Bacteria has become a bad word in the English language. We all try hard to keep ourselves healthy by keeping harmful bacteria from growing in our food. But, did you know there are beneficial bacteria strains that have been encouraged to grow and thrive on foods for generations? This process, called fermentation, leads to improved digestion and therefore overall health. Yogurt , kombucha , sauerkraut, kim chi, miso and tempeh are some of the most common fermented foods that are readily available to us.
We all have naturally occurring beneficial bacteria in our guts, and the abundance of this bacteria plays a huge role in our ability to digest food and assimilate nutrients. We used to get a good supply of beneficial bacteria, like lactobacilli, in foods we consume everyday. But a lot of the foods that we eat today are being made with vinegars to produce that tangy flavor of fermentation. The advent of pasteurization has also reduced the amount of beneficial bacteria we get in our foods. Pasteurization not only kills harmful bacteria, but beneficial bacteria and enzymes as well.
With the increased amounts of antibiotic drugs being prescribed, the amount of chlorine that is present in our water supply, and the amount of antibiotic soaps and other cleaners that are being widely used, we are now in a situation where we need to help our bodies replenish the beneficial flora of our gut to maintain a good level of health.
There are a lot of different options out there for fermented foods that will help with creating a diverse combination of microorganisms to help us assimilate the most nutrients we can from our food. Making them at home is a fairly simple task for those of us that like to be adventurous in the kitchen. The equipment is minimal, and the ingredients are common foods.
The process, in most cases, is simply chopping the vegetables or running them through a food processor, salting them (using 1.5 to 2 tsp of salt per pound of veggies), and storing the vegetables in a vessel that will allow them to sit in the brine and not come in contact with oxygen.
There are a lot of resources available to you both in book form and on the internet. One of my favorite authors on the topic of fermented foods is Sandor Katz. Katz’s books have taught me to successfully make sauerkraut, kim chi, fermented beets, and my favorite, a fermented hot sauce known as sriracha.
Do yourself a favor, incorporate fermented foods into your diet. It will help keep you—and your gut—happy.