Fermented Foods: Why They're So Important

by Jef Wright June 01, 2015

ferment

Most times when people hear the word 'fermented', they automatically think of something that's gone bad and is inedible. The reality of it is that lactofermentation is a process for preserving foods that was used long before we had preservatives and the ability to can foods using a process with high heat. Lactofermentation has a very simple list of requirements... water, salt, a jar, and an anaerobic (absent of air) environment! By creating this environment, you are allowing the good bacteria to thrive, and the bad bacteria to be destroyed by the good bacteria!

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When trying out the lactofermentation process for the first time, many people are afraid of what they might produce. For the most part, you'll be able to tell whether your fermentation attempt was successful or not, just based on the look and smell of it when you crack your first jar open. There's also a chance that a small amount of white mold may be present, but this type of mold can simply be skimmed off and thrown away.

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For more information on determining whether your fermentation was successful or not, you can check out these resources: Cultures for Health, “ Why Your Vegetable Ferment Grew Mold, What to Do With It, and How to Prevent It"
Food Renegade, “ Are Mason Jar Ferments Safe?
Wild Fermentation, “ Vegetable Fermentation Further Simplified

We also offer a few books about fermentation, be sure to check them out:
Wild Fermentation
Drink the Harvest

One of the easiest ways to ferment foods is using The Perfect Pickler, one of our most popular sellers! The Perfect Pickler comes with a basic recipe book that can be used for almost ANY vegetable you'd like to ferment, as well as kimchi and sauerkraut recipes! The two photos you see below were me trying my hand at fermenting some shredded beets using the Perfect Pickler. I'll let you know how they turn out!

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Q. What are fermented foods?
A. Foods that have been through a process called 'lactofermentation', where natural bacteria feed on the sugar and starch contained in the food, creating lactic acid. This is a process that preserves the food and introduces beneficial enzymes, probiotics, B-vitamins, and Omega-3 fatty acids. Natural fermentation also preserves the nutrients in the food, as well as breaks the food down into a more easily digestible form. The probiotics that are created during the fermentation process are also known to improve digestion. The practice of fermenting foods has steadily declined in the U.S. since the introduction of pasteurized milk and yogurt, vinegar based pickles and sauerkraut, and many other similar products.

Q. Why eat fermented foods?
A. Fermented drinks like kefir and kombucha can balance out the bacteria in your digestive system, improve bowel healthy, and increase immunity. Having properly balanced gut bacteria and digestive enzymes can help you better absorb the nutrients you're consuming, instead of letting them go to waste. When you are able to better absorb nutrients from what you eat, the need for additional vitamins and supplements decreases sharply. By making and storing fermented foods, you are also saving yourself an abundance of time and money. Lactofermented foods last months without losing any of their nutrients. Fermented foods such as kombuchu are also linked to the detoxification of the body. They contain a compound called glucuronic acid that is capable of drawing out several different types of toxins as well as many heavy metals. (Read more about this here.)

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FERMENTATION IS NOT JUST FOR PRESERVATION!
This is a common misconception that many people are not aware of. Fermented foods are high in good gut bacteria that help our bodies function at the peak of their ability! Happy gut, happy body! Below are some foods/drinks you can craft and consume to reintroduce good bacteria into your diet. Be careful how much fermented food you consume at first if it isn't already a part of your diet... your body needs time to adjust to a new diet, so new things should be introduced slowly and in small increments.

- Kombucha (fermented tea) contains 4-7 different types of microorganisms. Just be careful with how much sugar it contains; it's always best to attempt making your own to control sugar content, or being an avid reader of nutritional labels. The flavor is sweet, fizzy, and slightly sour.
Some recipes we suggest checking out:
The Nourished Kitchen
Real Food Forager

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- Kefir (fermented grains) is great for improving colon and gastrointestinal health as well as boosting immune function. Flavor is like that of yogurt, just in a more liquid form.
Some recipes we suggest checking out:
The Nourished Kitchen
Real Food Outlaws

Interested in making your own yogurt? Check out our Yogurt Maker, which allows you to make plain or flavored yogurt, sweetened to your own tastes.

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- Sauerkraut (fermented cabbage) has a powerful impact on not just your gut health, but your brain health! It is linked to easing depression and anxiety. Fermented sauerkraut is less sweet and more sour than the 'sauerkraut' you can buy in the condiments section of the grocery store. You can use The Perfect Pickler for easy, tasty sauerkraut! Some recipes we suggest checking out:
The Perfect Pickler
The Nourished Kitchen

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- Miso (fermented soybeans and grains) is full of minerals like potassium, and lots of microorganisms to boost strength and stamina. Flavor is salty and slightly sour.
Some recipes we suggest checking out:
Superfoods For Superhealth
Renegade Health

- Tempeh (fermented soybeans) is chock full of proteins containing needed amino acids. Tempeh tends to take on the flavor of whatever you're cooking it in/with, so it's a great base to start with.
Some recipes we suggest checking out:
The Kitchn
Veganlovlie

- Kimchi (fermented cabbage) is an energy booster and skin cleanser that enhances digestion. Flavor is slightly sweet and sour, depending on how long you ferment it for, and what is being fermented with the cabbage.
You can use The Perfect Pickler to make simple, delicious Kimchi! Some recipes we suggest checking out:

The Perfect Pickler
Real Food Outlaws

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MAKE YOUR OWN! Most supermarket-sold fermented foods have been pasteurized and cooked at such a high heat that all the beneficial bacteria has been killed off. Also, many supermarket brands have high amounts of added sugars and sodium. If you have to buy from the store, make sure it's as local as possible, and that it's been refrigerated - true lactofermented foods are not typically shelf stable.

Sometimes there is some confusion as to the difference between fermented foods and pickled foods. It is important to note that pickled foods are not always fermented, and fermented foods are not always pickled. Pickled foods are those that have been preserved in some sort of acidic medium, such as vinegar, and subjected to some form of high heat in order to can them. The vinegar offers a form of preservation, but all the beneficial bacteria has long been killed off by the high heat used to can the vegetable. Fermentation, as explained at the beginning of this article, is preserving by a means of salt and an anaerobic environment, which prevents the growth of bad bacteria and allows good bacteria to flourish. Fermented foods require refrigeration.

To ferment uncut vegetables, you'll want to submerge them in a salt and water brine. For chopped, sliced or shredded vegetables, simply layer them with small amounts of salt and press the layers all firmly together to release juices and eradicate any air pockets. The  lactobacillus bacteria that is present on the skin of every vegetable is what gets the fermentation process going. The salt keeps bad bacteria at bay and draws the moisture out of the veggies and into the jar to keep the fermentation going. This preserves the food without the use of heat, therefore preserving the beneficial bacteria that we need. It's also important to note that not all salts are created equal. Unrefined salt is the best to use, such as sea salt and Himalayan salt. If you are using a brine, your water should also be as free of contaminants as possible. Around 3 TBSP of salt per 5 lbs. of vegetables is a good starting point for measuring.

What are your favorite fermentation recipes and methods? Share in the comments section!

(The information on this blog is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. It is not intended as medical advice or to replace the advice or attention of health care professionals. You may wish to consult your physician before beginning or making changes in your diet, nutritional supplementation or exercise program.)

 

Jef Wright
Jef Wright


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