Fermenting our Food

for Wellbeing

Trish Dent | April 2017

Why Ferment?

Fermented foods of different kinds can be found in just about every traditional culture the world over. For our ancestors it provided a way to keep food for longer, but they also discovered numerous other benefits. During the fermentation process, acids are produced by good “bugs” that change the nature of the food as well as inhibiting the “bad” bugs. Examples include salamis and hams, yoghurt, kefir, cheese, vegetables; even wine is a fermented food, as are all forms of alcohol.

As foods ferment, starches and sugars in the vegetable, fruit, grain or milk are converted into lactic acid by many species of lactic-acid-producing bacteria (Lactobacilli). Lactobacilli are ubiquitous in our environment, found all around us on every surface, but more especially on the leaves and roots of plants. The presence of these “good” bacteria makes the vegetables more easily digestible to us, the vitamin content (notably vitamin C) increases and they promote the growth of healthy intestinal flora. The good bugs also produce helpful enzymes and have an antibiotic effect, inhibiting the growth of other “bad” bacteria.

Health Benefits of Fermented Foods

  1. Pre-digestion – make the food more easily digestible.
  2. Detoxification – There are many anti-nutrients in foods that prevent us from digesting and absorbing them properly. This is why nuts, beans and grains are not easily digestible unless they have been soaked and/or fermented.
  3. Nutrient enhancement – Different ferments enhance different nutrients. Sauerkraut contains far more vitamin C than raw cabbage, and B vitamins are also enhanced. They and other cruciferae produce iso-thiocyanates which are anti-carcinogenic. Natto (fermented soya beans) contains natto-kinase, an enzyme that regulates blood clots and reduces ulcer formation in the elderly; it is also thought to break down fibrin in blood vessels.
  4. Provide our gut with good bacteria – these good bugs, lactobacilli and others, are natural probiotics. They reside in our intestines and enhance our immune function, improve digestion and nutrient assimilation. But regular input of them is required, particularly with the modern onslaught on our bodies of anti-bacterials in so many forms.

How to Ferment Vegetables

It’s easy to ferment your own vegetables. It’s important to use the freshest organic produce. Use sea salt and filtered water, those good guys don’t like the chlorine in tap water.  If you don’t have a water filter, leave a jug of water out in the open for a couple of hours to allow the chlorine to evaporate before using (likewise you should do this for your own body; including water you use to make beverages and for cooking).

Salt is important as it acts as an inhibitor for many of the bad bacteria, whilst allowing the good ones to grow. I think it’s best to begin with what the recipe says, and then gradually reduce the amount of salt in subsequent ferments and record how it goes.

When fermenting vegetables, remember that it is an anaerobic process. “Anaerobic” means “without air”, ie these good guys do not need or like oxygen to flourish, they prefer to have no oxygen. It’s the baddies that love oxygen. So it’s important to keep your ferments below the surface of the water, away from the air. You can do this in a number of ways. I find a ziplock bag containing brine (same concentration as in your ferment) is excellent. Other methods include a cabbage leaf weighted down by a stone, or a chunk of carrot wedged between ferment and lid. You can also find specially made glass or plastic discs on the internet.

Unless you’re using fermentation as a means of long-term preservation, you can leave your vegetables to ferment at room temperature….the fridge or larder is cold and will slow the bugs down considerably. Store in the fridge once your ferments are mature enough (this is partly personal preference).

Important points:

  • Use filtered or bottled water
  • Ferment at room temperature (unless you want to preserve, then keep things cool)
  • Salt helps prevent bad bacteria
  • Keep vegetables below the brine surface
  • Check progress regularly

 

Many vegetables can be fermented. Particularly good are radishes and turnips, swede, broccoli, carrots and cabbage. If you have a glut of soft vegetables such as courgettes or green beans, these can be fermented too.

The rule of thumb is to create a brine using filtered water and sea salt or Himalayan salt.  Here are the proportions:

Hard vegetables: 2% brine solution (eg 500ml water plus 10ml (2tsp) salt

Soft vegetables: 3 to 3.5% brine solution (500ml water plus 15 to 17ml (3 to 3.5 tsp) salt

Cut vegetables thinly, press well into a glass jar or crock using the round end of a rolling pin or similar, pour enough brine on top to cover and keep submerged with a weight (a ziplock bag with brine in is good). Keep the vegetables submerged to prevent spoilage and leave at room temperature. Check after a few days. Fermenting can take 2-3 days or a week, or even longer. Generally, less dense vegetables ferment more quickly; roots often take longer. The more finely you cut your vegetables, the more quickly and evenly they will ferment. Once fermented to your satisfaction, store in a cool place or the fridge.

What can go wrong:

If your vegetables or other ferment develops a pinkish tinge on top, you have allowed air to your veggies and are now growing the wrong type of bacteria. Do not eat!

 

Nothing happens Have you left your veggies to ferment in a cold place?

 

Use your fermented brine

Don’t throw out the brine from fermented vegetables. It may be too salty to use neat, but add some to soups and stews at the end of cooking, use it to flavour salad dressings; you can also use it to kick-start your next ferment. Keep it in a glass jar in the fridge, labelled with the date as well as what it is.

 

 

 

 

 

Trish Dent is a Macrobiotic Health Coach and Cook with more than 30 years’ experience of meat-free cooking and catering for groups and individuals in England and abroad.

Trish’s next Wild Fermentation Workshop is on Saturday 10th June 2017 in her Suffolk kitchen.

Trish launches her specialised Heal your Gut course this autumn.

Tel: 01986 780939, mobile 07530 699985

Email shiatsutrish@btinternet.com    Blog: www.shiatsu-trish.blogspot.com