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Modern Fermenting For A Healthy Gut Microbiome

Fermenting is a simple process used by almost every traditional culture as a way to help preserve food from the summer harvest so it could be enjoyed in the dark days of winter. But, what we now know, is that the real magic of fermented foods is that they are a powerhouse when it comes to being able to provide easy to assimilate nutrition and probiotic goodness for a strong, healthy gut.

The beneficial bacterial that fermented foods bring to our intestinal tract is so important for building a healthy immune system, generating much-needed vitamins for our bodies and also assisting with healing. Kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, konji and kombucha are a few common fermented foods that can easily be incorporated into your everyday diet for optimum health.

Modern fermented foods are based on tradition, but what do you do when you don’t have a Nonna or a Grossi to hand down fermenting knowledge?

Like many people today, I didn’t have any elders in my family to hand down fermenting knowledge to me. Now don’t get me wrong, my Mum can make an awesome batch of scones and a killer roast, but my fermenting education came from books and a lot of experimentation.

Something that I learned early in my fermenting journey was that there’s more that one way to go about fermenting. One important distinction that is not often talked about is the difference between wild fermentation and fermenting using a starter culture.

A wild ferment …
Occurs spontaneously (i.e. it usually starts with only fruit and/or veggies, flavours and a brine which often uses salt). It tends to take longer than the alternative as the lactobacillus takes a while to come to life.

A ferment that uses a culture starter …
Is typically accomplished faster, as you help kick-start the fermentation process by adding living bacteria such as a Kultured Wellness starter culture to the item you’re trying to ferment. This speeds the process and is effective for things like coconut yoghurt and times when you want to speed the fermentor because of personal choice.

What I discovered as a busy Mum was that cultured ferments speed up the fermenting process significantly, and also make it virtually bomb proof. Using a starter culture also meant that I was able to ferment a more diverse number of specific species into my foods than those that just occurred naturally. As I went on to develop my own cultures, I realised that fermented foods could be therapeutically tailored to specific health concerns.

Modern Fermenting For Busy Families

You don’t need to use any special equipment or fermenting jars (insert sighs of relief here!) There’s no need to over-think fermenting or spend large amounts of money on containers or equipment. There is one important point that you need to be mindful of though: you do NOT want to use plastic or metal to prepare your ferments. Plastics are loaded with chemicals such as bisphenol-A (BPA) and phthalates. Bacteria will eat anything it can access, and the last thing you want is these chemicals becoming part of your food! Using metal is also inadvisable as salts, which are naturally occurring in most vegetables, can corrode metal.

Good options for fermenting equipment include:

  • Glass jars (wide-mouthed Mason jars are ideal so that you can get your whole hand in to press down the vegetables)

  • Ceramic crocks

  • Wooden barrels

    I always make sure that for the above reasons that I use a wooden spoon when stirring and preparing my cultures. I also do not use any detergents or sponges when washing out my fermenting equipment, and only very hot water to swish around in the jar and then my hand to clean any other particles away.

It’s important to start with good quality produce, and fresh organic produce is best. This is because organic food is already teeming with live enzymes, which helped kick-start the fermenting process. You can also be sure that certified organic food will not contain the chemicals used in conventional commercial farming methods, which means you will be fermenting only beneficial bacteria and not unwanted chemicals!

You can purchase expensive fermenting jars, which help weigh down foods in your container under the fermenting liquid so that they do not become mouldy. However, I find that an organic cabbage leaf does this job well, and as a bonus, the cabbage creates large amounts of lactobacilli during the fermenting process.

How Do You Know When Your Ferment Is Ready?

As your food ferments, the numbers of bacteria increase as they eat the sugar in the food. Deciding when to end your ferment is a personal decision, and the only real way to know is to taste it. If the food still tastes sweet then it isn’t ready, but if it fizzes a little on your tongue and has a tart taste, then you are good to go.

When you first start fermenting you may like a milder taste, which means that you would ferment for less time. As you start to rebalance your gut microbiome, your taste will change and as you will begin to enjoy the tart taste of fermented foods you will likely desire a stronger ferment. Once fermented, you can store your foods in the fridge for around 6 months – they are a living food so won’t go off.

Is Traditional Fermented Food Enough For Our Modern Gut Microbiome?

From my research and experience, I don’t believe that traditional fermented food has the power that we need to restore the robust gut microbiome of our ancestors. We now spend less time in nature and have very little exposure to dirt, which is where we acquire a lot of our beneficial and diverse bacteria. In today’s society the use of antibiotics, medication, processed foods and sugars effectively deplete the health of the gut microbiome in a way never experienced by previous generations. Traditional wild ferments, teeming with lactobacilli, were once enough to supplement and support a healthy inner ecosystem. However, for many people today who begin with lack of diversity in their gut, these foods alone will not cause a major shift in the health of the gut microbiome. This is where specially cultured foods can help ensure that you are getting a wide variety of beneficial bacteria to support your gut diversity.

My research into fermenting eventually led me to develop my own culture starters, which contain a wide variety of specially selected bacteria strains that are key to healing and building a damaged gut microbiome. Where the origin and potency of many starter cultures are unknown, the cultures that I have developed are pure and of a therapeutic potency, which was necessary for my family’s gut healing journey. The exciting thing now is that many people are now enjoying the benefits of these cultures as they embark on their own gut adventures!

Once you have the basics down pat, the possibilities of fermenting are endless. I’m really excited to share with you more of what you can do with fermented foods, and also the benefits of introducing a wide range of healthy bacteria to your gut through the use of a therapeutic starter culture.

So there you have it – fermenting made simple. There really aren’t any excuses not to get fermenting and start building your own healthy gut microbiome. I’d love to hear about your own fermenting adventures, so please leave a comment below with your best fermenting tips!

If you want to purchase some of your very own therapeutic starter cultures, please click here.

Happy fermenting!

Kirsty

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