Fermented foods are a staple in every single traditional culture, and their absence in the typical North American Diet, is likely a major contributor to poor health. I’ve written about gut heath and fermented foods many times on this blog already, so feel free to check out those posts:
Sauerkraut was my introduction to fermented foods, and for a lot of people this is an easy add-in to their diet – especially if you like sauerkraut, pickles and olives. However, the combination of fermentation and cabbage can be a little too much for the fermented food rookie. And if you are interested in making your own fermented foods (which I highly recommend for 2 reasons,  it becomes inoculated with microbes from your environment and  it is a fraction of the price), sauerkraut has a fairly long fermentation period – 3-4 weeks. So instead, I recommend Fermented Carrots.
These are my favourite way to introduce fermented foods to kids and adults alike. A little sweeter for the rookie-palate, and with a 4-7 day fermentation period, they are a great intro to home-fermenting.
(Option: Garlic Dulse Fermented Carrots)
Ingredients & Equipment
2 lbs carrots
4 tsp fine-ground sea salt, or garlic sea salt (my preference!)
OPTIONAL: 1 heaping tbsp dulse
2 cups filtered water
2 more heaping tsp sea salt, or garlic sea salt
silicone muffin liners (my preference, but you can get creative)
1. Slice carrots as thinly as possible. I recommend using the slicer attachment on your food processor. (Note: save your carrot tops for making broth!)
2. Add to a bowl, and toss with sea salt, or garlic-sea salt.
3. Optional – add a heaping tbsp of dulse for extra minerals and thyroid support!
4. Toss well. Spoon into jars, packing carrots down as tightly as you can.
5. Create a brine by mixing 1 tsp salt (garlic salt) with 1 cup of water, and adding to the jars of carrots. Add enough brine to cover carrots completely.
6. Use something to hold the carrots under the water. I like to use my silicone muffin liners!
7. Place in a cool, dark corner of the room, out of direct sunlight. But don’t put them in a closet or cupboard where you can forget about them (learned this one the hard way!). Check on them every day to make sure the carrots are still below the water. If not, add a bit more brine, or push down the muffin liner. Let ferment for 4-7 days. Start checking at 4 days to see if you like the tangy flavour. I usually ferment for 5 days.
I love adding a spoonful to salads, or just on the side of a meal. When I was breastfeeding, my favourite snack was to toast 2 pieces of GF bread, spread half an avocado on each piece and top with these bad boys. Delish!
What’s your favourite fermented food? Have you tried making it yourself? Share in the comments below!
It’s pretty hard to look at any health-related article these days, without seeing the microbiome mentioned at least once! And for good reason. The microbiome (or flora) is the sum total of all the critters that live in your gut (and skin, vaginal tract etc.). By critters I mean bacteria, viruses, yeast, fungi, parasites. There are about 100 trillion microorganism cells in/on our body – which is about 10 times the amount of human cells we have. So what that means is we are more bacteria than we are human!
So far we know that the make up of your gut flora is absolutely critical to determining your health. We also seem to understand that what we know is only the tip of the iceberg. Some of the functions we know they are responsible for are:
create food for your intestinal cells
prime your immune system and support lymph tissue surrounding the intestinal tract (known as the GALT)
digest your food
release vitamins that are bound up in fibres
maintain the integrity of your intestinal tract
synthesize vitamins (like vitamin K and some B vitamins)
suppress pathogenic and opportunistic microbial growth
compose about 75% of our immune system
Dysregulated Microbiome (a.k.a. Dysbiosis)
When the opportunistic or pathogenic microbes overgrow and take over the good guys, you get a state of dysbiosis. Dysbiosis, or an imbalance in gut flora, has been associated with:
autism spectrum disorder
type 1 diabetes
inflammatory bowel disease
and many more diseases (pretty much any area of health which we don’t understand, and actually lots of those that we do, have cutting edge research being done on how the gut flora impact/contribute to that disease)
This imbalance is caused by 3 things:
consuming foods that promote overgrowth (sugar, refined carbs, vegetable oils, too much fat, gluten, whole grains, legumes) or foods that you are sensitive to
not consuming enough vegetables (both non-starchy and starchy), the food for beneficial flora
not consuming beneficial bacteria regularly as part of your diet
Why Fermented Foods?
Fermented foods are the original probiotic. In an effort to preserve vegetables and have them last through the winter, humans started to ferment them. With the advent of refrigeration, we stopped needing to ferment veggies to preserve them. Unfortunately we didn’t realize how much we actually needed the byproduct of fermentation – probiotics.
Food > Supplement
So why consume fermented foods if you can take a probiotic? Well, the top of the line, highest quality probiotic supplements usually contain between 4-10 strains of bacteria. Homemade sauerkraut can contain between 50 and 500 different strains. And what’s most important for creating a healthy gut microbiome, is variety and frequency.
So choosing a variety of different types of foods – fermented vegetables like sauerkraut, homemade yogurt (either grassfed dairy or coconut) and kombucha – on a daily basis is a fabulous way to constantly be reinoculating your gut with a wide variety of beneficial critters.
Kombucha is one of my favourite fermented foods – mostly because it tastes way more like a treat, than a ferment like sauerkraut. Full disclosure, it’s not nearly as rich in numbers or variety of bacteria, but it does have one good thing going for it. It’s filled with beneficial yeast, who do an awesome job at keeping opportunistic yeast (like Candida) from overgrowing. So while I love the ‘booch, I don’t recommend relying on it as your main source of probiotics.
NOTE: during my first trimester my sour taste buds were like on steroids. Salad dressings, grapefruit, even romaine lettuce were painfully sour. So you can imagine what fermented veggies were like. The only fermented food I could tolerate was kombucha!
Making Your Own Kombucha
As much as I love kombucha, it can get real expensive. A bottle of GT’s (a popular brand) ranges from $3.70-$4.99 – which adds up quick! So when I started consuming ‘booch regularly (instead of just as a treat), I knew I had to make my own otherwise I’d drink us out of house and home! It took me a while to get a routine going, and there are lot of variations out there, but this is how I do it and I’ve been very successful for months now!
1L purified water (divided into 2x 2 cups)
1 organic tea bag, plain black
¼ cup organic sugar cane
¼ cup kombucha from a previous batch
1 small SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast – this little mushroom like thing that floats around in your liquid, eats up the sugar and infuses your beverage with gut-healing magic. Note – the SCOBY seen in the pictures below is HUGE because I’ve been using it with high volume continue kombucha brewing for about a year now. Most are just a few inches in diameter.)
Directions – Part 1
Boil 2 cups of the water in a small pot.
Once boiled, stir in the sugar until fully dissolved.
Add the tea bag. You’re now making sweet tea! (note, I’m making a quadruple batch here)
Add remaining 2 cups of water (to help speed up the cooling down process).
Cover the pot with a lid and let cool to room temperature. You can put it in the fridge for a few hours to help speed up the process, but don’t let it get too cold.
Once it’s at room temperature, pour the sweet tea into a clean jar, add the SCOBY and kombucha from a previous batch.
Cover with a coffee filter or dish towel and let sit in a cool, dark place for 2 weeks.
Once the 2 weeks are up, pour off almost all of the kombucha into a separate jar or juice jug, retaining enough to make another batch.
You have the option to do a 2nd fermentation at this point, but I didn’t like the hassle so I don’t do it. Feel free to google it if you’re interested in a more fizzy beverage!
Add flavour to your kombucha. My favourites are:
lemon / ginger
Store kombucha, with the flavouring in it, in the fridge!
Meanwhile, repeat Part 1, with the leftover kombucha you retained.
Every other Friday I make a new batch of kombucha. I start with Part 1, but since I have an old batch going, as soon as the new sweet tea is cooled to room temperature, I begin Part 2. I empty out most of the 2 week fermented kombucha into juice jugs with flavouring, leaving the SCOBY and enough kombucha in the bottom for the next batch. Then I pour the cooled sweet tea in and recover. Takes me about 20 minutes (plus a few hours wait time) every 2 weeks.
Start tasting the kombucha after 1 week to make sure you achieve your desired flavour. The goal is to have most of the sugar gone, so it shouldn’t be super sweet. But it also shouldn’t be vinegary.
Don’t increase the size of your batch too quickly. I did and it resulted in a mouldy mess because the SCOBY wasn’t big enough to handle the sugar and keep the opportunistic microbes at bay. Start increasing slowly. Start with 1L, then do 1.5L, 2L, 3L etc. I now follow the exact ratio above, but for 4L at a time. It lasts 2 of us 2 weeks – and we each drink abut 4oz a day.
The SCOBY is a slimy mushroomy looking thing. But it’s not mould. Mould is very different. Here’s a good visual:
Your best bet is to get a piece of SCOBY from someone who has one going. Alternatively you can rehydrate one from a company like Cultures for Health. Apparently you can create a SCOBY by following the above process with a bottle of plain, store-bought kombucha too. But I’ve never done it, so you’ll want to google that!
You need to use sugar cane, not honey. Honey can introduce undesirable bacteria. Most of the sugar gets eaten up by the SCOBY.
If you let your ‘booch go too long, don’t throw it out. Instead turn it into jello jigglers – just make sure to add honey to combat the vinegary taste!
Recently I have had a lot of questions on my Instagram account about sauerkraut. What it is, how I use it, where I find it and why I’m so obsessed with it. So let’s chat about it!
Sauerkraut is fermented cabbage. I know, that doesn’t sound so awesome, but trust me, it’s delicious! To be honest, when I first started eating sauerkraut, I didn’t like it. But I wanted to like it, so I made a conscious decision to work at it. I started with 1 tsp, mixed in with sautéed onions, potatoes and sausage. It was faint, but the flavour was there. Over a few weeks/months I started increasing the amount I was eating. And then one day, I realized I loved the stuff!! I started putting it on everything – hamburgers, tacos, sausages (of course). What’s my favourite food to eat it with? Eggs. How bizarre is that?! Bizarrely delicious, that’s how! If you like it, try it – I promise it’s amazing!
Why have I made such a concerted effort to develop a liking for sauerkraut?
As I said before, sauerkraut is fermented cabbage. Fermented foods are an incredible addition to your diet. For the longest time I was always focused on what to avoid in my diet – no more dairy, then gluten, then garbage-y gluten-free products, then legumes. That was an important part of my healing process, but it was only when I started actively adding in super foods that I really started seeing some amazing changes.
The weakest part of my body is my digestive tract. I feel like it’s always a work in progress. It still flares up from time to time, which is frustrating considering I’m supposed to be coaching others on how to heal themselves, and I’m still working on myself! Whenever I start down that thought path, I try to take a few steps back and imagine where I would be if I hadn’t made the interventions I had when I did. Probably on some serious IBS drugs and en route to a full blown autoimmune condition like arthritis.
Lately, I’ve been having digestive attacks less and less, and I swear it coincides with aggressively including fermented foods in my diet on a regular basis. I try not to go more than a day without a fermented food, and it seems to have done wonders for my belly!
So what’s the deal with fermented foods??
First and foremost, they are an absolutely incredible source of probiotics. Sauerkraut is made by allowing non-oxygen dependent microorganisms to grow on the cabbage. These microorganisms are powerful probiotics – way more potent and diverse than anything you can get at a health food store! Constantly consuming probiotics (in food form) will slowly start to change the landscape of your colon – in a good way! If pathogenic gut bacteria are starting to grow over (a.k.a. dysbiosis), regularly reintroducing healthy bacteria can keep them in check! Having a healthy gut microbiome is the foundation of a healthy body. Fermented foods are an easy and inexpensive way to keep your gut healthy!
Second – fermentation increases the bioavailability of certain vitamins and enzymes. The cabbage is pre-digested by the microorganisms, which makes it easier for us to digest and absorb the nutrients.
Third – it’s an easy and delicious way to get some extra veggies in! If we’ve been out of town and come home to an empty fridge, I know I can grill up some meat from my freezer and add some cabbage for a complete meal!
Lastly – it’s empowering. Eating a delicious food (well first learning to find it delicious) on a regular basis, and knowing that it is actively working to heal my digestive tract and support my overall gut health is super amazing. It’s the simplest thing that keeps my digestion healthy, my immune system rockin’ and my nutrition status through the roof! All from eating a little kraut! Super cool.
Where to buy the good stuff?
First of all, it is absolutely imperative that you eat raw sauerkraut. The standard stuff found at most grocery stores isn’t actually fermented – it’s pickled. Not the same thing! Pickled kraut is found on the shelf. Fermented kraut is always in the fridge.
I used to buy my sauerkraut at the farmer’s market, because it was to die for! They added fun herbs such as nettle and dulse, which helped mellow out the sour flavour. Unfortunately as I started to eat more and more of it, $10/jar started to add up quickly. There are some great products at local health food stores that are slightly more reasonable. My 2 favourite brands are Bubbies and Eden Organics.
A photo posted by Amanda Beatty (@amandanaturally) on
One day I decided to learn how to make it myself. It couldn’t be that hard since practically every culture in human history has some kind of fermented food in their diet. And at $3 for a head of cabbage – I couldn’t beat the price!
Homemade Sauerkraut 101
My first 4 batches of sauerkraut had a 50% success rate. The first batch I followed directions I had found online somewhere. It didn’t recommend keeping an eye on it, so I put it in the back of a closet and left it for 3 weeks. When I went to grab it at the end of its fermentation time, it was a mouldy mess! I hit the internet and realized what had happened. The good bacterial growth needs an anaerobic environment. This means it needs no exposure to oxygen. So it has to stay submerged under water at all times!
So, round #2. Total and complete success! I diligently checked the sauerkraut every day and topped up the jars with a salt water solution regularly. I was thrilled! Also, I used purple cabbage, so it was beautiful!
A photo posted by Amanda Beatty (@amandanaturally) on
Round #3. I got cocky. I had nailed the last batch so I thought it would be a breeze this time round. I even poured the leftover sauerkraut juice on my new batch of kraut to speed the fermentation process. I didn’t check it nearly as often, so what happened? Mouldy mess.
Round #4. I perfected my technique. A perfect balance of keeping an eye on it, without being obsessive! This is how I make my sauerkraut.
1. Add your shredder attachment to your food processor. If you don’t have a food processor, you can shred your cabbage using a Spiralizer or a good knife!
2. Peel the outer few layers off your cabbage.
3. Chop the end off your cabbage. You can cut out the core as well, but it’s not necessary!
4. Cut cabbage into slices that will fit into your food processor spout.
5. Shred the cabbage!
6. Dump shredded cabbage into a large bowl. Sprinkle liberally with sea salt. I used about 1 tbsp sea salt per head of cabbage and I usually do 2-3 heads of cabbage at a time.
7. Smash your cabbage with a meat mallet or your hands for a few minutes, until the cabbage starts to soften and releases some of its liquids.
8. Pack the cabbage as tightly as possible into jars.
9. Sprinkle the top with some additional sea salt (I used a few twists of my salt grinder) and add enough filtered water to make sure the cabbage is all below the surface. A few pieces will float on top, that’s okay!
10. At this point, my kitchen is usually a total disaster and cabbage is everywhere. I fasten the lid to the jars, so I can rinse the cabbage off in the sink. (NOTE: make sure to remove the lid after you rinse off the jars!)
11. Place your jars in an area of your home where they can sit undisturbed for 3-4 weeks. It needs to be relatively dark (no sun exposure) and a fairly consistent temperature. You also need to be able to access it easily! I keep mine on a shelf in my living room!
12. Cover with a tea towel to prevent dust and bugs from getting in. You might want to place it on a plate, tray or another towel, because sometimes liquid can bubble up and over in the first few days. It can be a little stinky the first few days too – this goes away!
13. Every 2-3 days, check on your sauerkraut. If you notice that the water has dropped below the cabbage, simply add a few more grinds of sea salt and some filtered water.
14. In 3-4 weeks, with the help of some amazing beneficial bacteria, your cabbage will have turned into sauerkraut! At this point you can add the lid and place in the refrigerator for regular use. Enjoy!
1. Please do NOT rinse your sauerkraut after fermenting it! I have had many people say they were worried about the salt content, so they rinsed it off. You will be rinsing away the good bacteria at the same time! Sea salt is not bad for you, in fact it is a fabulous source of minerals. If you are eating real, whole food you actually need to make sure you get enough salt in your diet.
2. Do NOT heat your sauerkraut. It will kill the bacteria.
3. My kraut-making technique has evolved over the last year or so. I now use a fermenting crock because I make extra large batches. You can also use these nifty jar top fermenters. Both are great because they force the cabbage to stay submerged, decreasing risk of mould.
So tell me, have you ever fermented any foods? Do you have any recommendations for other fermentation projects I should try?