You’ve no doubt heard of sauerkraut and I’m sure that some of you wrinkle your pretty little noses up at the smell and acquired taste offered by this traditional fermented German staple. We lived in Korea when I was a child and I remember Kimchi (the Korean version of sauerkraut) being a distinctly ‘adult’ food. The only contact I had with it, is that to make sure we were on our best behaviour when our parents went out, our father would leave us with the words, “I have X-ray vision so I can see what you’re doing and if you don’t behave, you’ll be in deep kimchi”. My brother and I spent quite some time talking about and testing the X-ray vision theory. There are things our parents could not possibly have found out about. So I guess it was true. We never found out what it would be like to be in ‘deep kimchi’ though – all we knew is that it was very hot and spicy.
Evidence has been found that our ancestors, even as far back as 5000 BC in Babylon, preserved all kinds of vegetables and fruits through a process called lacto-fermentation both for preservation purposes and for their health benefits. In Europe cucumbers, beets, turnips, cabbage were and still are the traditional foods chosen for fermentation. In Asia cabbage, turnip, eggplant, onion, cucumber, squash and carrot are used (remember those little pieces of pickled vegetables and ginger you get with your sushi…lacto-fermented) and in Russia you might find fermented tomatoes and peppers. As for fruits – think good ol’ English chutney.
The lactic acid created during the fermentation process acts as a natural preservative and its probiotic (friendly bacteria) qualities increase the growth of healthy flora in our intestines, crowding out the harmful bacteria. Considering that approximately 70% of our immunity lies in our gut, you can see why fermented foods are an important part of a healthy diet.
The lactobacilli bacteria created during fermentation increases vitamin levels in the food, makes the food easier to digest and increases the beneficial enzymes in the food.
As fermented foods are raw, they maintain all their enzymes, vitamins and minerals which are otherwise reduced or destroyed through heat. Your body has a limited reserve of enzymes, so adding them in (rather than using your reserves) wherever possible by adding raw foods to your diet is health promoting.
You can buy jars of sauerkraut and pickled vegetables in your local supermarket, but ensure that you choose unpasteurised or homogenised options as these processes remove the beneficial microorganisms that give fermented foods their healthful qualities.
It is actually very easy to ferment your own vegetables at home. Trust me, I am not one to spend hours in the kitchen – any cooking or ‘uncooking’ must be quick and easy or it’s a no-go for me!
My first experiment with fermentation was to make Rejuvelac – a drink made with sprouted wheat berries. Instead of writing the recipe out, here’s a link to my lovely friend Raw Lou Lou‘s blog where she gives very easy step-by-step instructions (take a moment to check out the rest of her recipes too – her raw desserts are amazing!). Once I had made the rejuvelac, I made essene bread from the wheat berries, cooking it in the oven as we don’t have a dehydrator. I still need to practice that one as it came out somewhat mushy in the middle. You do need to plan ahead when making Rejuvelac as you need to soak and sprout and soak again for a few days, but the rinsing in between really doesn’t take long at all.
My second fermentation experiment was Cucumber Kimchi. The recipe in this link is really easy to follow – I used regular cucumbers, left out the honey and spring greens as I didn’t have any and used cayenne pepper as I didn’t have the ‘real Korean deal’. Worked out great – spicy indeed but very tasty. Remember to leave the vinegar out to ferment the vegetables rather than simply pickling them. I also realised why it’s important to leave 1 inch or so between the vegetables and the top of the jar – when I opened the jar (not having left this space), the liquid came fizzing out all over the place due to the fermentation process! I think it must have taken about 10 minutes max to prepare the Kimchi.
Our most recent attempt was Fermented Beetroot.
Most fermenting can done by following the three simple steps outlined below. Many recipes also include whey but we didn’t have any and it’s fine to leave it out, just use an extra teaspoon of salt instead (although you do need the whey for fermenting fruits).
Only use pure (filtered) water as you want the beetroot to absorb only the best water possible. You need to use a mason jar or a jar which can be closed using a rubber band and some cloth for the first 3 days. Once it is ready to be put into the fridge make sure you use an airtight container and it will then keep for a couple of months.
Preparation Time 10 minutes
Total Time 3 days
- pure water
- Put the peeled and sliced or diced beetroot into a jar until it is filled about 2 cm from the top.
- Take one cup of pure water and mix in the salt, then add it into the jar.
- Fill the rest of the jar with pure water until all beetroot is covered.
- Leave it in room temperature for about 3 days without opening it. Afterwards keep it in the fridge.