Well, friends, we have arrived …
... at one of my absolute favorite topics of conversation ever ever!! I never thought anything would get me so excited to talk about. I especially never thought it would be microbes and eating them! Haha oh well, life is funny that way I suppose!
Sooo…. What exactly is up with fermenting?
What is all the hype?
Why do we do it?
What’s happening in those jars during the whole process?
Am I really going to be eating … microbes?
How much of a difference does it really make?
(So much to say about all of this!!!)
I’ve been following Donna Gates and The Body Ecology team for years now. This is where I learned much of this information about bacteria, gut ecology, the process by which our health improves from eating probiotic rich foods (like cultured veggies), and how to make these veggies at home. Please check them out www.bodyecology.com if you want to learn more about this!!
To keep it simple, fermentation is the process of breaking down glucose (sugar) in an anaerobic environment. Anaerobic = no oxygen. The type of fermentation I’ll be talking about in this post is lactic acid fermentation, though there are other kinds out there (probably the kind we are most familiar with is ethyl alcohol fermentation which makes our pinots and our IPAs) that are also super cool and we can delve into that another time. The process of fermentation does some pretty spectacular things to our veggies.
One – they “predigest” the veggies.
The bacteria that are found on our hands, on the veggies, in our kitchens, on the knife we use to cut said veggies, on our counter tops, in the culture starter kit (if you’re using one), go to town on the sugars naturally found in the veggies, and they start to gobble them up so they can proliferate and make a lots of baby bacteria (nice visual, eh?). These beneficial bacteria have converted all the sugars into lactic acid –a job that your body’s digestive enzymes have to do any way! So boom – predigested veggies.
What does this mean?
This means that if you are someone who has weak digestion or needs their digestion optimized, this important step is already done for you by the bacteria! How sweet of them, right?!
Two – they enhance our immunity!
We recently learned that most of our immune system is contained in our guts (like 80%, whoa!), so the bacteria, when we feed our bodies with fermented foods, are able to colonize our intestines and communicate directly with the immune system! We also recently learned that some neurotransmitters are made in our guts, so when these bacteria are setting up camp in our intestines, they can help improve some symptoms usually associated with the brain like brain fog, depression, moodiness, etc. Who knew that the brain was influenced so much by the gut?! Maybe that’s why they call it the “second brain”…
Three – this is maybe the coolest thing about bacteria guys … they prevent the overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria, or the bad guys.
This I learned from the great Catalina Martone, otherwise known as Healthy Gut Girl. She has an absolutely amazing podcast called “Stuff Your Doctor Should Know” where she teaches all about … well… stuff your doctor should know! Haha! Her early podcasts about fermenting and culturing veggies talk about this concept called “competitive inhibition” meaning that when you have the right proportion of good bacteria to bad bacteria, even if there are several million bad guys floating around in there, the good guys will outnumber the bad guys and never let them overgrow and harm your perfect amazing intestinal tract. HOW COOL IS THAT??!!
Approximately 80% of your gut bacteria is the good kind, 10% is the bad kind, and the other 10% is the meh I don’t know what I am kind of bacteria. They neither harm us nor help us. But when you have enough happy bacteria in the large intestine, they keep the bad guys in check.
There’s so much more to say about this, but lets leave it at that for now. I honestly am constantly amazed at how intelligent these little single-celled microorganisms are.
They literally know how to keep us healthy, create vitamins and minerals, chelate certain toxins, make foods more nutrient dense, enhance our immunity, keep our bowels regular, etc, … WITHOUT HAVING A BRAIN.
They exist purely so that we can thrive in this one and only amazing life we have!! Mull that over for a second. How does that make you feel??!! Makes me want to do everything I possibly can to keep them healthy, thriving, and well fed :)
So how do we make these incredible veggies? It’s so simple. And so fun. Grab a friend, your Boo, your kids, your sister, and get to fermenting!!
There are so many combos of veggies you can do! The possibilities are literally unlimited. This is a favorite of mine because it is so pretty and so crunchy and makes any dish it is added to so snappy and delish.
Basic Fermented Veggie Recipe
2 heads of purple cabbage (save like 6-8 whole cabbage leaves for the end)
1 bunch purple kale
1 bunch parsley
1 bunch cilantro
2 TBS fennel seeds
Pull out your food processor. Make sure you have one of those dooders with the blade that sits on top of the spinner. It’ll give you that nice shredded cabbage, not the sliced diced chopped look (you can do it that way, but the consistency will turn out weird and a little like baby food … eeshk. If you don’t have that extra blade, just slice your cabbage hella thin with a knife).
Thinly slice your shallots.
Give your parsley and cilantro a rough chop.
Remove the woody stems from the kale and give the leaves a rough chop.
Toss in your fennel seeds. I grind 1 TBS and leave the other 1 TBS whole.
Combine all of the chopped/shredded veggies into a big bowl.
(This next step is extra, not exactly necessary to making a batch of cultured veggies, but extremely powerful and a great way to make your veggies even more bacteria-rich.)
Grab your culture starter kit. I use Body Ecology’s “Culture Starter” because they contain hearty strains of beneficial bacteria which make these veggies super powerful. Body Ecology suggests you make a brine with the culture starter, where you take a few cups of your chopped veggies, throw them in your blender, add some purified water, and blend til you have a soupy consistency. Then add your culture starter to the brine. Then pour that brine all over the veggies in the bowl and get to massaging!
Get your hands all up in those veggies, massaging them, working them, covering them all in the juicy brine you just added. The bacteria on your hands, from the culture starter, and from the veggies have a heyday gobbling up the sugars and proliferating.
**if you don’t have a culture starter kit, that’s okay. Add a few pinches of salt to the bowl of veggies and start massaging. The salt and mechanical breakdown of the veggie cell walls will naturally release the water content from inside the veggies and a brine will naturally happen when you massage enough. Again, bacteria naturally exists on the veggies and your hands, so those will be the little guys that gobble up the sugars and make bacteria babies.**
After you’ve massaged for awhile and all the veggies are coated with the brine/juices, you’re ready to jar!
Grab several mason jars and begin packing your veggies into them. Make sure you pack them tightly because the idea is to get the air out of the jars so the bacteria have an anaerobic environment in which they can reproduce. Leave about an inch from the top of the jar and roll up a little cabbage leaf that you saved from earlier. Place your cabbage “taco” leaf on the top of the veggies and screw on the lid from the mason jar (see image from my IG post on Friday 1/25 for reference).
You’re done!! Just put your jars in a casserole dish or something that will collect the juices that will come out of the jar as the next few days go by. When I first started out making cultured veggies, I didn’t know about the leakage that happens during fermentation, and allllllll the juices got all over the kitchen and it was very stinky and kind of scared my roommates at the time … save yourself a mess!!
Sit them on your kitchen counter for the next 7-14 ish days! Depending on the time of year you are doing this and the temperature of your house, you may need more or less time. The veggies like room temperature, or 70 degrees. If it’s warmer where you are, you will need less time. If it’s colder, then obviously you’ll need longer. The jars will make these funny noises and get all bubbly and start to get a little tangy smelling. This is all good and normal!! Those bacteria are proliferating and making babies and eating up all the beauty in those jars.
Refrigerate your jars after they’ve had adequate time at room temperature. When you put them in the fridge, the fermentation process slows but does not stop. And don’t worry if you don’t eat them right away, they have a very long shelf life in your fridge –longer than 6 months!!
And now, ENJOY!! Add a scoop of these veggies to your raw salad, as a side dish with lunch and dinner, or pile them on your eggs and avocado in the morning for breakfast. I love them in all these ways! One of my favorite ways to enjoy them are as a “slaw” on my tacos or in a taco bowl. They are so crunchy and delicious and bring so much flavor to a boring ole salad.
Would LOVE to hear how your fermenting adventures go! Leave a comment and let me know how things are going! Always here for questions too!