Fermented and cultured foods have been used for as far back as we know. Used as a method of preserving foods before the fridge was invented, they are currently experiencing a well-deserved revival and are being touted as the next generation of superfoods.
At various stages through life, gut bacteria can become compromised through stress, medication or an unbalanced lifestyle. This can cause tiredness, problems with digestion, bloating, upset stomachs or a weakened immune system. Fermented foods maintain a healthy gut to support the system under stress. They also improve digestion, boost the immune system, promote regular bowel movements, manage blood sugar levels, produce antioxidants, improve skin conditions and prevent intestinal disorders.
The fermentation process produces digestive enzymes and natural probiotics. Probiotics are friendly bacteria that live inside the gut. When these bacteria are properly balanced the gut is better able to absorb vitamins and nutrients from food, and eliminate toxins from the system. Reaping the benefits of all the good foods you nourish yourself with! Fermented foods create a wider variety and greater number of friendly bacteria in the gut. If you’ve ever taken a probiotic supplement you’ll have noticed that the more live bacteria, the better it works at balancing the gut. However, you will also have noticed how much more expensive these supplements are. Fermented foods are cheaper, and are nature’s probiotics.
It’s easy to work fermented foods into your diet. Swap regular bread for sourdough at lunchtime, add a tablespoon of sauerkraut with your main meal of the day, try coconut yogurt with your morning porridge; and miso paste instead of vegetable stock cubes in homemade soups, stews and casseroles. The three fermented foods I make most are sourdough bread, sauerkraut and coconut yogurt. I’ve been making sourdough bread for about three years and I still have the same batch of starter on the go. As it matures, the flavour intensifies and my little starter has set up several sourdough converts. Hopefully it’s still feeding, breathing, growing and producing great loaves for them.
The gluten in regular bread can make you feel bloated and uncomfortable. The fermentation process in sourdough breaks the gluten down and makes it far easier for our system to digest. I make one or two loaves at the start of the week. Because of the fermentation it stays fresh much longer than shop bought bread. Sauerkraut is really easy to make and tastes much better than the ones you buy in supermarkets or health food shops. If you want to try a shop bought version make sure you buy one for the fridge; off the shelf jars are pasteurised to extend the use by date which kills most of the good bacteria that we need to strengthen our guts. Coconut yogurt is my latest venture and I’m still playing around with the best fermentation method. Like sauerkraut, it’s simple to get started, it’s just a matter of catching it at the right fermentation stage. Fermented foods are easy to make, no need to guess if you've got the timing right - the minute you open the jar your nose will tell you!
The focus in nutrition is shifting towards internal health as a priority. A healthy gut is fundamental to all-round health. I’ll be posting recipes for my three favourite fermentations soon, so be sure to visit again and give them a go.
Ruth Delahunty Yogaru