“Lacto-fer-whosit? Say what? Bacteria makes food ROTTEN. You want me to eat rotten food now Sayward?”
And the short answer is ‘yes!’ You *must* eat your beasties! And here’s why -
But what? And why?
Fermentation is the natural conversion of carbohydrates into alcohols (for booze), or organic acids (with veggies), or CO2 (in breads). The reaction is accomplished via wild microorganisms, namely yeasts, molds, and bacteria. Fermentation is an ancient technique with solid roots in pretty much every culture ever developed. The practice is used to make beer and wine and cider and vinegar, to leaven breads, to culture milks (both dairy and non), and to preserve vegetables in a brine of lactic acid. Traditional fermented foods include alcoholic drinks, sourdough bread, yogurt, kefir, kvass, tempeh, miso, natto, sauerkraut, kimchi, stinky cheese, kombucha, and much more. As you can probably tell, this is a world-wide phenomenon. In fact, the only culture lacking common fermented cuisine is *here* – in the modern West.
Not just for preservation ~
Fermenting is a way to make food last, but that’s not why I love it. What really makes it magic is that the process itself confers healthful properties into the food. For example, cultured foods facilitate digestion, they activate proteins and essential amino acids, they free up essential fatty acids and important vitamins, and of course, there’s the beasties. The act of fermentation pre-digests the food, which makes the nutrients much more bioavailable. Conversely, fermentation actually de-activates the ‘antinutrients’ that are naturally present in many foods. And of course, there’s the beasties!
Fermented foods are known to aid in digestion. The benefit is threefold – 1) by breaking down the components in food for ease of assimilation, 2) by providing specific digestive enzymes, and 3) by colonizing the intestines and colon with the correct type of bacteria.
These foods are also high in many vitamins, often much higher than their unfermented counterparts. For example, sauerkraut has up to four times the available vitamin C as does regular cabbage. Four times! Soured vegetables are also high in vitamin A, and many ferments boast the ever-important B vitamins.
Antinutrients are compounds that block the absorption of actual nutrients, but fermentation removes these. Antinutrients can appear as compounds that bind to desired minerals, or as proteins that act as enzyme inhibitors during digestion. An example is phytic acid, found in many grains, which inhibits the uptake of calcium, iron, zinc, and copper. Phytic acid can be removed with a ‘quick ferment’, by pre-soaking grains in water and acid (lemon juice, vinegar) for 7+ hours before cooking. I soak all of my grains this way before I prepare them.
And of course, there’s the beasties!
Your intestines are an ecosystem, and just like in all ecosystems, biodiversity is key. You want a nice variety of microbes in there, all doing their unique business. The best way to ensure this is to consume probiotics, and the best probiotics come naturally, from food.
Gut health is of the utmost imperative for overall wellness. Low gut flora is linked to digestive disorders/constipation/IBS, yeast (candida) overgrowth and infection, eczema and dermatitis, autism spectrum disorders, ADD and other behavior problems, mood swings and irritability, food allergies, uncontrolled weight and cravings, and more.
In other words, it’s all connected.
So eat your beasties!
Over the next few weeks I’ll be adding instructions on how to prepare your own homemade ferments, as well as articles about various fermented foods. I’ll add to this list as I post each new tutorial.
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