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Whilst I was pregnant, I suffered with real issues in my gut. Indigestion and IBS plagued me on a daily basis. Adhesions after pregnancy did not help. So I looked into how I could prevent these problems. And found that one of the best ways was by restoring my natural gut bacteria. One way to get your gut flora back up to normal is by using probiotics. And the most natural way of doing this is by eating fermented foods. So here is my ultimate guide to fermented foods and how to incorporate them into your life.
Ultimate Guide To Fermented Foods
Our gut bacteria are in a very delicate balance. And they are hugely important to maintain our health. As a result of constantly eating a high sugar or low fibre diet, the number of good bacteria drops in our gut. Consequently we feel sluggish, and this bacterial imbalance can also be a factor in long term illness.
But just taking a probiotic pill isn’t the answer. It is much better to incorporate better eating habits and foods that help to keep our gut healthy. The hot topic on how to do this recently has been fermented foods.
What are Fermented Foods?
Fermented foods are foods that have been allowed to ferment naturally. During the fermentation process, good bacteria (or probiotics) are allowed to grow and flourish in the foods. By fermenting the food before eating, you can therefore add these good bacteria back into your gut.
The benefits of eating fermented foods are still being researched. But some of the ways they help may be to
- improve digestion
- heal our gut
- help with IBS symptoms
- boost our immunity
- perhaps they even help with weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight
How Can I Get Fermented Foods Into My Diet?
Fermenting food is not a new idea. It has been used for many centuries in many different countries as a way of storing food long-term. You can buy fermented foods from supermarkets, but they are not always the real deal. Very often foodstuffs like Sauerkraut or Kimchi have been pasteurised or pickled instead of fermented. So do read the labels.
The fermented foods that you could buy include
- Kefir – a cultured dairy product where kefir grains are added to milk with yeast.
- Tempeh – a solid cake made from fermented soybeans
- Sauerkraut – fermented shredded cabbage in brine
- Kimchi – like sauerkraut, this is the Korean alternative that may be spicy and cotton other vegetables
- Miso – Soybeans fermented with salt and the fungus koji to produce a seasoning paste
- Kombucha – a fermented tea
- Probiotic yogurt
The best way to know that the food has been fermented is to do it yourself. Some of the fermented foods above would be tricky to make and need specialist equipment. But one of the easiest and most foolproof things to make is fermented vegetables.
Fermenting Your Own Vegetables
This really appealed to me as I am a real fan of pickles. And you do not need any complicated equipment. Furthermore, it is a great way of using up food that is about to spoil or is just past its use-by date.
Most vegetables are good to ferment, as most vegetables have lactobacillus bacteria in their skins and on their surfaces. This is the good bacteria that we are encouraging during the fermenting process. So you may want to try fermenting
- Cabbage – red and green
- Cucumbers – mini whole or sliced
- Green beans
- Green tomatoes
- Peppers – I particularly love the sweet pointed red peppers
You could also add other herbs and spices into the brine such as whole chillies, chilli flakes or garlic.
What Will I Need?
You can start with just a clean jar or mason jar – but you can buy more specialist equipment once you know that you will be doing it often. I started with a large empty pickle jar. You will also need some salt – sea salt or himalayan rose pink salt is much better than chemical packed table salt. And some filtered water (tap water often has a small amount of chlorine which will inhibit the ferment slightly)
- Firstly, cut your vegetables into even pieces – because you want them all to ferment at the same rate.
- Add 2 tablespoons of salt to your jar.
- Place the vegetables into the jar and push them firmly down as much as you can – with the end of a rolling pin or handle.
- Fill the jar with filtered water to cover the vegetables.
- I like to shake the jar with the lid on now to make the salt and water into brine. And then make sure the vegetables are pushed down and submerged again.
(It is very important that the vegetables are held submerged under the surface of the brine, or mould will form.)
6. There are lots of ways of keeping the vegetables submerged. Common ways are
- Using a large piece of vegetable – such as a cabbage leaf tucked around on top
- Holding the vegetables down with a clean stone that has been baked or boiled
- Pickle pebbles
- using a ramekin wrapped cling film with baking beans to weight it down
7. Then once the vegetables are held down, you either place the jar on the side with the lid slightly unscrewed (as the fermentation produces gas – you don’t want the jar to explode!) , or you could use a mason jar with an airlock or a pickle pipe – which releases the gas from inside without letting oxygen back in.
Storing your Fermented Vegetables
Keep the jar in a warm place – on the shelf in my kitchen in a good place for me. After 4-5 days I open the jar and have a taste. Usually I’ve seen some bubbles which tells me that fermentation is occurring. Once you taste that there is a sour, almost vinegary taste to the vegetables you can place them somewhere cool, such as the fridge. They should keep for months.
Once I had done this using the clean pickle jar, I decided I wanted to buy a more sophisticated fermentation jar. I found this one at Lakeland. It has an airlock that lets the fermentation gases out but doesn’t let air back in. And I also bought some pickle pebbles to hold my fermenting vegetables down.
How to Use Your Fermented Vegetables
I like to snack on my vegetables throughout the day, though you can add them to salads, use as a garnish or as a side dish.
They are just a great way of getting the probiotics you need back into your gut. Why not pin this ultimate guide to fermented foods for later? And do let me know how you get on with making your own!