a recipe!) At any given time, you will find all kinds of foods "souring" on my counter!

In the picture above, taken today, is Greek yogurt (as a starter), sourdough in Mother, Baby and dough form, and buttermilk. I am also sprouting wheat grass (for my chickens) and peas for a stir-fry next week. In the fridge, we have sauerkraut and salsa. For dinner last night, we opened up a jar of salsa that we lacto-fermented this summer and had it with tortilla chips and enchiladas. It was so delicious!!! For the recipe, go here.

If you aren't into (and who wouldn't be?) lacto-fermenting food in your own kitchen, most health food stores carry lacto-fermented sauerkraut and pickles. And if this is something that you'd like to learn more about, check out "Nourishing Traditions", by Sally Fallon. This is more than a cookbook, it is filled with eye-opening information that no family should be without.

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