Yesterday at three we concluded our very first live workshop on the why’s and how’s of fermenting foods at the Dew Yahs shop in Parkville, MO. It was really nice to be in the front of so many people that wanted to know more about living the life natural.
As the kickoff presenter I was tasked with setting the stage for change. I followed the basic outline of the two pieces that I did last week on fermentation and pickling, “Live Show” and “Living with Rot“.
My general impression from the questions that we got is that people are very curious about probiotics. Everyone knew how you make kombucha. Few were aware that fermenting cabbage and cucumbers involves only salt and water. The general impression of the people that I met yesterday seemed to be that you have to add a ‘starter’ to your new sauerkraut batch just like you have to add a mother to your kombucha or kefir.
I think I adequately conveyed why there is such a major difference between fermenting vegetables and fermenting any other thing…the bacteria are already living on the vegetables. When you make a pitcher of tea you boil the water and immerse the tea bags in boiling water. That kills anything that might have been living there. Without a starter culture, your just-made tea is free and open fertile territory for every wild yeast that is flying around in your kitchen. The same goes for your beer batch.
Vegetables that are going to be fermented are already carrying all of the probiotics that they need to make a perfect kraut or pickle. They also happen to be carrying the bacteria that will turn them into slimy mush, and which one wins the fight is influenced by the brine we put them in.
The bacteria that will create acid and turn our cabbage into super-food will happily carry on it’s mission in life without oxygen or light and in the presence of salt water. The bad guys are stunted by any of these things. The good guys can then turn all of the carbs in your cabbage into acid and vitamins, like vitamin C, that don’t occur in the cabbage naturally, but are born from the actions of fermentation. If you have ever eaten cabbage and gotten a gas attack from it, it’s because the bacteria in your intestines are doing this same job–except they don’t have a week to work, like your fermenting vegetables do. Your intestines only give the bacteria one day to do it’s job, then “out with the trash.”
Giving the bacteria an entire week (or more) to react with the complex carbs in vegetables makes it very easy for them to complete the digestion in a day’s time. Pre-digesting foods is the most important reason we should eat more fermented produce. I failed to say this yesterday. Next time!
An issue that I wish I had emphasized more yesterday is the key difference between pickling and fermenting–pickling doesn’t pre-digest anything. Pickled foods are blanched (quickly submerged in boiling liquid and then cooled) to kill all of the bacteria onboard the fruit, good and bad. Then they are immersed in a spiced vinegar, which makes sure that nothing can subsequently grow on them. It’s good for preserving foods, but you don’t get any of the manufactured vitamins, you still get all of the sugars that they might contain. It’s a totally different food, as far as your digestive system is concerned.
If you eat commercial ‘sauerkraut’ this is what you are getting:
- Cabbage, Water, Distilled Vinegar, Salt, Sodium Benzoate (Preservative), Sodium Metabisulfite (Preservative), Natural Flavors, Polysorbate 80.
If you eat commercial cucumber ‘pickles’ the ingredients are virtually identical:
- Cucumbers, Water, Distilled Vinegar, Salt, Calcium Chloride, Sodium Benzoate (Preservatives), Polysorbate 80, Natural Flavor, Yellow 5.
Lastly, when you eat cooked food you are not getting any live bacteria. When you eat raw food you are eating both the good and bad bacteria that are on the food. These germs will not be killed by the fact that you ate them. Your body is a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. You will get a small dose of probiotics by eating raw vegetables. If you ferment them then you will get a massive dose, adding to the army of bacteria in you that will be waiting for a meal of raw vegetables for them to digest when you eat them. It makes it easier for you to get more out of your vegetables when you only give the bacteria one day to work, instead of seven.
If you can, you would be well served to eat some raw fermented foods every week. The probiotics you get from doing it would be one hundred times more potent than the same thing in a capsule. If you cook your fermented foods then you will be killing the germs. Not a totally bad thing, but if you can eat some raw just once a week you will notice a difference in your digestion.