Welcome to the world of Lacto-Fermentation! Yee-haw! Are you ready? This post is part 2 of my earlier post, "Up Your Nose With A Rubber Hose."
First, a quick – and possibly boring – and maybe technical – review:
Your digestive system is your body’s primary defense against sickness and disease. This is not only where your body absorbs its nutrients from your food, but it is also where your body produces the weapons to fight off disease. Therefore we need to be especially careful to eat foods that are easily digestible, that won’t kill the healthy gut flora but will help to replenish it instead. God designed our bodies and the world to work together to accomplish this naturally. Throughout time people have eaten fermented foods without knowing or understanding it because it was the only means of food preservation. Today, this concept is mostly foreign to us because we have had modern refrigeration to preserve our food for us. We have therefore lost the many health benefits of fermentation and are experiencing the negative results in our health, whether it is a frustrating chronic cough or sinus condition, or something bigger such as autism, mental illness, ADD, etc.
Fermenting foods is simple and easy. It is also super cheap! Fermentation typically involves the same general process: some type of culturing agent (whey, for example, or a special starter culture, or sometimes even salt), room temperature, and time. If you are culturing dairy products, all you do is mix the culturing agent with the dairy product, cover, and let sit on the counter for a day or so. If you are fermenting vegetables, you will first chop the vegetables, and then add the culturing agent, cover, and let sit on the counter for a day or so. That is basically all there is to it.
Crème Fraiche is probably the easiest cultured dairy product to make. All you need is one pint of good quality cream (raw cream is best, pasteurized is ok, but ultra-pasteurized is never ok), and one tablespoon of whole milk buttermilk. Pour the cream into a clean glass container, such as a canning jar, add the buttermilk, stir well, cover tightly and place in a warm spot for 20 to 24 hours. When the time is up, your cream will have thickened to the consistency of sour cream and will taste like it too. Keep it in the fridge and use it just like sour cream. Crème Fraiche is a healthy food but it is not as loaded with healthful bacteria as other cultured dairy products.
In Crème Fraiche, the buttermilk is your culturing agent. But in many lacto-fermented recipes whey is the culturing agent. Whey is the clear liquid that you typically find floating on top of yogurt and is incredibly easy to obtain. Just get a large carton of good quality plain whole milk yogurt (Seven Stars Farm, available at Whole Foods, is excellent). Set a strainer over a bowl. Line the strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth or a thin clean dishtowel. Pour in the yogurt, cover as best you can, and let it stand at room temperature for several hours (most of the day). The whey is the clearish liquid that runs into the bowl. When the dripping slows, very gently tie up the towel (don’t squeeze!!!) and hang it on a wooden spoon set atop a pitcher so even more whey can drip out. When the bag finally stops dripping, you are done. The whey is in the pitcher/bowl. What you have left in the bag is a bonus – cream cheese! Put each into its own container, cover tightly, and refrigerate. The whey will keep for 6 months and the cream cheese for 1 month.
Here is cream cheese made from kefir:
And here is whey:
You will need whey to make many lacto-fermented foods. Sometimes you can substitute salt for the whey, but not all the time. My family loves lacto-fermented salsa. The recipe comes from Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, page 103:
4 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
2 small onions, finely chopped
¾ cup chopped chile pepper, hot or mild (any spicy pepper will do)
6-8 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped (optional but remember garlic is extremely good for you and even better when it is lacto-fermented so really don’t skip it)
1 bunch cilantro, chopped (parsley can be substituted)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
juice of 2 lemons
1 tablespoon sea salt (unrefined, such as Celtic Sea Salt or RealSalt)
4 tablespoons whey (if not available, use an additional 1 tablespoon salt)
¼ cup filtered water
Mix all ingredients and place in a quart-sized, wide-mouth mason jar. Press down lightly with a wooden pounder or a meat hammer, adding more water if necessary to cover the vegetables. The top of the vegetables should be at least 1 inch below the top of the jar. Cover tightly (very important – the metal canning lid really helps make the jar airtight) and keep at room temperature for about 2 days before transferring to the refrigerator.
It is especially important to carefully follow the directions and make sure your hands, work area, and utensils are clean. You also need to use the freshest, best quality ingredients. When the time is up, your jar may make a popping sound when it is opened. This is normal. You may find that the salsa is a little bit effervescent, which is a sign that all of the right things have happened inside the jar. If it isn’t effervescent, that is ok, it is still good. In fact the only reasons not to eat the salsa would be mold on top or a putrid smell (there would be no doubt) both of which indicate there was some type of contamination during the chopping/mixing. The salsa will be extremely colorful and extremely fragrant. Use it to top anything – we love it on omelets.
Here is the salsa, freshly made and ready to culture on the counter for a couple of days … notice the color … compare this to a jar of bland salsa from the grocery store:
Lacto-fermented foods are a condiment that should be eaten in small amounts with every meal for optimum benefits. You might say that these foods are God’s probiotics. It seems that lately there has been a lot said in the media about probiotics. Yogurt companies are really competing to have the brand with the most probiotics. Ironically many of these yogurts are loaded with high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners – no wonder they need probiotics in them! You can even buy probiotics in capsules to take like medicine. But this is not news. Lacto-fermented foods have an ancient history in all cultures. Cultured dairy products are easy to trace back to ancient times. That delicious yogurt-cucumber sauce at Greek restaurants is a good example. But Kefir is probably the “big daddy” of all cultured dairy products, and maybe even all lacto-fermented foods.
Here is a jar of beautiful, fresh, living, healthful, homemade kefir:
Kefir is such an amazing food I hardly know where to start telling you about it. It is made with milk, and resembles drinkable yogurt. It has the tart taste of plain yogurt, but the texture can range anywhere from that of buttermilk to a milkshake. Kefir contains completely different microorganisms than yogurt and is a natural antibiotic. In fact, there are so many different strains of antibiotics/probiotics in kefir that they have not all been identified and named yet. Kefir is some super powerful stuff. It can stop a nasty stomach bug right in its tracks. You can make whey from kefir just like with yogurt, but the resulting whey is many times more potent. If you are lactose-intolerant, you may still be able to drink kefir even though it is a milk product. This is because the good bacteria and beneficial yeast growing in kefir consume most of the lactose as well as provide lactase which also consumes whatever lactose may be left. (did you catch that? say it 3 times really fast)
Kefir is the only cultured dairy product that produces grains. Kefir grains are little gelatinous, creamy colored globs.
They look gross but they are powerful — they are what ferment the milk and fill it with all those good little critters I’ve been telling you about. Making kefir is very simple and very inexpensive. All you need are kefir grains and milk. You can purchase good quality grains over the web but if you know someone who is “kefiring” then you can get grains from them for free. Kefir grains are constantly multiplying and regular kefir-makers are always looking for someone to take their extra grains. Once you get the grains, you put them in a mason jar and add milk, cover loosely with a paper towel and rubber band, and set it out of the way on your kitchen counter. You want it a nice room temperature, not too hot or cold. About 12 hours later you can start to check it. When it gets thick enough or tart enough for your tastes, then your kefir is ready. Strain out the grains by setting a fine strainer over a glass bowl and pour the contents of the jar into the strainer like this:
Gently but vigorously shake the strainer so that all of the liquid drains out into the bowl. The strainer will be full of kefir grains like this:
The remaining liquid is now kefir. It will be noticeably different than the milk you poured in:
See how it is thicker? This is kefir. Put the kefir in a jar and put it in the fridge. Take the grains that you strained out, put them in a clean jar and repeat the whole process. The whole process of straining the grains and starting a new batch takes about 5 minutes. If you do this regularly, your grains will grow very healthy and will multiply quickly. How economical! You can use kefir in place of buttermilk or yogurt.
When first starting to eat kefir, go easy on it. Start with small amounts and work your way up or you may get a stomach ache. Some people enjoy drinking kefir straight. It is a bit tart for me. My family loves to make kefir smoothies. Pour one cup of kefir into the blender, add one frozen banana and a cup of any other fruit or fruit combo that you like. We love blueberries, or cherries, or another whole banana. Blend that up well and then add raw honey to taste. If I am just using cherries I also like to add a teaspoon or so of vanilla and the result is like a cherry vanilla shake. Also, for added nutrition, I like to melt a tablespoon of good quality coconut oil and add that. It gives the smoothie a tropical flair in addition to giving my body more digestive and thyroid support. My whole family loves kefir smoothies for breakfast or lunch.
It truly is best to prepare these foods yourself at home. But as more and more people are seeking out true nutrition, entrepreneurs out there are making them commercially available. Many, if not most, commercial food products are not good for your health but there are a few good companies and products out there. This is helpful because there are some things I just have not had success making for myself and one of those things is Kombucha. It is an extremely healthful and delicious lacto-fermented beverage (google it for more information) and I was thankful to discover a reputable brand available at Whole Foods. It is G.T.’s Kombucha and you can find it in the refrigerated section with other bottled drinks. Another brand of commercially available lacto-fermented food is “Bubbies.” They make pickles and sauerkraut; both are good. Beware of the commercially produced kefir and read the labels very carefully.
Well, I realize that this is head-twisting. Intentionally leaving your food out on the counter is just not what we were raised to believe. There is a difference between letting your food spoil and carefully controlling the environment to encourage healthy bacteria to grow. I also realize that some of this sounds disgusting, especially the kefir with its gelatinous grains. Not only that, but time is an issue. Our modern lifestyles are busy. Yes, I totally understand all that. I just wanted to be sure and give you a choice other than “up your nose with a rubber hose.” Isn’t your family worth the trouble?
Remember, be good to your gut and it will be good to you!