Have you tried Kombucha?
People are going crazy for gut-friendly Kombucha! Forbes estimates that $1.8 billion will be spent on the fizzy, fermented tea drink in 2020. While Kombucha may appear to be a new phenomenon, fermented foods and beverages have been consumed and enjoyed for over 2,000 years!
Prior to modern refrigeration, fermentation prevented spoilage and extended food’s shelf-life. By placing food in salted water in the absence of oxygen, bacteria naturally present in the food, enzymatically change some of the food’s sugar molecules into acid. Over time, we’ve come to learn that fermented foods are very healthy for us, thanks to beneﬁcial microorganisms known as probiotics (friendly bacteria.)
What are “friendly bacteria?”
Normally, we think of bacteria as a “bad” thing, right? Indeed, many bacteria are sources of illness like food poisoning or strep throat. But most of the 100 trillion bacteria that live within our bodies are actually beneficial to our health! They help to digest our foods, extracting and even producing vitamins and nutrients needed by our bodies to survive. These beneficial bacteria, known as probiotics, also play an important role in “crowding out” and fighting off harmful bacteria.
We consume probiotics in many forms: yogurt, apple cider vinegar, and a wide variety of fermented foods, such as kombucha, kimchi, kefir, miso, tempeh, and sauerkraut. Carbohydrates (usually fiber that humans can’t digest) in other foods, known as prebiotics, help the probiotic bacteria flourish in our digestive tract. The fiber in prebiotic foods such as onions, apples, oats, and asparagus feed the probiotic bacteria in the intestines. Having more well-fed good bacteria leads to better health and less disease.
On the other hand, refined sugar and highly processed foods allow harmful bacteria to thrive inside the gut, making it more difficult to maintain a healthy bacteria balance, affecting both physical and behavioral health.
In addition to one’s diet, stress, insufficient sleep, and antibiotics can also contribute to an imbalance in gut bacteria (dysbiosis). Dysbiosis allows the harmful bacteria to thrive, causing bloating, constipation and diarrhea. Eliminating high sugar foods and including probiotic-packed fermented foods in your diet can bring your gut back into balance and help support your immune system.
Are there other health benefits from fermented food?
Yes! In a study of type-2 diabetes patients, probiotic yogurt decreased fasting blood glucose significantly when compared to subjects eating conventional yogurt. Similar studies showed that eating probiotic yogurt every day reduced insulin resistance in pregnant women, obese women, and patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Search for recipes that use yogurt in your DinnerTime Recipe Box.
Is pickling the same as fermenting?
Both fermenting and pickling are ancient food preservation techniques. The confusion arises because the categories actually overlap with each other. Some fermented foods are pickled, and some pickles are fermented. Many chefs consider pickling to occur when you submerge food in an acidic solution, like vinegar. However, the dictionary definition of pickling states that “a liquid usually prepared with salt or vinegar for preserving or flavoring fish, meat, vegetables, etc.; brine or marinade.”
Almost every culture has created and consumed at least one fermented food. Beans, grains, vegetables, fruit, honey, dairy, fish, meat and tea are all fermented. There are hundreds of examples!
Where do I find fermented foods?
You can find sauerkraut, kimchee, vegetable relishes and other healthy probiotic-rich foods at your local grocer, big box store, and online. You can also easily ferment your own vegetables at home. Check out the easy fermenting and pickling recipes we added to DinnerTime’s recipe database.
What are the basic steps of fermenting foods?
Choose your equipment:
- Mason, Ball or other clear jars – Clear jars will allow you to visually monitor your fermentation progress.
- Weight – It’s very important that the vegetables remain below the surface of the brine – you can purchase glass weights, use a small jar inside the larger jar, or you can even pack a cabbage leaf onto the top of your fermentation solution.
- Lid – Cover the jars with something breathable. You can use a paper coffee filter with a rubber band to hold it in place. Several layers of cheesecloth or a tea towel would also work well. If you choose to use a tight-fitting lid, you will need to open the jar every day to let some of the gasses escape. Alternatively, you can purchase special fermentation lids that allow carbon dioxide to escape but prevent oxygen from entering the jar.
Prepare your vegetables:
- You can shred, grate, slice or leave your vegetables whole when fermenting. The most important aspect is that all the pieces in the jar are the same size.
Prepare your water:
- You need the friendly bacteria that are going to do your fermenting to be happy and healthy. So, it’s important that your water be chlorine-free. You can use mineral water, filtered water, or tap water that you’ve let sit out in an open container for about 8 hours (the chlorine added to tap water will dissipate.)
Watch the bacteria work their magic:
- Leave the fermenting jars at room temperature in a cool location, ideally about 70 °F.
- Depending on which type of lid you chose, you may need to remove the lid to allow the carbon dioxide to escape after a couple of days.
- Follow the Tips in your fermenting DinnerTime recipes.
- After about four days, taste your fermented vegetables.
- If they are tangy enough for you, put a normal lid on your jar and place in the refrigerator. This will effectively halt fermentation.
- If you think the bacteria still have work to do – let the fermentation continue a while longer.
– Angela Jansen, Vice President, Analytics and Population Health
Check out some of our favorite fermented and pickle recipes.