Are you looking for better nutrition in the food you already eat? Or a way to feed your family foods that are not only healthy and good for the gut but also can be made in batches and last? Then you should look into fermented vegetables.
What is Fermenting?
Fermenting, or culturing, is a process that preserves foods by introducing bacteria to break down certain parts of the food, like its sugars. You might have heard the word “lacto-fermentation”, which is one of the most common kinds of fermentation. It introduces a bacterium named lactobacillus to break down sugars and yeasts. If you’ve taken probiotics, you may have seen this name on the label – and that provides a clue as to why these foods are so good for you. The process of fermenting not only preserves the food but also boosts its nutrition, enzymes, and probiotics. In fact, it’s possible that you’ve already eaten a very common fermented vegetable – sauerkraut, which is made by fermenting cabbage. If you are familiar with Korean cuisine, kimchi is a popular dish that’s also made from fermented cabbage.
Fermented foods are not just based on vegetables. Dairy products like yogurt and kefir, beverages like wine and beer, and bread products like sourdough are also fermented. Even anchovies are fermented in some places! Fermented vegetables, however, might just give you the best bang for your buck.
Fermented Vegetables: Why They’re Good for You
Fermented vegetables have lots of additional health benefits above and beyond their raw or cooked counterparts.
- Fermenting vegetables produces lactic acid, which preserves the food and prevents harmful bacteria.
- Lactic acid also serves as a natural probiotic, keeping your gut healthy – and that boosts your immunity and may help prevent diseases like cancer. What’s great is that this is a dairy-free solution, so if your child has an allergy, this is safer than some of the pre-made probiotics which can be fermented with dairy. It may even be easier for your child to eat too!
- Fermented foods have better nutritional value than the same vegetable unfermented. For example, according to The Nourishing Gourmet, sauerkraut has more vitamin C than plain cabbage.
- According to Dr. Oz’s website, fermented foods are easier to digest than their raw counterparts. They act like natural enzymes, allowing you to better absorb the food’s nutrients.
So not only do fermented vegetables provide you probiotic and enzymatic benefits, they also boost vitamin content and help your gut to absorb those vitamins even better. There is one additional benefit that every mom should know – they save you money! Rather than buying a fleet of probiotics, enzymes, and supplements, you can improve your family’s diet by serving fermented foods daily. You can even save more by making them yourself, but you may need to take some time to experiment to make sure that they come out properly.
What Kinds of Vegetables Can I Ferment?
I found all kinds of recipes for fermenting vegetables including, of course, cabbage for sauerkraut or kimchi, but also carrots, jalapenos, radishes, garlic cloves, cucumbers – really, nearly any vegetable you think of! Sauerkraut is recommended for beginners because it’s one of the easiest to ferment. We recommend, of course, that you buy organic and support your local co-op or CSA. For those of you who are already part of one, now you know what to do with all those extra or unfamiliar vegetables.
How Do I Get Started?
You’ll need a mason jar with lid, vegetables, water – and ingredients to kick off the fermentation. There are many methods, so you’ll need to find the one that best suits you. Seal up all the ingredients and then wait. Fermenting can take hours or days or weeks, depending on the solution you use and the vegetable you choose. You can ferment food with brine, vinegar, salt or any number of added ingredients to start the culturing process. Here is a recipe for Homemade Sauerkraut in a Mason Jar at The Kitchn that looked nice and simple for beginners.
If you don’t like sauerkraut, you can get started with fermented condiments. The Nourished Kitchen has a host of wonderful fermented recipes, such as Homemade Horseradish, Fermented Hot Chili Sauce, or Salsa Verde.
Are you ready to get started fermenting? Keep your family in good shape this season by serving a natural, vitamin-loaded probiotic right on your dinner table!