Live Food for Life!
I had always intended to write about fermented foods this month and it seems even more appropriate at the moment as one of my teachers, Christopher Hedley, who passed away recently always advocated live fermented foods. He told a story of someone who came over to visit from a traditional community who was amazed that we in the UK don’t have live foods in our regular diet - no wonder we are suffering from such a variety of chronic ailments he proclaimed!
Although anecdotal, that story always stuck with me and I enjoy adding live foods into my diet, from lemons in brine that I add into dal, live dairy-free yoghurt, occasional sauerkraut and sour dough bread. Live food can be really beneficial for people who are suffering with Candida overgrowth, recurrent or chronic thrush and leaky gut, because they are teeming with probiotic bacteria that contribute to the overall correct functioning and health of our digestive system, keeping pathogenic bacteria and yeasts at bay and in check.
The probiotic bacteria that are introduced via fermented foods are transient colonies that complement and work together with our existing resident bacteria, meaning that each person's microbiome is entirely unique. These transient colonies only take up temporary residence and so our microbiome is subject to change. Hence why it is important to keep our transient colonies topped up when we feel out of balance (which can be indicated by signs such as bloating, stool changes, thrush, although these signs may indicate something more in-depth or serious is going on).
We can take in probiotics through probiotic capsules, or we can make/take fermented foods. There are a variety of strains and some such as Lactobacilli species which can be especially helpful at keeping Candida species (which is the main yeast strain responsible for 75% of thrush) at bay.
Candida species are naturally occurring in the gut and the vagina, but, if they are not kept in check by the gut or vaginal microbiota, can overgrow and cause systemic issues (via the gut), or thrush (vaginally).
The good news is that brined foods, which are foods fermented by salt, support the growth of Lactobacilli species and are easy to make at home.
The amount of salt used in brine can change how the ferment takes place: the more salt, the slower the fermentation and the more acidic and lower pH it will be.
The following recipe is adapted from the wonderful book ‘Wild Fermentation - The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods’, by Sandor Ellix Katz (2003) and is really simple to make at home with minimal fuss. I wholeheartedly recommend this book - it also talks about low- salt options and many other methods for creating fermented foods.
Timeframe: 1 - 4 weeks
- A ceramic crock or food grade plastic bucket, minimum 4 litre capacity
- Plate that fits inside the crock or bucket
- 4 litre glass jug filled with water
- Cloth cover - e.g. a cotton pillowcase or towel
Ingredients (for 4 litres):
- 2 kg cabbage
- 45 ml sea salt
- Chop or grate cabbage as you like. Place in a large bowl as you chop.
- Sprinkle the salt on the cabbage as you go, in layers - the salt pulls the water out of the cabbage via osmosis and this creates the brine in which the cabbage can ferment without rotting. The cabbage stays crunchy!
- You can experiment and add in other vegetables such as onions, or garlic (a good anti-fungal!), and spices such as dill seeds, caraway seeds and celery seeds.
- Mix all together and pack into the crock, layer by layer, pressing each layer down - this helps to keep it tight in the crock and force the water out.
- Once all packed in, cover the kraut with a clean plate that fits snugly inside the crock and place a clean weight on the cover, such as a clean glass jug filled with water. This helps to force the water out and keeps the cabbage submerged under the water. Cover the whole thing with the cloth to keep it clean.
- In the first day, periodically press down on it to help force the water out until the brine rises above the cover. If it has not risen above the cover by the end of the first day add enough salt water so that it does (about 15mls of salt per 250mls water - stir until dissolved).
- Leave the crock somewhere safe to ferment. Check every day or 2 - the volume decreases as the fermentation proceeds. Mould, or bloom, may appear on the surface - skim off what you can - don’t worry its just a surface phenomenon, resulting from contact with air. You can rinse off the plate and the weight.
- Taste the kraut - it starts to get tangy after a few days and gets stronger as time passes. The heat of summer or a hot room speeds up the process. As it gets soft the flavour becomes less pleasant.
- To enjoy scoop some out and keep in the fridge - being careful to repack it each time, making sure the surface is level and submerged and the cover and weight are clean.
- The sauerkraut juice is also a digestive tonic to enjoy, and can be used as a starter culture when you make a new batch.
NB fermented foods here are for the sole use of eating. Direct vaginal application is not covered in this post.