How to live a cultured life
In my quest to improve my health and that of my family, I came across a fascinating connection that linked many traditional societies: cultured foods. From kimchi in Korea to sauerkraut in Germany, kvass in Russia and kefir in Bulgaria, as well as kombucha, cultured butter and many more, I was soon to learn the myriad benefits of consuming these foods that teem with beneficial organisms.
A proliferation of good gut bacteria has been found to be a key player in developing strong immunity and improved digestion, as well as helping our ability to detoxify.
Fermenting foods was traditionally the means of preserving food for long periods when people ate seasonally and planned ahead for the winter by culturing some of the bounty of each harvest. We’ve become oblivious of nature’s cycles in having the ability to buy whatever we desire when we desire it, thanks to refrigeration, pasteurisation and modern chemical preservatives.
Research is now catching up to what so many cultures have known for centuries and is recognising the importance of the gut microbiome. When our inner ecology is out of balance, numerous body systems are affected. A proliferation of good gut bacteria has been found to be a key player in developing strong immunity and improved digestion, as well as helping our ability to detoxify. Cultured foods can also act as natural chelators of toxins. Due to the gut–brain connection, increased wellbeing of emotional and neurological systems, among others, is often experienced.
Fermenting an allergy cure
Over the past 10 years there has been a massive increase in food intolerances, allergies and mood and behavioural disorders in children. These are being attributed by some to an imbalance of gut flora where pathogenic bacteria dominate.
Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride, a neurologist, nutritionist and creator of the GAPS program (Gut and Psychology and Gut and Physiology Syndrome), is a pioneer in this field. Cultured foods are instrumental in Dr Campbell-McBride’s healing protocol to help restore the healthy gut flora of children with autism (including her own son), ADHD, food allergies and intolerances and thus alleviate many of their symptoms.
Our inner ecosystems function optimally when a diverse range of microbes is present. This is mirrored in our soils, which can produce healthy organic foods through a strong and stable ecosystem. Through food, those benefits are then transferred to us — and magnified after culturing.
Fermentation preserves nutrients, vitamins and enzymes in foods. In fact, it increases vitamins and can also create new vitamins such as B vitamins and vitamin K, which are not naturally found in the original food, as well as enzymes and organic acids. Enzymes are important in helping us to utilise the nutrients in our food. As we age, our supply of enzymes decreases, which can lead to digestive discomfort. A tablespoon or two of properly cultured vegetables is an easy way to assist digestion by creating enough stomach acid needed to break down the meal we are consuming.
Cultured vegetables are also delicious — once your tastebuds acclimatise to the initial sourness — and can add another dimension to your meals. The lactobacilli and lactic acids in the cultured vegetables make nutrients more bioavailable to the body from the food eaten with them. Did you know sauerkraut contains 100 times more vitamin C than cabbage in its raw form?
The lactobacilli are also able to crowd out any pathogens in the gut by flooding the intestines with beneficial bacteria and creating an acid environment to inhibit those harmful bacteria. Many people report that when they consume morsels of probiotic goodness their sweet cravings, bloating and constipation are reduced.
Part of my “food as medicine” awakening has been the discovery of the importance of eating cultured foods daily. Over the past three years I have embraced this millennia-old tradition and have been creating my own cultured foods for my family and friends to enjoy. By consuming them regularly as a condiment, I have seen firsthand the benefits of incorporating them daily in my diet.
Doing it well
When I speak to people ,something I hear quite often is that because the process of fermenting foods is so foreign to them they are reluctant to give it a go, as it seems too overwhelming. They’re also concerned that a failed attempt might end up poisoning their family. So here are some tips.
Use an anaerobic jar system that seals tightly to ensure the contents are kept isolated from the external environment. If outside air contacts the contents of the jar, airborne bacteria and yeasts can become established in the food, allowing mould growth (both benign and potentially poisonous) throughout the food.
I encourage you to take up the challenge of making your own cultured foods and reap all the benefits, as the gut really is everything when it comes to long-term good health.
Because the fermenting process generates gases that cause a buildup of pressure in the jar, you need to be able to release gases at the same time as preventing the contents of the jar leaking.
A glass vessel is a good idea as fermented foods are acidic and toxins can leach into the ferment if other materials are used. A run through a hot dishwasher cycle is usually enough to clean them thoroughly.
I encourage you to take up the challenge of making your own cultured foods and reap all the benefits, as the gut really is everything when it comes to long-term good health. Once you’ve made your first batch, you’ll wonder what was holding you back from enjoying this probiotic deliciousness. My dream is to see Australian families everywhere adding some cultured foods into their diet on a daily basis. Culture for life with love and laughter — and follow that tang!
Curry Pickled Eggs
How to live a cultured life
Fermented foods can play a role in healing everything from allergies to ADHD to emotional disorders, and they are delicious as well.
- 400g red cabbage
- 350g green cabbage
- 250g carrots
- 2 tsp juniper berries
- 1.5L fermenting jar with airlock
- 1½ tsp fine sea salt
- ½ sachet starter culture
- Wash the fermenting jar and all utensils with very hot water, or alternatively put them through the hot rinse cycle in a dishwasher without adding detergent.
- Select a fresh, unblemished cabbage and remove the outer leaves. Choose one leaf, wash it well, then set aside.
- Shred the cabbage and carrot in a food processor in alternate batches so that all ingredients are mixed together thoroughly and then transfer them to a large glass or stainless steel mixing bowl. You can also use a mandolin slicer or sharp knife.
- Sprinkle the salt and juniper berries over the vegetables and mix well. Cover the bowl with a plate while you prepare the starter culture according to the directions on the packet.
- Next, add the starter culture (pre-dissolved in filtered water) to your bowl and mix again thoroughly.
- Using a large spoon, fill the sterilised jar with the vegetable mix, ensuring it is gently compressed between additions in order to remove air pockets, leaving about 2cm of space at the top of the jar.
- The vegetables should be fully submerged in the liquid as they are packed in. If you don’t have enough liquid to cover the vegetables, add more filtered water.
- Take the clean outer cabbage leaf and fold and place it on top of the vegetables before adding a small glass weight to keep everything submerged.
- Wrap a towel around the jar to block out the light, ensuring the airlock is exposed. Store in a dark place with a cool temperature (16–23°C) for at least 10 days but ideally up to two weeks.
- You can also place the jar in an Esky to help maintain a more consistent temperature. Different vegetables have different culturing times and warmer temperatures means shorter culturing times. The longer the jar is left to ferment, the higher the level of good bacteria present. It’s up to you how long you leave it. Some people prefer the tangier flavour that comes with extra fermenting time, while others like a milder flavour.
- Once ready, place the jar in the fridge to chill before serving.