“Eat Your Beasties!” – The Importance Of Cultured And Fermented Foods

July 22nd, 2010 - filed under: The Food » Food and Health

“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.
Non-Dairy Yogurt
Sour Pickles
Water Kefir
Sriracha Hot Sauce
Red Wine Vinegar
General Pickled Vegetables Recipe


  • http://www.myspace.com/tirscatha Lenn

    Ok, so, you soak your grains in lemon juice before preparation…I need some clarification here. Although I tend to be eco-friendly, thrifty (ok, cheap), etc., I’m not vegan, so I may be mis-understanding.

    Grains as in stuff like brown rice?? I hate vinegar (for eating, not cleaning), so I’d have to use lemon juice, but wouldn’t that leave my rice with a lemony flavor after cooking? And what ratio of water/acid should one use?

  • http://indiearsenal.com farmingtheburbs

    Now this is something I could really learn more about. I am interested to hear how you soak your grains.

  • http://flightsofthevalkyrie.blogspot.com/ Valerie

    I am very intrigued by this whole concept and can’t wait for more posts! Could there be a way to make lime-cilantro rice and rid the rice of anti-nutrients?

  • Annemarie

    I’m so excited, I love all things fermented! Also, as a vegetarian of 15 years with iron-absorption issues, I’m really interested in learning more about your grain-soaking process. This is such a great blog! I stumbled upon it a month or so ago and have read back through all the posts. Thanks for sharing such fantastic information!

  • Leah

    I’m really into probiotic foods (kombucha and the rest), but one thing I really dislike is sauerkraut! And I’ve even made my own! I know, I know, it’s blasphemous, but I just dislike the taste.

    Any ideas for non-sauerkraut cultured veggies?

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com Sayward

    Yay, I’m so glad there’s interest in these topics. And clearly I need to write another article on soaking grains! Expect it early next week, full instructions. =D

    @ Lenn – Yup, all grains, including flour. You rinse the rice after soaking/before cooking and I’ve never noticed any lingering flavor from the soak acid. I don’t do measurements – just enough water to cover (by a lot, since the grain will expand) and then a good splash of acid.

    I’ll write more next week!

    @ farmingtheburbs – Coming soon!

    @ Valerie – You could use lime to soak, but you rinse before cooking so it doesn’t leave a flavor. But you could then use it to make a flavored dish for sure!

    @ Annemarie – Yes! This will definitely help with iron absorption! Also, do you eat your iron-rich foods with vitaminC-rich foods?? That will greatly increase absorption as well (you probably already know that but just thought I’d throw it out there)

    @ Leah – Oh yes! You can culture pretty much just about anything. Kimchi is a spicy Korean version. There’s all sorts of variations. I’ll be posting some recipes . . . standard kimchi, ginger carrots, beets, all sorts!

  • http://vegantasticness.blogspot.com Felicity

    I’m excited! I loooove fermented foods. I bought a yogurt maker a few weeks ago and turned homemade almond milk into almond yogurt! It was so good!

  • saundra

    that sounds great my hubby eats stuff i wouldn’t touch b/c they look too gone for me but have been trying to make sourdough breads and such.. speaking of which i need to checkon my start and i have a yogurt maker that i have no idea how to use so i’m pretty excited about your upcoming articles :)

  • http://magicnutshell.blogspot.com Genie of the Shell

    Mmm, I like many fermented things. For Christmas last year, I got a bread baking cookbook by Jim Lahey, who uses a long fermentation process without kneading to make bread. The finished product is so incredibly delicious. I just liked it for the flavor, texture, and the not having to knead part. But it might be healthier for me too? Bonus! Here is a link to Jim’s bread recipe: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/08/dining/081mrex.html

  • Minna

    I love fermented stuff, too.

    We usually ferment cucumbers and cabbage. I guess that’s called dill pickles and sauerkraut. I really like both, but there’s nothing better than “fresh” pickles made by grandma. Cucumbers fermented with garlic, dill, blackcurrant leaves, vinegar and salt.

    Looking forward to the kimchi recipe!

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com Sayward

    Awesome, I can’t wait to share all my recipes! Yay for all the fermented food love! =D

  • Nathan

    We can’t wait to get more info and how-tos! Callie is a big pickle fan, but most especially of the “nuclear” bright green store-bought variety. We both enjoy all kinds of other pickles, though those are more my thing. I love ‘kraut and am wondering if you have any advice on different ways to serve it. By the time I’m halfway through a bag or jar I’ve gotten a little bored with it on it’s own.

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com Sayward

    @ Nathan – Are you familiar with Bubbies brand pickles? Those are the only commercial ones (ie not local/small scale) I know of that are fermented as opposed to vinegared and pasteurized. They have the good beasties and they are YUM!

    Kraut is a tough one for me too! We eat is on vegan sausages of course. I eat it plain a lot. I also like it tossed into a salad and on most sandwiches it does well. I bet that with the right companions, it could rock a baked potato too (though I haven’t tried this) Hmmm . . . I’ll think on more uses . . .

  • Leah

    I’ve been doing more reading on various fermentation recipes, but SO many use whey as a starter culture, and I can’t handle the dairy. I found a starter that doesn’t, but it’s pretty expensive.

    Any thoughts on a sub? I’ve heard of some people just opening up a capsule of probiotics and mixing it in. I wonder if that would work.

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com Sayward

    @ Leah – For yogurt I use a non-dairy yogurt (store bought) as starter, or I use a probiotic capsule. For veggie ferments like kimchi or kraut, I use the ‘wild’ method- just some salt and whatever’s in the air! Check out http://www.wildfermentation.com/ for more info. No whey needed!

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  • http://www.planetrobotunicornattack.com/2010/07/16/robot-unicorn-attack Robot Unicorns Attack

    Can’t wait to get this! I can feel a sick day coming so I can stay home from College and waste time playing this.

  • Meghan

    How strong of a microscope do you need to see beasties?

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com Sayward

    @ Meghan – ooh good question! The yeasts will probably be visible without too much magnification. A standard compound scope maybe at 10x? 40x? For the bacteria I think you have to go to oil (100x) . . . but it’s been a long time since I’ve been in the lab!

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  • Andrea

    All the best in new year and wish you a very very green year :)))

    In this particular period on the classic mediterranean table there are lots of fermented food but apart from tons of vinegared delicacies the crown of best-fermented food goes to “Pine-wine” -very exotic drink and it is so easy to produce it at home!
    In Istra we call it Smrika and it is made of red berries from the very common tree called Juniperus oxycedrus L.(Cupressaceae). These berries are pressed and left (outside on the strong winter wind- it is granny’s recipe so I really don’t understand the importance of the wind…but whatever) in water to ferment for cca. 20-30 days. From 1kg of this berries, adding few times fresh water, you can get up to 4L of this fancy drink :) and then you can drink like this or mix it with a bit of white wine as well as differrent juices (my favorite combination is with cherry-juice) and teas!
    It is such a pity cos easily perishable and it wouldn’t be able to survive the transoceanic transportation but otherwise I would gladly send you a sample, anyway I definitely encourage you to try this recipe!

    Happy weekend and happy Epifania (the Befana witch day, the 12th day from the winter solstice on which Romans or/and Pagans used to celebrate the death and rebirth of nature through the pagan figure of Mother Nature ) :)

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    That sounds absolutely amazing!

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  • Elliecan pelican

    Ok.tbis post you got me. You have just summed up every thing that I have been discovering for the past ten months. And from a vegan perspective! I recently attempted the GAPS program approach,.it lasted about 2 days. I am vego, partner is vegan and very upset by the who meat shenanigans outlined in that diet. So I been searching for you gal! inspire me!

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  • j

    Soak your rice for 24 hours. Save some of your rice soaking water in the fridge. Next time you make rice add the saved water to the rice soaking water. Soak for 24 hrs. Save some of this water before you rinse your rice to add to your next rice etc. It should start to smell pleasantly fermented after a few batches. Soaking your rice makes it sweeter too. So, add saved water to soaking water, soak 24 hours, save some for your next batch, rinse rice, cook. Use this water for all of your whole grains.

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