Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Fermented Foods: A New Mindset

I've understood generally that fermented foods convey certain health benefits for some time now. After reading Sally Fallon's, Nourishing Traditions, last fall, I set out to include something fermented in our diet. We started with her Ginger Carrot recipe. I made it, it fermented, and then the jar went into the fridge for storage. And there it sat, month after month after month. I looked at those carrots every time I opened the door. The jar even made it to the table for supper on several occasions, but it was never opened - not even once. Finally, I threw the contents out and haven't tried fermenting since.

Now that we are preparing to embark on the GAPS diet, I'm trying to build my family up to eating fermented foods once more. My husband grimaces every time I use the word, 'ferment'. I'll be honest, I shudder too. My experience with fermented foods extends to sauerkraut filled pierogi and sour cabbage rolls. Neither of which I enjoy at all. Yet, people around the world eat fermented foods and like them, so clearly there must be recipes out there that make a person want to eat them. Or perhaps the problem stems from our distorted sense of taste. Too much sugary laden food in our diet has changed our ideas about what is palatable.

I often lament the fact that growing up, I was not exposed to fermented foods early on in life. Perhaps I would find it easier to eat them now. Maybe if I had grown up understanding how to ferment foods, the process might not be so scary. Coming from a generation of vaccinating, anti-biotic using, hand sanitizing, canned food, germaphobes, the idea of eating food laden with bacteria (even if it is good) goes against everything I was raised to believe. Bacteria is bad, it's harmful, it will make you sick.

Photo by Chiot's Run.

I know that this is not the case with fermented foods. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Fermented foods contain helpful enzymes (to help supplement our own body's finite supply), which aid and improve digestion. Fermented foods contain vastly more nutritional value than their raw and cooked counterparts. Fermented foods, according to Sandor Ellix Katz, author of Wild Fermentation, are safer than canned foods and there is no risk of contracting botulism. Fermented foods help keep the bacteria populations in our digestive tract tipped in favour of the good guys - a state most of our guts in the Western world are not in.

I desperately want to like fermented foods. I certainly love the idea of them and I feel very passionately about the fact that we all really, really need fermented foods in our diet. But, fermented anything - in my family at least - is not going to be an easy road of acceptance. I know it will require a huge leap of faith, a change of mindset and probably a lot more, for most of us to get on board with eating them.

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COB said...


It has been a slow road for us too. Some things we have liked and some things have not been great.

My husband and I both have German backgrounds, so it is safe to say that our families definitely used to eat fermented foods! We do love sauerkraut. But the first thing that really worked for us were regular ole' cucumbuer pickles. I am excited to make more! Also I drink both kefir and kombucha daily which helps out alot. I am not sure that such items are GAPS legal. My family isn't on GAPS.

Much luck to you! I hope that you find something that your family likes!!

I hope you'll check out my blog too, www.thetaleofpromise.blogspot.com

COB said...

Haha!! I misspelt my own blog address:

Amanda said...

Hello! I've had some success with fermenting foods in the past couple of months. I do drink water kefir and kombucha a lot, so I think that has helped my palate. Also, getting rid of soda and other sugary foods helped. I also was lucky enough to taste a friends fermented foods that were delicious, but for some reason I was having a hard time recreating in my own home! But I have had success with fermenting condiments. I now have fermented mayo, mustard, ketchup and hot sauce that I use regularly. My fermented vegetables somehow made it to the back of the fridge and just like your carrots... there they remain!

Amanda from http://thefrickinchicken.blogspot.com (I saw your link on Traditional Tuesdays!)

Shanon Hilton said...

Hi COB, I've been drinking kombucha too - though, it is GT's Organic Raw Ginger Kombucha from the store. I've got my son drinking that too. I'll have to make the switch to culturing my own one of these days. I'll check out your website for recipes. Thanks. --S

Shanon Hilton said...

Hi Amanda, I was looking into water kefir - I think that might just go over alright here. I would be interested in trying fermented condiments - especially the ketchup - but all of the recipes I have found call for whey. And since my son and I are allergic to dairy, I'm not sure how to get around this one. What do you use? --S

Kara said...

Maybe it would help to start with some of the high quality ferments you can buy at the store first? I know bubbies has live cultures and my local co-op carries several organic live naturally cultured ferments. It might help with the yuck factor. Then you can progress to making your own

Shanon Hilton said...

Hi Kara, I just ordered some water kefir from etsy. Though, I'm not sure how the sugar factor comes into play here... I never thought to check out our co-op, thanks for the suggestion - I will do that!

Lori said...

I have a hard time with ferments, but the more I do them and eat a little here and there, the more I actually like them. The best is the fermented Daikon that I made. Daikon is very mild so it doesn't have that sharp, sour taste that many other ferments have.

I also made some spicey Cortido and when I only had about 1 cup left I added carrots. Carrots are sweet, so you might just want to try to ferment carrots without the ginger! Once you start experimenting, you'll find things you and your family like. Oh, and I find eating them with salty beef is really helpful at first!!! Good luck.


Annette said...

We are looking into doing the GAPS diet as well. We are practically on it now with all of our allergies.

From what I can see, GAPS does allow kefir. And as we are not consuming dairy (my son is lactose intolerant), we have just ordered water kefir grains and will be making some sauerkraut.

My question is, since sauerkraut is lactofermented WITHOUT whey, could you use the liquid from the sauerkraut as a fermentation base for your condiments or pickles?

I am not too avid a blogger, but,



Annette said...

We aren't making sauerkraut with water kefir grains... That sentence looks weird. I am just saying that those are the things we are going to try to consume as our fermented foods.

Melanie said...

I'm a weird one and LOVE all things fermented. I was lucky to grow up with sauerkraut, pickles and beets all being some of my favorite foods. Heck, I loved liver. What kid loves liver?
My own kids, to my shock and horror, not so much fans. But the one thing all 4 will eat is fermented green beans. In fact they are hard to keep up with. Fermented pea pods and carrot sticks are also eaten by most.

Shanon Hilton said...

Hi Annette, That's a good idea. I'm not sure I completely understand the reasoning behind using whey for condiments, chutneys or fruit. Nourishing Traditions has a recipe for salsa using extra salt, I might start with that one.

Shanon Hilton said...

Hi Melanie, Thanks for suggestions. I don't know why I didn't consider beans or pea pods before, I bet they would be yummy. So many inspiring ideas. Hearing other people comment about how they enjoy fermented foods makes me think there must be recipes out there that I will like!

Will and Susan said...

We make water kefir, milk kefir, kombucha and sauerkraut. We find drinking/eating these food really help with digesting heavier food. Regarding the recipes that require whey and your and your son's intolerance, do you know if you are intolerant to whey from a raw milk source? I'm aware that people with lactose intolerance are able to tolerate raw milk, but not the processed milk. Just a thought.

Shanon Hilton said...

Hi Will & Susan, Yes, we did try raw dairy for a while, but he doesn't tolerate any dairy.

Donna Schwenk said...

I have written a new book on fermented foods. These are cultured foods my family eats everyday. My family is very picky. 60 recipes total. I am giving away a free one this week. Check it out here. http://blog.culturedfoodlife.com/

Ruth Almon said...

I found it was difficult to take the plunge too. Thought about it forever, and kept reading about it, and like a scale tipping, it suddenly seemed easy and do-able.

Hope you get there too!


kcar said...

Oh, we are right there with you. I too made ginger carrots, and let them sit in my refrigerator until we moved a year later ; )

My struggle right now is pickling. I absolutely love pickled vegetables -- and this spring I decided to try lacto-fermented asparagus instead of my usual vinegar recipe. I hated it! I like the tang of vinegar, which is different than the strange funk of fermentation.

But, like you, I will keep trying...

Anonymous said...

Kohlrabi is good! Trying fermented vegetables that you don't eat often might help, since you won't be so used to their "normal" flavor. You can also go ahead and eat them earlier. No reason to not eat younger ferments if you like them better. It's also perfectly acceptable to add some vinegar or something as you eat it, if you miss the flavor.

Rebekah Daphne said...

I just tried these lacto-fermented carrot sticks from The Nourishing Gourmet, and they're very good. I used basil instead of dill. I don't think they have a weird taste at all, just the tang that any pickle would have.


Elizabeth said...

I second the suggestion to try store-made ferments -- you will feel more comfortable about their safety. Locally I can buy Bubbies pickles and sauerkraut from my health food store and kimchi from the grocery.

You can get dairy-free cultures from Cultures from Health or Body Ecology.

If you find you don't like sauerkraut, beets, carrots or cucumbers might be a good place to start fermenting. You can also make a lacto-fermented version of the "hot carrots and peppers" dish that is served along with chips in some Mexican restaurants. Also salsa, ketchup, mustard, mayo, etc. can all be lacto-fermented.

Crystal Rassi said...

I'm not a fan of fermented anything either EXCEPT after I tried this Burmese salad.
I have not had it with prawns or green chili and it's still delicous. I'm sure many of the ingredients can be substituted to your liking if you're allergic to anything but the main ingredient makes the salad - pickled tea leaves!
I'd really suggest looking into this. It's extremely difficult to find and/or import these leaves as Burma has been known to ferment these leaves in fermaldahyde illegally. I believe the fermented leaves from Burma are illegal in most countries so I'd try fermenting them yourself if you know how.

Good luck. Let me know what you think if you ever try it! It'll surprise you!

Shanon Hilton said...

Hi Crystal, That does sound interesting. Thanks for the suggestion. Right now we have loads of cabbage and kale coming in from our garden - more than we can eat - so I think I'm going to have to start fermenting with these ingredients first!

Sarah C said...

We've had success with water kefir soda. We've tried all flavors, and found that we will only drink the ones made with "purple" juices - grape or pomegrante/blueberry. We don't drink alchohol, and water kefir soda cream soda and made with cherry juice was much too "beery" for us.

Water kefir soda in grape is our favorite! We only need about 3/4 cup of no sugar added juice per quart.

Heidi said...

Hi Sharon!

I just found your blog and am enjoying reading about all your gardening and preserving. I canned tomatoes for the first time last year and loved having no-pesticide tomatoes available in jars for recipes over the winter. Plus it's a great feeling of satisfaction having done it yourself.

On fermenting, as someone else commented, our favorite is sauerkraut which is WAY better fermented vs. the vinegar variety. I have also used the brine solution to 'pickle' beets and turnips which are very yummy. My brother's family likes a mix of pickled cauliflower, carrots, celery and onion which is also really good. I'm not much for kefir or the other fermented foods so this is a good option. We use something called The Perfect Pickler which makes fermenting a snap and it comes with a recipe book which is nice (www.perfectpickler.com)

Thanks for all the great information!


dixiebelle said...

I was nodding the whole way through this blog post. I first got interested from Sharon Astyk and as I love eating food that is good for me, I really want to lacto-ferment. I read Wild Fermentation, and got very excited and it sounded easy... tried sauerkraut in my own-made crock set up... but really had little idea what it should be doing, when it was done, or even what sauerkraut should taste like (bought a jar of proper sauerkraut to try, not that fussed about it!) Then bought a Pickl-It and tried kimchi, which seemed to do all the right things, and tasted great... but I got an upset tummy & wasn't sure if it was from the kimchi, got paranoid and ended up throwing it out. I want to make LF cucumber pickles, LF salsa and any other abundance that comes from our garden... I have Nourishing Traditions coming from the library, & I will just have to keep trying!

Shanon Hilton said...

Hi Dixiebelle, I think you're on the right track. Finding fermented foods that work for you require persistence! So far, we haven't had much success with them, but we're still trying! The only exception is GT's Raw Ginger Kombucha which my son and I love. Good for you for sticking with it! --S

steve harman said...

I appreciate your writing in this topic.