Highly Recommended readings:
Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon
The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz
For many years as I have canned food, I have pondered on the fact that it seems I have to cook things to death– using very high temperatures for a long period of time. It just did not seem that there could be a single vitamin left after all that. The jams and jellies were delicious, but I also cooked them to death and added tons of sugar. So, in the end what did I have? I wondered how much of the jam was just colored, flavored, sugar. In 2012 I began a search for a better way to preserve food. There is an old saying that goes “If you look, you will find.” And so I did.
Although the process of fermentation was a new to me, it is a very old way of preserving food. For thousands of years, people all over the globe have been fermenting food in order to preserve it. Kimchi comes from Korea and shoyu comes from China and Japan, poi comes from Polynesia, from India and the Middle East – yogurts, pickles, and torshi; from Central Asia – kefir, from Europe – sauerkraut, kefir, crème fraiche, and rakfisk (salted fermented trout); and the Americas – kombucha and pickling. These foods may or may not be familiar to you. Having the mixed cultural heritage of China, Polynesia, Portugal, Germany, and England; most of these foods were not only familiar to me but some were a regular part of my diet. The only one that I really have struggled with is sauerkraut. I have discovered however, that sauerkraut made through traditional methods of fermentation is fabulous.
There must be something to it if all the cultures of the world have used this method of food preservation. In my research, I was pleasantly surprised to find that fermented foods actually increased the nutritional value of the food. That was truly amazing to me. I had to find out more about this new yet ancient method.
In my studies I came across a book called “Nourishing Traditions” written by Sally Fallon. This book is on the recommended reading list for this lesson and can be purchased through our bookstore. Here is an excerpt from that book:
“The ancient Greeks understood that important chemical changes took place during fermentation. Their name for this change was “alchemy.” Like the fermentation of dairy products, preservation of vegetables and fruits by the process of lacto-fermentation has numerous advantages beyond those of simple preservation. The proliferation of lactobacilli in fermented vegetables enhances their digestibility and increases vitamin levels. These beneficial organisms produce numerous helpful enzymes as well as antibiotic and anti-carcinogenic substances. Their main by-product, lactic acid, not only keeps vegetables and fruits in a state of perfect preservation, but also promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout the intestine. Other alchemical byproducts include hydrogen peroxide and small amounts of benzoic acid. “ Wow – if this was really true, I had found what I was looking for – a way to preserve food that did not destroy vitamins, and, it actually enhanced them in super beneficial ways. I felt I might have hit the jackpot!
Lactobacillus Bacteria is one of many friendly bacteria that are responsible for the preservation of food. It is this bacteria that is found in most yogurts. Health food stores carry supplements with this ingredient and label it “pro-biotics.” I remember when my daughter was struggling with her complexion – as many teens do – and was told she had issues with her digestive tract. She was prescribed probiotics to help in the digestive process. At the time I knew nothing about friendly flora and the health benefits that come from ingesting foods with the lactobacillus bacteria. It was amazing to see her face clear up. Why was it that she didn’t have enough of the friendly bacteria?
I wondered what had happened in our modern world that had allowed us to forget or to stop using these methods of food preservation in favor of the traditional canning methods we use today. More than likely, it is convenience, and the ability to make lots of money selling the new idea. Here is what I found as I researched fermentation;
* Uncooked, fermented foods are high in enzymes
* Fermented foods encourage natural balance of bacteria
* Fermented foods help in the digestion process
* Fermented foods are richer in vitamins than unfermented food
*Fermented foods help the body absorb vitamins and minerals
*Fermented foods have palatable flavor and texture
* Fermented foods last a long time
* Fermenting food is inexpensive
After learning all of that, I was determined to learn how to ferment the fruits and veggies coming out of my garden. I am also determined to learn to like fermented foods as well. I’m not a big fan of sauerkraut – as I mentioned before – so this was going to be a bit of a challenge for me, but I am totally willing to make the change.
I looked up many recipes, read a lot of blogs, and studied the chemistry behind fermentation. I was still too fearful to actually give it a go on my own because I had never fermented anything myself nor seen it done and it was sort of against everything I had been brought up to believe. I had a hard time sitting anything on a counter for 3-5 days until it got real frothy. That was when you threw it out! Not so with fermentation – that is when its just getting good! I couldn’t help thinking of my Dad who is a native of Hawaii and grew up on poi and raw fish. I love poi too, but my Dad loved it more after it had soured a few days – then it was fit to eat. That is when I passed. I never have acquired the taste for really sour poi. I guess that will have to change. The old Hawaiians knew how to eat poi the right way. I began searching in earnest for someone who could help me learn this lost art.
I was so pleased to find Dr. Kyle Christensen who was teaching classes on fermentation in the city just south of me. His class was excellent! He brought out numerous jars of fermented vegetables from bean salad and sauerkraut to chocolate mint carrots. We tasted ginger beer and learned how to make kvoss right in his kitchen. I loved it. I came home and gathered a bunch of beets from my garden, cut them up and made two large jars of kvoss (fermented beet drink). This was done by using some sea salt, my well water, and a tablespoon of the lactobacillus liquid that gathers on the top of yogurt.
I set them up on my shelf and waited. About ½ way through the third day we started hearing a hissing sound. The beets had built up so much pressure that the lid was beginning to round and I was afraid the jar would explode if we didn’t release the pressure. Here is where I turned chicken. Who would be so kind as to relieve the pressure of those jars?? It was a good job for the boys who I somehow convinced to take them out to the grass and unscrew the lids. Fortunately there was no explosion. I should have been releasing the pressure on a more daily basis. Lesson learned – I haven’t done that again. My beet drink was ready!
I put the jars in the refrigerator and was the only one who would have anything to do with drinking the juice. Mom had just gotten real weird – again. I’ve got a lot of work to do!! I have to admit – it tasted terrible and I had to add some honey or agave in order to actually enjoy it. I will say I did enjoy the tangy zip it had and – over time – gradually began to enjoy the drink. It just felt so refreshing. After draining a jar, I would fill it up with water and rotate it to the back of the refrigerator and drink from the other jar. I have enjoyed that batch of kvoss for more than a month now. I just barely gathered up another bunch of beets to start another batch as the old one is getting rather weak. However, I still think there is enough zip left to use it as a start for my new batch. I also think if you raise your family drinking and eating this way it’s a whole lot easier than trying to convince them to take a sip when they’re teenagers.
The next thing I did was buy some old crock pot insides from a thrift store and put together a batch of dill pickles and minted carrots. The carrots were a little weak and the pickles were too salty. Other than that, they were both really crunchy and had a nice tangy flavor. That was experiment #2. I purchased some fermentation equipment from the local brewery (an airlock and some 5 gallon buckets). Actually we don’t have anything like that locally – so I ordered it online and received it in the mail. Then I decided I ought to try ginger beer in an effort to get my family to drink fermented drinks. So, I made up a batch, fermented it for a month, and it was a hit! I am currently testing how long it takes to ferment the ginger beer so it tastes great with no alcohol flavor. There is always a tang and natural carbonation present, but if you let it go too long, it turns. I am in the process of making my first sauerkraut with my garden cabbage. Its been a lot of fun and a whole new world of food preservation.
What I wanted for you is to have a chance to meet Dr. Kyle Christensen – take one of his classes and get started with your own food fermentation. In this I am not the expert – but the learner and want to share my experiences with you as well as exposing you to the expert who has the knowledge and expertise that will help you be successful in this form of food preservation – which is by far the easiest and most nutritious.
Dr. Christensen has been a practicing chiropractor (since 1985), as well as a naturopath and master herbalist. In 1996, he co-founded Western Botanicals, an herbal manufacturing company, which specializes in organic herbal remedies. His expertise lies in treating a myriad of conditions using herbal cleanses and remedies, allergy elimination treatments (BioSET/NAET/PMT), acupressure, Dr. Weissman’s Lifeline Technique, natural therapies and chiropractic health care. He is the author of Herbal First Aid and Health Care: Medicine for a New Millennium, published by Lotus Press in 2000. Dr. Christensen has conducted workshops locally and around the country on natural healthcare with the goal to have “An Herbalist in Every Home.” To purchase Dr. Christensen’s books or fermentation supplies, go to http://dr.kylechristensen.net.
Last but not least, click here for some fabulous recipes and get started on your adventures with fermentation.