Fermentation Learn how to make your own vinegar, sauerkraut, kimchi, sourdough starter and kefir
The world’s going crazy for fermented foods that are packed with probiotics, but in reality this “new” trend is pretty much as old as humankind. It’s a good time to do your own research into the claimed health benefits of kombucha, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, apple-cider vinegar and wine vinegar. We’ll show you how.
Generally, when the militantly healthconscious, the quacks, the hippies, the hipsters and the woke generation start to sink their teeth into a “new” food or health trend, it becomes almost impossible to separate the ringing cash registers from the truth. Did humans really suddenly forget that sourdough bread, beer, tea, cheese, yoghurt, chocolate and wine are also fermented foods?
At first you might think preparing lacto-fermented vegetables sounds like a serious science project or that dairy is involved, but the “lacto” part of this term simply refers to lactic acid.
Beneficial bacteria like Lactobacillus occur naturally on the skin of all vegetables and fruit (and even on your hands). In an anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment, these bacteria convert sugar into lactic acid, which inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria, helping to preserve the food and creating a distinctive pungent or tart taste.
Fermentation has been used for centuries to preserve perishable fresh foods such as vegetables, milk, fish and meat, and to improve their flavour.
During the fermentation process, bacteria break down sugar and fibre in the food (making it more digestible), introduce enzymes and probiotics, and release alcohol, lactic acid and acetic acid. These three “biopreservatives” conserve all the nutrients and prevent the end product from spoiling quickly.
In an era in which bad eating habits and the misuse of antibiotics have become rife, the prophets of fermentation maintain that these nutritious, easily digestible superfoods packed with probiotics will give your digestive system, immune system, energy levels and general health a massive boost.
Some living bacterial cultures apparently act in the same way as antioxidants by neutralising free radicals – “the precursors to cancer” – and helping to detoxify the body. Some people claim that others alleviate high blood sugar, liver ailments, gout, rheumatism, haemorrhoids, constipation, ulcers, heartburn, bad breath and nervous conditions. But unfortunately there is little scientific evidence to back these claims, specifically in relation to humans. More research is being conducted to test some of these claims, but it focuses predominantly on specific strains of probiotics that do not necessarily occur in all fermented products.
Lastly, fermentation requires patience. Unlike fresh produce quickly pickled in an acidic liquid, the sourness of fermented food develops over a longer period. Once it tastes right and delicious, you can store it in a glass jar in the fridge to enjoy every day. And hopefully it won’t be long before you feel the benefits.