In this post, I will give you some alternative methods for introducing healthy bacteria into your diet; these methods and recipes should help you augment your probiotic supplementation. With that said, this post is not about yogurt making. Many people with IBD cannot tolerate pasteurized dairy products. If you are one of those people, this post will be helpful for you. If you want to experiment, to add diversity to your diet, then this post will be helpful for you. I’ll just come out and say it: I think fermenting, done properly, will be helpful for anyone with IBD.

I have already done a thorough post on making SCD-friendly yogurt; therefore, this post, I will focus on non-dairy ferments—mostly vegetables.

I write a lot of context and story leading up to the recipes and the “how-to” of this post. If you enjoy my stories and the discussion, please read on. If you are just looking for the practical advice, skip down to the “Introduction to Lacto-fermentation” heading.

One note of caution:

Always try each of these methods and recipes in small amounts—introduce new foods slowly so that you can judge for yourself how your body will react. Elaine Gottschall, author of Breaking the Vicious Cycle suggests beginning yogurt consumption by the tea- or tablespoon per day. The same approach should be taken here, as the foods suggested in this post are probiotically potent.

In general, these recipes are not meant to be eaten en masse. Start slowly, and work your way up to eating a small bit (1/8-1/4 cup) with each meal—as a condiment, not as a main dish.

Why augment with “Live” foods?

Live food can mean either foods (mainly plants) which are freshly picked, and not cooked; which still contain all of their fragile enzymes and vitamins. OR live food can mean fermented foods which contain live cultures of beneficial bacteria. In this post, I use the latter definition.

Live, fermented foods have been used for millennia. Julius Cesar was known for traveling with barrels of fermented cabbage, as it was known even then to prevent traveler’s diarrhea.

Capitan James Cook, an English sea captain who circumnavigated the globe (more than once), was lauded by the British Royal society for having “conquered” scurvy, a vitamin C deficiency, by traveling with large quantities of pickled (lacto-fermented) cabbage (which contains large quantities of vitamin C) aboard his ships.

Nearly every culture, either past or present, has fermented foods. European cultures commonly have used cabbage, cucumbers, beets, and turnips. In Russia and Poland, one can find pickled green tomatoes, or peppers. In Asian cultures, fermented foods are ever-present. Pickled versions of cabbage (kimchi for example), turnip, eggplant, cucumber, onion, squash and carrots can be found throughout China, Japan, Korea, and China.

The Polynesian people who crossed the Pacific and populated Hawaii survived the voyage largely on a fermented version of taro root porridge, poi.

That’s reason one:

1. Connect with your cultural history.

Whether you try miso, Amazake’, sauerkraut, Kvass (Russian fermented drink), or something more exotic like T’ej (an Ethiopian honey-wine), make it an opportunity to learn about your family and the culture from where they originated.

2. Fermenting is one of the oldest and truest ways of preserving food.

If you learn to ferment a wide variety of foods, you will be able to preserve foods for long periods of time without using freezers, machines, or other energy intensive processes. Lactic acid, produced by the Lactobacillus bacteria in the fermenting process, inhibit putrefactive bacteria (bacteria that make things rot), and preserve the food. These Lactobacilli are found everywhere, especially on the leaves and roots of plants.

It also encourages the purchase of fresh foods, which are minimally packaged; the fermentation vessels are usually glass or ceramic, and thus reusable. Fermenting is an earth-friendly way to reduce your energy and waste footprint.

By fermenting your own fruits and vegetables (or those you buy locally) you can take one small step out of the industrial food chain, again localizing your food.

3. Increase your health. After all, that’s what we’re trying so hard to do here, right?

          a. Fermentation often increases vitamin levels and digestibility of fruits and vegetables.

Lactobacilli produce helpful enzymes, and they convert sugars and starches into simpler, more digestible substances. A good example of this is in yogurt making. The bacteria consume the lactose sugars as they grow, converting into a more digestible, simple sugar, galactose, which people with IBD can usually digest just fine.

Another example is soy. Fermentation breaks down the soy protein into component amino acids, which are more easily utilized by the body. From this type of fermentation, we get dishes like miso, tempeh, and tamari (soy sauce).

Fermentation is a way to pre-digest your food, increasing the bioavailability of minerals, increasing (often) the vitamin content, and transforming otherwise (largely) indigestible contents into substances your body can easily assimilate and utilize.

Fermentation also creates vitamins. As they feed and multiply, bacteria produce vitamins and other beneficial substances. B vitamins are the most notable of these created: folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, and biotin are good examples.

          b.  Fermentation produces antibiotic compounds (which inhibit the growth of other bacteria), and anticancer substances.

Lactobacilli, during the fermentation process generate Omega-3 fatty acids, and oodles of antioxidants. Antioxidants scavenge (get rid of; neutralize) free radicals in the body. Increased antioxidant consumption –> Increased cancer protection. This is an important consideration for those of us with IBD, who have a much, much higher incidence of cancer(s) than the average population.

          c.  Fermentation removes toxins from foods.

The most dramatic example of this is the Cassava tuber, which carries in it toxic levels of cyanide. When fermented, however, cassava is perfectly edible and nutritious. Fermentation can also reduce other, less dramatic chemicals such as phytic acid. Phytic acid can block the use of zinc, calcium, magnesium, iron and other minerals in the body. Fermenting or soaking grains (which are high in phytic acid) before consuming reduces or eliminates (depending on the process) the phytic acid content of grains.

          d.  Fight the hyper-hygiene hypothesis.

One plausible explanation into the rise of inflammatory bowel disease in western cultures, and its spread into westernizing regions of the world is the hygiene hypothesis, which says (in short): Humans evolved with bacteria and other organisms. Hyper vigilant hygiene in western culture(s) prevent exposure to those organisms which otherwise would have ‘calibrated’ our immune systems in our youth. Without ubiquitous exposure to bacteria and other organisms during development, the immune systems of the susceptible have become ‘confused’. Whether that hypothesis is right or not, time will tell; however, it makes intuitive sense, given the evidence of the role of helpful bacteria in maintaining human health, that indiscriminately sterilizing our food, and our lives, needs to be re-thought.

In my post about a pathogenic community, I posit that this immune ‘confusion’ may not be permanent, and may be able to be reversed through therapeutic exposure to a diverse community of organisms. Fermenting a wide variety of your own foods is probably the single best way to introduce that essential microbial diversity into your daily diet.

 

Introduction to Lacto-fermentation

Lacto-fermentation is great fun for someone (like me) who has a strong do-it-yourself drive. If you don’t already have that drive, maybe fermentation will help kindle a do-it-yourself fire in your life.

Fermenting your own foods is truly a learning process. Some batches will turn out fantastic(!) and some will need some work. My last batch of sauerkraut got exposed to the air, and rotted through before I noticed. The smell was…Well, it was good for my compost, let’s put it that way. You will do best if you decide to view each ferment as an experiment with the possibility of success, failure, or something in between.

Equipment, Ingredients, and other Basics

The only equipment you really need is vessels to contain the ferment. Depending on the recipe, this could be a deep glass bowl, a Fermenting Crock, large, wide-mouth canning jars, or a plastic, food-grade pickle bucket. The other equipment you will need is sea salt, and non-chlorinated (filtered, distilled, or bottled) water. That’s it! You can go wild in buying stuff to outfit your fermenting kitchen, but when you’re just getting started, there isn’t any need.

Oh, and for many recipes, you’ll need some whey, which you can strain from your yogurt.

Buying Produce to Ferment

My wife and I prefer to support local growers when we can. Since that isn’t always practical (geographically or financially), we do buy much of our produce from either the local co-op grocery or our local supermarket. You will find, however, that organic produce ferments better than non-organic. There are two main reasons for this: (1) Organic produce, especially locally grown produce from small farms or your own garden, is grown in richer soil without pesticides and excessive fertilizers. Because of this, the plants are often more nutrient rich, heartier, and retain some of their protective properties from the wild; (2) Organic produce does not contain the pesticide residues that can inhibit bacterial growth (and damage your health).

Basic Fermentation Principles

The principles for fermenting vegetables are simple. Vegetables are cut, grated, or sliced (depending on the vegetable and recipe), and then pounded thoroughly so that they release their juices. Then they are mixed with salt and spices, packed tightly into an air-tight jar with some water and (if desired) some whey and placed at room temperature for the initial ferment. 72 oF is sufficient to initially ferment most recipes in 2-4 days. If your kitchen is warmer than 72, then you will need less time, and if it is colder, then you will need more. This is where fermentation becomes an art.

Then the container is placed in cold storage for the desired time. Cold storage is somewhere dark between 40-50 degrees, ideally. It used to be that ferments were stored, allowed to age, in root cellars, but few of us will have a root cellar. If all else fails, the top shelf of your fridge will suffice.

Remember, vegetables get better with age, and they age after the initial ferment, in cold storage. Some die-hards insist that sauerkraut needs at least six months to fully mature. You be the judge. You can eat most of these ferments immediately after the initial ferment; however, you may want to try different time frames to see which yields the best flavor. I do this by making several jars, labeling the date on the jar that I made the recipe, and the date I want to open it. This way I can space out many different ferments without having to remember many different batches in my head.

Be sure to fill your jars or containers no more than 80% full (leave a minimum of one inch between the contents and the lid), as the vegetables will expand during the fermentation process. Make sure the contents of your container (the veggies or fruits) are completely covered with liquid (usually a mix of water, salt, and whey); air will ruin the fermentation process. Close the lid on the container (if there is one) tightly.

The salt keeps the vegetables from rotting until the bacteria take over, and adding whey can ensure that your vegetables pickle quickly and completely; it reduces the chances of your dish from rotting. Whey is essential for fermenting fruits, as they will rot or mold quickly without an adequate inoculation of whey.

Recipes

Below are five basic vegetable ferments. These are SCD-friendly, and non-dairy except for the added whey. There are hundreds of vegetable ferment recipes alone, without considering grains, fruits, and a host of fermented drinks. I have chosen these recipes because: (1) They are easy, and therefore accessible to everyone; (2) The spice mixes are simple, and it would seem to me that these are the safest place for people with IBD to start fermenting; (3) they don’t require any special equipment; (4) they can be easily made in large batches.

Basic Sauerkraut

1 Head of white or green cabbage

1 Tablespoon pickling salt or sea salt

2 One-quart large-mouth glass canning jars with lids

Filtered or distilled water

All of your equipment should be clean and free of soap residue or tap water residue. Sterilize the inside of the jars with boiling water. Don’t burn yourself (I had to say that). Shred the cabbage. Pound it thoroughly with a meat hammer and mix in the salt. Pack the cabbage into the jar in 1-2-inch layers. Fill the jar with about two inches of cabbage and, using a meat hammer or other kitchen tool pack the cabbage tightly in the jar. Repeat until the cabbage jar is 75% full. Add water to cover the cabbage. Add whey. Close the lid and let cabbage sit in a dark place at room temperature for 3-4 days before transferring to your cold storage location. You can eat this right away, or let it age. It will get better with age, up to six months.

 

Sauerkraut with Carrots, Onion, and Spices

1 Head of Cabbage, shredded

1 Small Onion, diced

1 tsp caraway seeds

3-4 large carrots, shredded

1 Tablespoon pickling salt or sea salt

Fresh cracked black pepper (optional)

Pinch of crushed red pepper (optional)

 

Use the same directions as basic sauerkraut.

 

Sour (Dill) Pickles

1 1-quart glass canning jar with lid

Small or Medium cucumbers, fresh as possible

1 Liter distilled or filtered water

¼ cup whey

3 Tablespoons pickling or sea salt

1-1  ½ tablespoons dill weed

¼ teaspoon black peppercorns, whole

¼ small onion

2-4 cloves garlic (to taste), crushed

1 fresh maple or oak leaf (yes, go pick one from a tree!). Grape, cherry, or horseradish leaves can also be used. This will keep the pickles crunchy. I don’t know why it works, it just does.

Mix the salt and water until salt is dissolved. Add spices, onion, and garlic. Pack the jar with the cucumbers. Be sure not to use any cucumber with damaged skin. Add the whey, and fresh oak (or other) leaf. You will need to keep the pickles from floating above the surface of the water. There are two no-cost ways of doing this: (1) pack the jar so tightly that the cucumbers won’t move, or (2) fold and lay the leaf over the top of the liquid in such a way as to keep the cucumbers beneath the water. If you come up with a better way, please post to comments and let me know.

Allow the pickles to sit at room temperature for 2-4 days. I like 3 days best, but experiment to your taste. Transfer to dark, cold storage.

 

Sweet Pickles (variation of the sour pickles above)

1 1-quart wide-mouth canning jar with lid

Small or Medium cucumbers (fresh as possible), whole or sliced for sandwich style

1 Liter distilled or filtered water

¼ cup whey

3 Tablespoons pickling or sea salt

½ tablespoon dill weed

¼- ½ teaspoon turmeric

1 tsp mustard seeds (~1/8 tsp ground)

6-8 Tbsp honey

1-2 clove garlic (to taste), crushed

1 fresh maple or oak leaf. Grape, cherry, or horseradish leaves can also be used.

Mix the salt, water, and honey until salt and honey are dissolved. Add spices, and garlic. Pack the jar with the cucumbers. Be sure not to use any cucumber with damaged skin. Add the whey, and fresh oak (or other) leaf. You will need to keep the pickles from floating above the surface of the water. There are two no-cost ways of doing this: (1) pack the jar so tightly that the cucumbers won’t move, or (2) fold and lay the leaf over the top of the liquid in such a way as to keep the cucumbers beneath the water. If you come up with a better way, please post to comments and let me know.

Allow the pickles to sit at room temperature for 2-4 days. I like 3 days best, but experiment to your taste. Transfer to dark, cold storage.

 

Lacto-fermented Carrots

4-5 cups carrots, shredded

1 Tbsp pickling salt or sea salt

6 Tbsp whey

All of your equipment should be clean and free of soap residue or tap water residue. Sterilize the inside of the jars with boiling water. Don’t burn yourself (I had to say that).

Shred the carrots. Pound them thoroughly with a meat hammer and mix in the salt. Pack the carrots into the jar in 1-2-inch layers. Fill the jar with about two inches of carrots and, using a meat hammer or other kitchen tool, pack the carrots tightly in the jar. Repeat until the carrot jar is 75% full. Add water to cover the carrots completely. Add whey. You will need to ensure that all of the carrots are completely covered by liquid. No floaters! Close the lid and let carrots sit in a dark place at room temperature for 3-4 days before transferring to your cold storage location. You can eat this right away, or let it age. It will get better with age up to two months.

 

With the prevalence of ‘autoimmune’ diseases of unknown origin (like IBD), the rise of chronic fatigue, yeast imbalances, allergies, and other potentially intestinally linked conditions, adding fermented foods (back) into our diet is an essential for regaining and maintaining our health.

 

Onward…

 

_______________________________________________________________

Sources:

Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods, by Sandor Ellix Katz

 

Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats, by Sally Fallon

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