By Health Researcher and foodie: Sue Visser
November 2017 www.naturefresh.co.za
Yuk – we may say to mould, slime and sleaze but our beneficial gut bacteria are derived from rotten or should we say fermented food! People who embrace old fashioned, slow farm style cooking uphold the art of pickling, brewing and culturing home-grown produce. They are maintaining their long forgotten colonies of gut friendly bacteria that are automatically replenished by these traditionally fermented foods.
Use these pointers to buzz your food with unique flavours and discover some unexpected natural remedies. With a healthy gut (most of our brain, nervous and immune system) we can thus take on our over-civilized world and bounce back. We can say boo to leaky guts, rigid arteries, faulty tickers, creaky joints, diabetes and depression. (1)
Introduction to fermented food – what is it?
We are often reminded that our forefathers didn’t have fridges and so they had to preserve their food by salting, pickling and fermenting large quantities of produce as and when it was plentiful. Their GI tracts were teeming with good bacteria. Unlike modern health enthusiasts, they could digest food, absorb nutrients and enjoy peak health without taking an ever growing line-up of food supplements. Indeed, food was their medicine and although it was grown without pesticides and fertilizers, the key to their longevity and robust health had a lot to do with what we call fermented foods.
Fermentation is a “digestive” process that breaks down organic matter (the food we eat) into smaller particles to release enzymes, trace elements, neurotransmitters, vitamins, amino acids, fatty acids and even hormones. Harmful substances such as protease inhibitors and nasty agricultural chemicals are nullified and starches and sugars are consumed in the process to produce lactic acid. This gives fermented food its characteristic sour taste and adds the fizz to beer, wine and Kombucha. The smell of freshly baked bread is from yeast that ferments, releases carbon dioxide bubbles and makes the dough rise up light and fluffy. Now add more bacteria from cheese plus a few pickles and olives to nourish your microbiome. Our resident bacteria outnumber our human cells by 90%.
Today our traditional food-enhancing skills have flown out of the window Natural and slow give way to quick and easy and we take pills to compensate
We toss out food that goes mouldy, milk that is sour and vegetables that look rotten. Then we take probiotics that are also made out of “rotten” stuff because we suffer from a deficiency of the beneficial bacteria that are present in these fermented foods. Yoghurt and amasi (rotten milk) provide bacteria like lactobacillus acidophilus and for vegans, fermented cabbage (sauerkraut) and other anaerobically fermented vegetables provides provide a tasty alternative. No capsules, pills and supplements are necessary in this case. Vegetarians can stock up on trillions of microbes that come from other fermented delicacies such as yoghurt, buttermilk, kefir, amasi, cheese, beer, wine, Kombucha, soybeans, olives, and even cocoa, tea and coffee.
Fermented food provides a host of gut flora that help to control candida and a whole lot more
Lactic acid and probiotics (gut flora) are some of the by-products of fermentation. Lactic acid is a strong sterilizing compound. It suppresses harmful micro-organisms and breaks down and ferments the fibre we eat such as lignin and cellulose. It also produces antibacterial compounds that are known as bacteriocins that attack pathogenic bacteria, yeasts and moulds. Candidiasis or yeast overgrowth is thus controlled. Within the gut we need probiotics to neutralize toxins, remove heavy metals and create vitamins. They help to speed up the elimination of toxic waste in the bowel and naturally bulk up the stool and balance the water content as do laxatives and fibre supplements. They also keep cholesterol and triglyceride levels in check and break down excessive hormone levels to control oestrogen dominance.
It is not about the amount of each microbe you need but more the variety of strains. Microbes grow by themselves so the latest trend is to provide a larger selection that will then take care of establishing a healthy population of beneficial bacteria. Eating probiotics as a food instead of taking pills or capsules guarantees their colonisation within the gut. This creates a more synergistic effect. We can mix the supplements into our food, especially yoghurt to introduce more strains. A liquid starter culture with 10 or even 15 strains will grow on food, molasses, yoghurt or even a glass of water at room temperature. The TMA (total microbial action) proliferated in experimental batches after few days when a teaspoon of the culture was left in a glass of water at room temperature. In a glass, or within the gut, starter strains that are introduced to fermented foods just keep on growing, and growing! The more gut flora you have, the less vulnerable you are to candida and other opportunistic/pathogenic microbes. Candidiasis is a good indicator of a probiotic deficiency. So eating a variety fermented food every day is very beneficial.
The most common fermented foods are right under your nose!
We add flavour to our meals with pickles and sauces without realising that they too, are classified as fermented foods. Worcestershire sauce, for instance, begins as a seething mass of rotten goo. The first brew was abandoned by Lee and Perrins, the two pharmacists who were striving to make a universal condiment. A few years later, their sealed barrel of reject sauce was discovered in a store room. Inside was a black, delicious fluid – exceptional, well fermented. We now know it as Worchester sauce! Although the recipe remains a secret, the basic ingredients included: vinegar, molasses, sugar, salt, anchovies, tamarind extract, onions, garlic, spices, soy sauce, lemons, pickles and peppers. The key to the success of this iconic brew was in fact time – fermentation.
Soy products: Soy sauce, Miso, Tamari sauce, Tempe and Nattō
Let’s take a quick tour of our fermented soy products that are rich in probiotics, amino acids and enzymes. Chinese soy sauce is made from fermented soy beans and usually contains wheat. These products have umami (the savoury taste) due to the presence of natural MSG (a salt of the amino acid glutamine) that is released during the fermentation process. This natural flavouring compensates for a salt craving and helps to reduce our sodium intake. In Japan, a fermented soy sauce called tamari is a by-product of miso. Miso is a cooked up mash of fermented soy beans, combined with a mould called koji (Aspergillus Oryzae) and salt. During the fermentation process, the black tamari sauce oozes out of it. Rhizopus Oligosporus is a fungus that is added to cooked soybeans and other legumes to produce Tempe. This fungus is an antibiotic in its own right and even kills pathogenic bacteria like the dreaded staphylococcus aureus. It is heat resistant and can withstand cooking plus a wide range of pH levels. These tasty medicinal bean patties are also a rich source of protein and along with the antibiotic are a host of probiotics!
Nattō was traditionally made by placing cooked soybeans in rice straw, which naturally contains Bacillus Subtilis, (a microbial activating agent) and leaving them to ferment. The bacteria give the beans a stringy, slimy texture, a pungent odour and a unique, acquired flavour. They support a thriving colony of healthy gut flora and provide vitamin K2 that prevents hardened arteries and weakening bones (osteoporosis). It contains nattokinase, a heart-friendly enzyme that breaks down fibrin and prevents blood clots. So for thine heart’s sake, scoff down those iffy smelling beans. Or just take your natto capsules!
Ref 1) “They protect against many gastrointestinal problems including diarrhoea, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic bowel diseases, and even colon cancer. And research suggests they help to prevent allergies, skin issues such as eczema, depression and other mood disorders, obesity, diabetes, and urinary and vaginal infections.” “Consumption of fermented foods that contain probiotics may serve as a low-risk intervention for reducing social anxiety. In fact, the more fermented foods the participants ate, the fewer symptoms of social anxiety they experienced.” Source: http://www.genesmart.com/300200695/the-many-benefits-of-fermented-foods/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natt%C5%8D (More about Nattō and how to make it)
Kimchi is so easy to make!
Kimchi is a fiery, spicy rot pot of shredded vegetables combined with salted fish. It is very easy to make and surprisingly moreish, especially on a slice of toast. We can skip the fish and add a dash of soy sauce, miso or tamari to produce a similar flavour and it improves the fermentation process by adding even more bacteria. Kimchi contains Lactobacillus Kimchii and lactic acid based bacteria similar to sauerkraut. A typical mixture would include shredded Chinese cabbage (or plain old cabbage) as the main ingredient with sliced up, carrot, garlic, ginger, onion and for the brave, chilli peppers! You can also include sliced yellow, red and green peppers and experiment with other bits and pieces – even herbs and fresh sprouts. Add soy sauce, miso or anchovies and leave your combo to ferment for between a few days to a couple of weeks in a sealed jar. A used plastic or glass jar with a screw on cap works well, because with anaerobic fermentation fresh air needs to be excluded. When ready, it will go whoosh when opened. It should taste sour (due to the lactic acid fermentation) and the vegetables will become soft and juicy. It is very popular in Oriental countries and Central Asia where it is made in huge vats and sold at food markets.
Sauerkraut – surprisingly nutritious and simple to make
Kimchi and sauerkraut feature cabbage that when fermented anaerobically (without air) will produce lactic acid and hence Lactobacillus Plantarum and Pediococcus that are vegan friendly. Sauerkraut is very rich in vitamin C and is good for acid reflux, indigestion and heartburn. It is so cheap and easy to make. Just shred up half a cabbage and place it in a bowl with a large pinch of salt. Leave it in the sun to wilt down to half the volume then whack it into a screw top jar, filled and pressed down to exclude as much air as possible. Close it up tightly and wait for 2 – 3 weeks. Then open it -whoosh! Taste it – sour, tangy like lemon juice or vinegar. Not. Keep your sauerkraut in the fridge and enjoy it with mashed potatoes. Mix it with yoghurt as a sauce or have it on the side with a sausage. Add a scoop of sauerkraut and yoghurt or amasi to cold summer soups you make in the blender for a tangy treat.
Lemon pickle has a unique flavour and is good for the liver
Traditional recipes pickle a whole lemon and it takes months before they are soft enough to eat. It is quicker to slice up a few lemons into thin slivers, sprinkle them with salt and allow the mixture to sweat in the sun for a day or two in a covered glass dish. Then pack it into a jar, keeping it closed for a few days until the white parts become saturated and clear. It can now be eaten but keep it in the refrigerator. Enjoy the lemon pickle with just about any meal. It goes well with spinach, dahl, fish, curries and cheese. It is great in a sandwich and with snacks. Lemon skin is very good for bile stimulation and will thus help with the alkalinity of the small intestine. It is good with greasy food and it sweeps the palate. According to some naturopaths, a tablespoon of lemon pickle a day helps with liver problems, arthritis and skin disorders.
How to Enjoy Fermented Milk Products like yoghurt, amasi, ricotta and cheese
We can add probiotic supplements to yoghurt. Mix in the contents of a few of your capsules or crush up some tablets. Set them free! Although there is no lactose (milk sugar) present, some people still need to be wary of fermented dairy products because of the casein content. To make your own cottage cheese, mix one or two cups of amasi (fermented, clotted milk) with half a teaspoon of natural salt. Pour this into a sieve that has been lined with a finely woven cloth. Allow the water to drip out for a few hours until the desired consistency and transfer it to a closable container. You can flavour this cottage cheese with caraway seeds if you like. Use the brine to add to stews, soups and curries or use it for baking.
A mixture of cottage cheese and ground-up flaxseeds can be used as a spread. The Budwig diet for treating cancer makes use of this combination. You can add Marmite as well for even more benefit and it tastes great. For a harder cheese: Fold over the sides of the cloth. Wrap it up in paper towel and then a dish towel. Press the package with the bread board on top of it to for a few hours. This produces a smaller lump of solid, creamy white cheese, similar to the Indian pannier or Middle Eastern Labne. It is great with cooked spinach or curries. Keep the chunks of cheese in brine, like Feta.
Parmesan cheese is exclusively made from raw milk – because there are more microbial strains available. Amasi, kefir and yoghurt are also best made from raw milk – but in our country it is illegal to sell unpasteurised milk