Valerie O’Connor says fermented foods, like sauerkraut, pickled vegetables, cheeses, and dried meats, replenish healthy bacteria in the gut, improve digestion and boost energy.
They say ‘listen to your gut’. The gut is like a second brain, the centre of intuition for making decisions — but do we look after the gut’s needs?
We have depleted our good gut bacteria, or flora, by eating food that has been chemically sprayed and voided of healthy enzymes and bacteria that we badly need.
A depletion of good gut flora can cause a range of illnesses and disorders, from the more obvious, like constipation or diarrohea, to IBS and anxiety or depression.
As a nation, we used to enjoy naturally probiotic foods, like buttermilk, which was the by-product of butter-making. Mead was made by letting honey ferment with water and, on the Aran islands, they fermented sharks’ liver as a superfood to supplement their diets.
So what are fermented foods? Many countries have ferments in their daily diets, from the sauerkrauts of Germany to pickled vegetables and cheeses. Beer and wine are fermented foods, too, as are dried meats, like salamis and chorizo.
Bread lovers will be delighted that sourdough bread is also a fermented food, with much of the carbohydrate in the grain predigested by lactobilli bacteria in the sourdough starter, which makes it much lower in gluten than regular bread that is baked with yeast.
Kimchi, a spicy cabbage condiment from Korea, is said to be one of the healthiest of foods. Miso is made from fermented soybeans and is a potent aid to women in menopause, as it produces estrogen.
Kefir is a probiotic and great to eat after a course of antibiotics, as it is itself antibiotic and has been used to treat eye infections, cold sores and even verrucas.
Kombucha is a fermented tea drink that is naturally fizzy and tastes great. Making it at home costs a fraction of what you will buy it for in the shops. Ferments cover such a wide array of foods, but making them is as easy as salting some cabbage and putting it in a jar.
The purpose of fermenting was to preserve food in the days before freezing or canning. It was a necessity to make the most of any foods in-season. It was common to come home from a day’s work in the fields and chow down on a meal of cured meats, a piece of a raw-milk cheese, a hunk of sourdough bread with a scoop of a tangy sauerkraut, all washed down with a mug of beer or home-made wine. The cooking of a meal was left for weekends, so our ancestors knew about convenience foods.
There are many advantages to introducing these foods into your daily routine. Eating foods that are sour or tangy will alter your taste buds, so that you are less likely to crave sweets and sugar. Sugar is the new smoking and anything that can help you give up this pointless, but highly addictive, food, is to be welcomed.
When you eat just small amounts of ferments, your palate will change and you will find highly processed foods, like packaged biscuits, so unappealing that giving them up won’t be a problem. Eating fermented foods will balance your hormones, making you less prone to bouts of PMS. They will raise your energy levels by improving your digestion and they will boost your immune system.
Introduce fermented foods into your diet slowly, as all the new bacteria will be having a party in your gut, as they set to work making it a better place. Eat little, even a teaspoon a day, of your chosen ferments and add more gradually, until you can’t imagine a meal without them. Happy fermenting!
The Irish Kraut
The lactobilli bacterium present in all vegetables is activated by fermenting. The good news is that once these bacteria are present, it’s difficult for others to muscle in and take over. Sauerkraut is a staple in German homes and has been adapted the world over as a ‘miraculous’, health-giving food that is easy and cheap to make. Eating sauerkraut is a habit that develops: it’s so refreshing compared to shop-bought versions and goes well with cheese and cold meats.
Or just grab a mouth-full whenever you are passing the fridge — it’s better than a donut. This sauerkraut is like a fresh coleslaw, and therefore not much of a reach to eat. The colours influenced it’s name and the spring onions give it a nice, light summery flavour, while the carrot sweetens it naturally.
Equipment needed: a one-litre mason jar, an instrument for ‘pounding’ the cabbage, like a flat-ended rolling pin, a very clean, large, plastic basin or bowl, a small jar or stone for weighing the cabbage down in the jar (this will also have to be sterilised).
Sterilise your jar by boiling it in a pan of water for 10 minutes and letting it cool down, or put it through the dish-washer, or rub the insides of it with a small amount of vodka or gin on a tissue.
Makes a one-litre jar
1/2 large head Dutch cabbage 2 medium carrots 2-3 spring onions 2 tsp sea salt
1. Shred the cabbage with a large knife. You can use a food processor, but it chops the cabbage too finely. Grate the carrots and chop the onions. Pop them all into your large bowl with the salt.
2. Mix everything together with your hands and massage it for 10 minutes, or until the juices start to flow from the veggies. You can use your hands or use your flat-ended rolling pin and begin pounding the cabbage. Keep going for 10 minutes, until some of the juices are being released.
3. Get your clean jar and pack the cabbage in with the juices. Press it down and pop in a jar/weight or stone that’s big enough to put pressure on the cabbage when you close the lid. Leave a space of one inch, as it may expand, but you want the cabbage to be submerged in the juices. Place the jar on a plate to catch any juices that might overflow.
4. Leave the jar at room temperature for four to five days. You should see bubbling in the jar; this means it’s working. ‘Burp’ the jar once a day to release any gasses that build up; it might spit at you. In a cold winter, put the jar in the airing cupboard — the ideal temperature is 20-22C. You can refrigerate the sauerkraut afterwards;, this will stop the fermentation process. You can also let go of the weight in the jar. If it looks like the kraut is drying out, simply top it up with a small amount of cooled, boiled water.
Contrary to belief, pickled vegetables don’t contain any vinegar, but the fermenting gives them a tart, vinegary fragrance. It’s so easy to make a jar of basic, pickled veggies to get you started on a journey of pickling just about anything, within reason.
Anything in the brassica (cabbage) family works really well and these fermented crudites turn ordinary cauliflower into a delicious and refreshing snack.
Cauliflower seems to be having a moment as the latest paleo craze to replace rice and even pizza crust, but it’s much easier just to hack it up and pop it in a jar with some salt water and impress your friends with your amazing, probiotic superfood.
You can bring these nibbles to work and have them with some hummus for lunch. Organic vegetable always works best, as there will be far more active enzymes needed to get the ferments going, but buy what you can afford. Fermenting turns the ordinary into the extraordinary anyway.
Basic fermented veggies
You will need: 1 litre sterilised jar/or any decent-sized jar One cauliflower, broken into small florets 2-3 large carrots, washed and scraped/peeled and cut into sticks of about 1/2 inch thick 2 tsp sea salt 1 litre spring/filtered/boiled water
1. Prepare and wash your vegetable in clean, filtered or boiled water
2. In a clean jug, dissolve the salt in the water
3. Layer the veggies tightly in your jar, leaving a space of about one inch at the top of the jar
4. Pour over the water mixture and press them down with a small jar/weight, and close the jar. Put the jar on a plate and leave it at room temperature for 3-4 days, letting the gasses escape once a day. You will be amazed at how fizzy this ferment gets, almost like a bottle of lemonade. Once the gasses have subsided, you can remove the weight in the jar and transfer it to the fridge.Enjoy these highly addictive snacks.
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