Why Fermented Foods & Drinks are Healthy
Bee’s Note: Some of the statements in this article are from an inactive website, which was called Healing Crow. Unfortunately the Weston A. Price Foundation and Healing Crow website believe in the “Germ Theory of Disease,"e which is totally false, so please keep that in mind when you read this article – see The Germ Theory of Disease is False.
As fermented foods expert Sally Fallon asks in her Nourishing Traditions cookbook, with the proliferation of all these new mysterious viruses, intestinal parasites and chronic health problems, despite ubiquitous sanitation, “Could it be that by abandoning the ancient practice of lacto-fermentation, and insisting on a diet in which everything has been pasteurized, we have compromised the health of our intestinal flora and made ourselves vulnerable to legions of pathogenic microorganisms?”
What is Fermentation?
Fermentation is a process in which an agent [typically bacteria and yeast] cause an organic substance to break down into simpler substances; especially, the anaerobic [no oxygen] breakdown of sugar into alcohol, i.e. the making of beer or wine.
Fermentation is based upon the word “Ferment” which means any agent or substance, such as a bacterium, mould, yeast, or enzyme, that causes fermentation. Ferment comes from the Latin word “fermentare” which means to leaven, ferment, which is from the word “fermentumquot; a substance causing fermentation, from the root word (original word) “fervere” to boil, seethe, or brew.
Fermentation in food processing is the conversion of carbohydrates (plant foods) to alcohols and carbon dioxide, or organic acids, using yeasts, bacteria, or a combination thereof, under anaerobic (no oxygen) conditions.
Fermentation usually implies that the action of microorganisms is desirable, and the process is used to produce alcoholic beverages such as wine, beer, and cider. Fermentation is also employed in the leavening of bread, and for preservation techniques to create lactic acid in sour foods such as sauerkraut, dry sausages, kimchi and yogurt, or vinegar (acetic acid) for use in pickling foods.
The primary benefit of fermentation is the conversion of sugars and other carbohydrates, e.g., converting juice into wine, grains into beer, carbohydrates into carbon dioxide to leaven bread, and sugars in vegetables into organic acids which preserve them.
Food fermentation has been said to serve five main purposes:
1. Enrichment of the diet through development of a diversity of flavors, aromas, and textures in foods.
2. Preservation of food through lactic acid, alcohol, acetic acid, etc. fermentation.
3. Elimination of antinutrients in foods, such as phytates in grains, nuts, seeds and legumes (peas and peas from pods, including peanuts) that block digestion of minerals when consumed without proper preparation – see Grains, Nuts, Seeds & Legumes Must Be Properly Prepared for more information. Also see the definition of Phytates below.
4. A decrease in cooking times.
Phytates (phytic acid) are the storage form of phosphorus [a mineral] bound to inositol [a B vitamin] in foods high in fiber (all plant foods), and particularly the fiber of raw whole grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts. Although these foods have a high phosphorus content, the phosphates in phytates are not released by human digestion. Phytates, particularly in such raw foods as bran, are a concern because they can bind a portion of the iron, zinc, and calcium in foods, making the minerals unavailable for absorption.
When bread is leavened (fermented) by yeast, enzymes degrade phytic acid, and phytates pose no problem. Enzymes, called phytases, destroy phytates during certain food processes such as: the yeast-raising of dough, the sprouting of seeds, grains, legumes, the roasting of nuts, presoaking beans, cooking, etc.
Even a small amount of phytates in food can reduce iron absorption by half (by 50%), but the effect is less marked if a meal is supplemented with ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) which also helps the absorption of zinc and calcium.
There is evidence of leavened bread in ancient Egypt about 1500 BC and of milk fermentation in Babylon about 3000 BC.
Fermenting is Fun
Fermenting your own foods can be a healthy, fun, and nutritious hobby. We feel that anything you can make at home is much better than commercialized foods. We have put together a summary of fermented foods followed by a few recipes. Enjoy.
The Power of Microbes
We live in a world dominated by microbes. The Earth’s microorganisms are able to adapt to almost any environment and thrive. Bacteria have been found in the icy regions of Antarctica, near the surface of volcanic vents in the Atlantic, and even in our digestive tracts.
Our civilization is but a pale comparison to the invisible world of microbes that surrounds us. It is likely that these microbes will adapt and survive beyond human existence.
It is not surprising that microbes have become experts of adaptation when you consider the evolutionary pressures of their world. They are constantly disrupted by changes in environment, competition from other species, attacks from specialized viruses (i.e. bacteriophages), and a shifting food supply. Imagine trying to survive in a world filled with rampant diseases, famines, hurricanes, and floods, and you’ll begin to appreciate the world of the microbe.
Some microbes have colluded with the competition to form symbiotic relationships. For example, the bacterial strains Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacilllus bulgaricus, work together and transform milk into tasty yogurt.
The thirty or so strains of bacteria and yeast found in Kefir, a traditional fermented drink of the Caucasians, band together to form complex ecology capable of digesting almost any food source and staving off harmful pathogens. The microbes of Kefir even provide themselves with homes in the form of Kefir grains that are composed of a polysaccharide (a kind of sugar) matrix.
Our ancient ancestors did not live in a sterile environment. It is likely that they ingested various microbes found naturally in their foods. Some of these microbes were beneficial to their life while others caused infections and disease.
Somewhere along the way in their struggle for survival, our ancestors allied themselves with certain species of microbes. Our intestines have evolved into a perfect microbial farm. We provide these microbes with furnished home and plenty of food, in return, they produce beneficial nutrients and help defend us from pathogens.
About a thousand years ago, our ancestors began to experimenting with fermenting their own foods with beneficial strains to prevent spoilage, fight infections, and increase absorption of nutrients. This action further allied our bodies with the microbial world.
Benefits of Fermented Foods
Nobel Prize winner Dr. Elie Metchnikoff was one of the first scientists to recognize the benefits of eating fermented foods. His research in the early 1900’s focused on the Bulgarians. He believed the daily ingestion of yogurt was a major contribution to their superior health and longevity.
Detoxify and Preserve
If there’s anything that the microbial world does well, it is detoxifying things. Today, Bacteriologists periodically visit old military facilities in search of new strains of bacteria living off of contaminants in the soil.
If you put it in the ground and give them enough time to mutate and evolve, these microbes will find a way to break it down. This probably holds true for any organic chemical. These earthly microbes purify the world.
Not only have we been able to use the detoxifying properties of microbes to breakdown nasty substances, such as oil spills, military dumps, and sewer plants, we also use them to detoxify our food and water and increase shelf lives.
For centuries, Europeans used wine as a source of clean, durable water. Bulgarians perfected the art of detoxifying and preserving milk (removing the lactose and predigesting the proteins) and transforming it into yogurt and cheese. The Caucasians used Kefir grains for the same purpose: detoxify milk products to make Kefir.
Vegetables were also fermented to preserve them from spoilage. Most of the pickled products found on our grocery shelves were at one time a fermented product: pickles, saurkraut, and even catsup (a Chinese word for pickled fish brine). However, since fermentation isn’t always a uniform process, manufacturers found another way to make these products.
Nutritious to Boot
Fermented products are a great source of amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. The process of fermentation increases the amounts of some vitamins. Fermented milk is a great source of energetic B vitamins while fermented vegetables are a great source of Vitamin C.
Sauerkraut often served as military rations in ancient armies, most notably the Mongolians, and was used to prevent scurvy. The process of fermentation also increases the bioavailability of these foods.
Please Use Caution
Before we get too far into fermenting your own foods, we want to emphasize two important things about fermentation. First, the process of fermentation is only good for you if it occurs outside of your body.
What does this mean? It means that if you ingest foods that provide an abundance of sugar and growth media for bacteria, they will ferment those foods inside of you.
An overgrowth of fermentative bacteria in your body can cause all kinds of medical problems, including Crohn’s Disease, Ankylosing Spondylitis, candidiasis , and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. So the key is to pre-ferment your foods, that is to say, ferment your milk before you eat it.
Secondly, please do not eat spoiled fermented foods. In some rare instances, fermented foods can be overtaken by mold or become spoiled. In these cases, throw out the result and start anew.
Commercial versus Homemade
In our opinion homemade products are better all around. For one, you do not have to trust a manufacturer with your health. You have total control over what you are eating. You can purchase the best milk and/or vegetables to use.
Commercial products are usually geared for taste and not health. In the case of yogurt, this means that commercial yogurt usually has a high lactose content and is usually loaded with sugar. Homemade yogurt can be made to eliminate virtually all of the lactose and will be much fresher than anything you can buy in a store.
If the taste isn’t to your liking, you can add in fresh fruit and/or honey to sweeten it up. Store bought Kefir has the same problems, you have no control over the lactose content in the end product. Another thing to consider is, real Kefir is difficult to find in the store. Quite often a manufacturer will label a product as Kefir when in fact it is not the real thing.
In order for Kefir to be real, it needs to made from Kefir grains and not a powdered starter. As for fermented vegetables, such as sauerkraut, most commercial products have been pasteurized and do not contain live cultures.
The pasteurization process not only kills the beneficial bacteria, but may also destroy many of the enzymes and nutrients. Commercial sauerkraut may also contain a fair amount of unnatural preservatives. We know that you will find fermenting your own foods at home more rewarding, healthier, cheaper than probiotics, and more enjoying than anything you could purchase in the store.
Making Yogurt & Kefir:
Making yogurt is very easy, especially if you own a yogurt maker. We recommend purchasing a Yogourmet Multi – they are cheap, easy to use, and can make 2 quarts per batch. You can get a yogurt maker and yogurt starter from a trusted friend at Lucy’s Kitchen Shop.
Once you have a starter and a yogurt maker, all you need is some milk (we recommend using Half-n-Half) and some patience. The directions that come with the maker provide a fermentation of 6 hours. However, we recommend you ferment your yogurt for 24 hours to eliminate all lactose in the yogurt [however, candida sufferers must remember that lactose is turned into another sugar during fermentation, which is called galactose].
Any residual lactose could be used as food for bacteria already found in your GI-tract and result in fermentation in your intestines
Kefir is a fermented milk product made from Kefir grains. Unlike yogurt, Kefir is made from lactobacillus bacteria and several different yeast organisms and is fermented at room temperature.
The most difficult step in making Kefir is getting someone to sell/give you some Kefir grains. It would be impossible for us to give Kefir any justice when there is a website out there that will describe everything and anything you need to know about Kefir.
The web site is called Dom’s Kefir In-site at: Making Kefir Dom also sponsors an egroups list you can join to find someone to share Kefir grains with you and to answer any question you may have about Kefir. Here are some directions from the wise Dominic about eliminating the lactose in the Kefir [however lactose is turned into another sugar called galatose], so it still isn’t acceptable for candida sufferers:
“I find a good way to eliminate lactose even further is to ferment the kefir per usual (24 hours), strain, then keep the strained kefir in a bottle (at room temperature) for a further 2 -3 days before consuming (ongoing fermentation). I don’t keep my strained kefir in the fridge any more, but keep it like this in a cupboard.
The kefir is still good even after 6-7 days. One must give the bottle which the kefir is continuously fermenting in, a shake at least once daily. This is so that the microbes (mainly the yeasts) are mixed in well. Other wise one may find a film or colonies of yeast or the acetic acid forming bacteria on top of the kefir.
This is safe, but some lactose digesting yeasts may be flourishing mainly in this top layer, shaking will help to distribute them into the kefir, where you want them to do their work (breaking down lactose).
This continuous fermentation can also be done in the fridge, but I find that a more pleasant tasting kefir, with markedly reduced lactose is achieved this way, (at room temp.). One can also keep fermenting the kefir, like above, in an air tight bottle. Note: During fermentation lactose changes into another kind of sugar, called galactose, so candida sufferers would not have kefir.
After the second day or so, an effervescent kefir will be produced. But i must point out that the bottle must not be filled more that 3/4 full. Of course, one could also ferment the original kefir for 48 hours, then follow on with the suggestions above.
This may further make sure that the lactose content would be eliminated to a greater extent, and possibly in a smaller amount of time.”
* Dom’s Kefir In-site: How to Make Kefir (The best source for Kefir anywhere).
* Sauerkraut Fermentation, from the Bacteriology Department of the University of Wisconsin.
* Weston A. Price Foundation, Lacto-Fermentation
* Lucy’s Kitchen Shop, A trusted source for yogurt makers and starters.