Fermented foods are all the rage at the moment; just about everywhere I shop there’s a new brand of sauerkraut, kim chi or funkified-flavoured kombucha popping up around the place.
Of course, fermented foods aren’t actually anything new. Many of these recipes represent our first attempts at preparing and storing food to last though out the seasons. In fact, modern civilisation was created with the help of fermenting vegetables (the first preserved cabbage, later known as sauerkraut, developed as the great wall of China was being built, similarly, Captain Cook attributed the success of his journey to the 100s of sauerkraut barrels he took on his trip).
Yet, in terms of the modern western diet, many of these foods are considered novel; the idea of eating food that is both, uncooked and cultured is foreign to many palates.
But here are 5 awesome reasons to enjoy fermented foods:
Many health claims are touted when it comes to fermented foods. There is ample evidence that many types of cultured vegetables – such as sauerkraut, kim chi, or any fermented vegetable mix – does contain live sources of health-promoting bacteria, in particular the lactobacillus and bifidobacteria strains that have been shown to benefit gastrointestinal health. The fermentation process also transforms raw vegetables into fermented foods within an acidic environment. During this process, the nutrient profile of the raw ingredients change; increasing numbers of certain nutrients such as fibre, B vitamins and amino acids, and decreasing the sugar content.
Health foods and supplements can be expensive; for instance, a good brand of probiotics can cost up to $50.00 per pack. In comparison, fermented foods containing live sources of health-promoting bacteria cost anywhere from $5-10.00 per 1 litre jar when you prepare them at home. They have a long shelf life, and will not spoil for months, if not years. Preparing them at home is a cost-effective way to enjoy health foods with probiotic benefits.
Fermentation was originally created to prolong the shelf life of certain foods. When food is unprocessed and uncooked it has a shelf life of days, perhaps weeks. Whereas, when it is fermented it can last for months, if not years without spoiling.
Fermenting fresh fruit and vegetables has significantly cut down the food waste in our home. As I’ve learnt, just about anything can be fermented (avocadoes and bananas are still challenging me, but that’s another story). So, when things start looking a little tired, I take them from the fridge and add them to a fermentation medley. This ensures a longer shelf life with minimal waste.
Most of us know what it’s like to come home late from work and find zero food in the fridge. The great thing about fermented food is that can prepare an array of awesome and nutritious food that will last indefinitely. A late night meal can quickly be prepared with a few fresh ferments, and perhaps some cheese and eggs (2 minute omelette) or even some frozen sausage or fish fingers from the freezer. I try to shop weekly at the market, and usually by Thursday and Friday there are slim pickings for fresh foods. The great thing about fermented foods is that they provide equal, if not greater nutritional value to fresh fruit and vegetables, so they are a great addition to any meal when fresh food is not available.
Yes, you read correctly. Many kids love eating fermented foods. I started my 3yo on sauerkraut and cultured beets from a very young age (8 or so months) and he can now eat it straight out the jar. Cultured foods do taste sour and tangy – so it can be an acquired taste. Start them young and they’ll be hooked for life.
Here’s a recipe for turmeric tonic - straight from the fermentation chapter in my new book – Organic Cooking on a Budget.
½ cup honey
2 tablespoons finely grated turmeric
¼ cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely grated ginger
2 tablespoons tamarind paste
In a saucepan, place the turmeric, tamarind, and half the grated ginger. Add two cups water and bring to boil. Reduce to a gentle simmer, and leave to cook, uncovered for 15-20 minutes.
Gently mash the mixture with a wooden spoon every few minutes as it cooks. This will help to break up the tamarind.
After cooking, remove from heat and allow it to cool to room temperature. Drain the liquid through a fine mesh sieve and discard the solids (tip: don't throw these solids out! they make an excellent tea, just add 1 tbsp to a cup of boiling water).
To the liquid, add the remaining ginger and other ingredients. Add additional filtered water so the total volume is 3 ½ cups. Place in a 1 litre glass jar. Cover with a cloth and leave at room temperature for 3-4 days (a warm part of the house is ideal). Stir once or twice daily in a circular direction with a clean metal spoon. This is very important. Don’t forget to stir!
When it starts to bubble – on day 4 or 5, it is ready to drink. It can be drunk immediately or sealed and stored in a refrigerator. The tonic is quite strong – so best diluted with water in a ratio of 1 part tonic, 3 parts water. Add sparkling mineral water for additional carbonation.
Are you interested to learn more about fermented foods and their health benefits? Check out my recent article on prebiotics & probiotics for fairfax media, or take a look at this article on Cultured foods.