Tuesday, June 22, 2010
MAKING YOUR OWN PROBIOTICS AND ENZYMES
By Marjorie Tietjen
Since time began, man has preserved his food through the process of fermentation. Humans live in a symbiotic relationship with yeasts, mold and bacteria. These organisms are in everything we eat and are even in the air we breathe. Historically each region of the world is known for it's specific fermented foods.......such as....... sauerkraut in Germany, kimchi (fermented mixed vegetables) from Korea, Kefir (a cultured milk product from the Caucus Mountains), and Japan is known for it's miso (fermented soybeans).
The list of fermented foods goes on to include fermented teas, wine, beer, hard cider, sourdough breads, fermented grain porridges, most vegetables and fruits....and even meat and fish. Rediscovering the miracle of fermentation has become an exciting and magical adventure as I continue to try my own hand at culturing the many different foods which are amenable to this process. I must admit however, that the thought of fermented meat and fish has not yet tempted me.
Beneficial Chemical Changes
Fermentation favorably alters the chemical nature of our food. Not only does it preserve the food but this natural process also improves its digestibility, while increasing nutrient and enzyme content. The helpful bacteria which are involved in this magical transformation are very valuable for the more complete assimilation of nutrients and they are a critical component of our immune system. Many of you are already aware of the fact that these helpful microbes or probiotics (pro-life) help to keep the more harmful bacteria in our digestive tracts, under control and in balance. The presence of friendly microbes actually improves our ability to resist infection. A healthy colon is considered to be our second immune system.
Another advantage of fermentation is the neutralization of anti nutrients or enzyme inhibitors. For example, grains and beans contain phytic acid, which blocks the absorption of zinc, iron, calcium and phosphorous. The culturing process disables the phytic acid and these fermented foods now become more nutritious, easier to digest and less allergenic. A more dramatic example of fermentation neutralizing toxins comes from page 7 of the book... Wild Fermentation: The Flavors, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods by Sandor Ellix Katz. "Fermentation also removes toxins from foods. This is vividly illustrated by the case of cassava, an enormous tuber native to the tropical regions of the Americas that has also become a staple food in equatorial regions of Africa and Asia. Certain varieties of cassava contain high levels of cyanide and are poisonous until they have undergone a soaking fermentation. The fermentation process eliminates the cyanide, rendering the cassava edible and nutritious."
When I speak to people of the health benefits of fermented foods, many will say that they already consume fermented foods , such a beer, canned sauerkraut and other pickled vegetables. However, unless the product in the store is refrigerated, it has already been cooked or pasteurized. These potentially healthy vibrant foods have had all the life taken out of them through this heating process. In recent times, the mass production of our food supply has discouraged the use of fermented whole foods. Fermentation involves more labor and time and is really more of an art than a science. The shelf life of the foods is also a consideration.
Homemade cultured vegetables should not be heated on the stove as this cancels out the activity of the good bacteria and of the enzymes. To take the chill off, portions can be brought to room temperature before a meal.
Sandor Katz, the king of fermentation, in his book Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods , assures us that making our own cultured foods can be fun and easy. Sometimes it requires a bit of patience and experimentation, but anyone with a interest can succeed. No fancy equipment is needed. A grater, knives, wide mouth quart canning jars, sea salt, the vegetables you have chosen, and an implement to pound with, are all that is necessary.
One of my favorite recipes, fermented ginger carrots, comes from the cookbook Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. This book is an excellent resource on how to properly prepare foods to retain and enhance nutrient content. It is a treasure trove of interesting facts and valuable information.
I will be modifying the recipe just a bit because fresh whey is one of the optional ingredients that many of you may not have access to.
Ginger Carrots ..... makes one quart
4 generous cups raw fresh grated carrots
1 TBSP of grated fresh ginger
2 TBSP sea salt
Mix all of these ingredients together in a container. Then pound the mixture with a meat hammer or an old fashioned wooden pounder. This releases the juice of the carrots, which is needed to cover the carrots during the process of fermentation and to help preserve them while in cold storage.
Place the ingredients into the quart wide mouthed canning jar. Press the mixture down firmly as you add layers of the ingredients. Pressing down as you go, eliminates air pockets which could cause spoilage. Keep pressing until the juice covers the top of the carrots. The top of the carrots should be at least one inch from the top of the jar. Cover and leave at room temperature for about 3 days before transferring the jar to the refrigerator. If the jar is filled too full, you may notice the jar leaking during the fermentation period. This is OK because we don't need a "seal" as we do when canning. Because of this possibility it is wise to place
something protective under the jar .... such as a plate.
I have also substituted grated raw turnips for the carrots, with excellent results. The carrots should stay fresh for a couple of months in the refrigerator. Once made, these cultured vegetables can be thought of as the perfect fast food, immediately available to add zip and digestive power to meat, fish and other heavy foods.
Eating a diet rich in fermented foods should provide your body with a sufficient amount of friendly bacteria. However, if you happen to be taking antibiotics for a chronic infection, it would be wise to add a concentrated commercial source of probiotics, for increased assurance and protection.
In order to possess a healthy vibrant body, we must feed the body vibrant living fuel. Summer is coming and local organic produce will soon be available to experiment with. Try your hand at fermentation. The bacteria that initiates the fermentation process is a free gift from nature and I think you will be pleasantly surprised at the results.