Fermented foods like sauerkraut and kombucha are trendy right now, but unlike the oh-so-popular cronut, they’re trendy for their extensive health-promoting properties. You’ve probably heard of probiotics—they are healthy bacteria that help our digestive tracts and keep us healthy. But what you may not know is that fermented foods sitting on a grocery store shelf may not contain many (if any) of those good little critters.
Want to be sure your fermented foods are fresh, delicious, and bacteria-rich? Turn to home fermentation! We know, it sounds complicated and “foodie,” but it turns out at-home fermentation is cost-effective, simple, and fun!We talked to Certified Nutritional Practicer, fermentation expert, and Whole9 Canada seminar team leader Sarah Ramsden about the ins and outs of at-home fermentation, and how her new Fearless Fermentation course will lead you through the process of making your own fermented foods at home.
Why are fermented foods so popular in our health-conscious community?
Fermented foods have really been experiencing a resurgence lately. There is a rising awareness of the negative impacts of medications (like antibiotics), and how stress, alcohol, and poor diet can cause the degradation of our beneficial microbes and overall health. I love that people are increasingly taking matters into their own hands.
We know that eating fermented foods on a regular basis is beneficial. This is especially true when addressing things like autoimmune diseases, diabetes, neurological conditions, allergies, food intolerances, mental health concerns, obesit, and cancers. Digestive complaints and repeated infections are more day-to-day signs of an imbalance in our beneficial microbes. Unfortunately, gut flora imbalances (known as gut dysbiosis), and its close friend leaky gut (also known as increased intestinal permeability) are incredibly common.
You don’t have to have a big diagnosis from your doctor to benefit from fermented foods, though. The bacteria in fermented foods are involved in immune system modulation, fighting infection, speeding the healing process, and can have anti-inflammatory effects. They help us digest our food, absorb micronutrients, and create vitamins. Bacteria play an integral role in the way your body works. Upset your bacteria, and you upset your overall health.
What’s the difference between probiotic supplements and fermented foods?
Probiotic supplements tend to deliver a high dose of a small variety of bacteria (typically 1-10 strains) into our systems very quickly. Fermented foods and drinks on the other hand, offer a wider variety of bacteria strains, but in much lower doses. The same “food versus supplements” argument applies here too; fermented foods are loaded with synergistic nutrients that simply don’t make it into a pill.
The problem with probiotic supplements is that the human gut contains hundreds of different kinds of bacteria, and loading up on only a limited number of strains isn’t necessarily a good idea. (This is best done under the guidance of a qualified health professional, with specific lab testing.) The best way to get the widest number of bacteria strains into our systems is to simply eat and drink a variety of ferments. Even if you only like one kind of fermented food like sauerkraut, you can eat it at different stages of the fermentation process to increase the kinds of bacteria you’re exposed to.
Why would you want to ferment things at home when you can just buy them in the store?
First, if you’re new to fermented foods, I would suggest trying them from the store to start with. Buy unpasteurized and raw ferments, found in the fridge of a good health food store, will help you figure out what you like. I don’t think I know a single person who hasn’t fallen in love with the flavors of at least one kind of fermented food or drink—they give us the “sour” hit that our palettes don’t get enough of. However, buying them can get expensive, and a fermented food habit can quickly make a dent in your wallet! Making your own fermented foods means your new healthy habit costs considerably less. Plus, you know exactly what went into making it.
It seems intimidating, and I’m not that good in the kitchen.
It’s totally intimidating at first! It’s like learning to cook all over again, but with bacteria instead of a stove. And not only that, you’re battling a lot of cultural misinformation like, “Bacteria are bad, bacteria will make you sick.” But beneficial bacteria have an incredibly powerful positive effect on all areas of our health, especially when you consider that as humans we carry around billions of these critters in our systems—about ten times the number of our own cells.
Making your own fermented foods and drinks is actually much easier than learning to cook. With fifteen minutes of prep work, you leave your sauerkraut or kombucha on the counter for 2-3 weeks. That’s it. Having patience is literally the hardest thing about it. But then, like magic, you have a delicious and incredibly healthy addition to your meals.
How should people prepare before they start fermenting?
I’ve constructed my classes so you need to buy only minimal equipment. I strongly feel that when you’re learning something new, you shouldn’t have to invest a ton of money. Get a few mason jars, or reuse glass jars from your recycling bin. You can easily either grow or buy a SCOBY (the culture used to ferment tea into kombucha) from places as accessible as Amazon. When you sign up for a Fearless Fermentation class, I tell you exactly where you can pick up the essentials, and also how and when you can cut corners.
What does your fermentation course include?
Fearless Fermentation is launching with three classes: Fearless Kombucha, Fearless Sauerkraut, and Fearless Water Kefir (great for extra fizzy sodas, and dairy-free kefir), plus a free full length bonus class, Fearless Fermented Vegetables. More will be coming on a regular basis, based on what you’re all keen to learn next. Each one comes with three video-based classes and a PDF recipe book that takes you through the basics, right through to more creative recipes. You get a troubleshooting guide that covers the most common questions, equipment lists, specific places to buy your supplies, as well as a fermentation journal to help you keep track of everything. Finally, when you sign up for your class, you get exclusive membership in the Fearless Fermentation Facebook community, where you can get help from me and your classmates who are mastering fermentation along with you!
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