Skip to main content

BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

Fermenting food for health

Apr 01, 2019 02:12PM ● By Jan Weeks

Fermenting foods has been around for millennia, preserving food long before refrigeration or dehydrating. Making fermented foods part of your diet has loads of benefits. They help digestion, have more nutrients, are full of probiotics, help keep your immune system functioning, curb sugar cravings, promote good gut bacteria, and add flavor to foods.

Experts believe that each half-cup serving of sauerkraut can contain up to 10 trillion probiotic organisms that help your gut function better, which is more than you get from supplements. Fermenting also reduces your desire for sugar by training your taste buds to adjust to a more sour or bitter flavor, and the depth of flavor increases in fermented foods.

Hate sauerkraut? Luckily, cabbage isn’t the only vegetable that improves in both flavor and health benefits when fermented. Kimchi, the spicy Korean version of fermented cabbage, is a staple for many and not just in the Far East. If you drink kefir (fermented milk) or kombucha (fermented tea), you’re giving your body a boost of health. Miso, another Oriental food, is a fermented paste made from barley, rice or soybeans. It adds a nice umami (savory) flavor to dishes. It’s high in sodium, so a little goes a long way. You can add it to soups, salad dressings and marinades. Tempeh, similar to tofu but fermented, is made from soybeans and can be substituted for meat in dishes for vegetarians, vegans or for those who want to cut down on animal protein in their diet. Yogurt, a flavorful addition to smoothies, is basically fermented milk. Be sure to check the label for “Live & Active Cultures.” Though yogurts not labeled as live and active contain some probiotics, you won’t reap the full benefits of those 17 billion cultures in a 6-ounce serving. The probiotics in yogurt also digest some of the lactose in dairy products, so you may be able to eat yogurt even if you’re lactose intolerant. The home cook can ferment just about any vegetable, too, using only salt and water instead of vinegar and sugar. You can ferment carrots, cabbage, broccoli, radishes, turnips, okra, even green tomatoes. Leafy greens such as kale, as well as onions, can develop unexpected flavors that may tingle your taste buds. Sourdough bread is also a fermented food that’s delicious. You can buy sourdough starter or make your own, though it takes a bit longer. Or if you have a friend who’s a sourdough fanatic, see if you can borrow some starter to make your own first batch. Some people have kept starters for years. You can find plenty of starter recipes online or in cookbooks. No matter what you choose to ferment, cleanliness is essential. Clean glass jars with lids, clean utensils, and clean vegetables to prevent unwanted “stuff” from growing in your food. Vegetables should be peeled and cut into sticks or slices that will easily fit in the jars. You can layer different kinds in each jar if you like or stick to one kind.

Dissolve a good quality sea salt (not iodized) in filtered or distilled water and pour over the veggies, covering them. Use a flexible knife or spatula to remove bubbles by running it down the sides of the jars. Cover loosely with the lid and set on a rimmed tray in a warm place, like your kitchen counter or the garage. Time varies so check the process daily. The food needs to stay below the water level, so you may have to add a bit more water daily.

Quick fermented cabbage Though not as “ripe” as true sauerkraut, cabbage can be fermented in a matter of days rather than weeks. Pack shredded cabbage into glass jars or a crock, any non-reactive container, and add brine to the rim of the jar. (If using a crock or bowl, add a plate that will fit the container and weight it with a large can or rock wrapped in a plastic bag to keep the cabbage submerged.) Top each jar, filled to the brim with brine, with a lid and screw band that’s tightened just enough to keep the lid in place. Set in a warm place and let nature do its magic for a week or so. Check daily, remove any scum that may form, and add water if needed. Soon you’ll notice that vinegary odor; let it “work” until it’s as sour as you like. Store in the refrigerator for up to three months.

Sign up for our Newsletter

* indicates required
I am a...