More Kraut Please: How Fermented Foods Benefit Your Health

Cook and culture

Written by cookandculture | Edited by Aditi Khandelwal & Case van der Burg

April 1, 2021

Kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha — these are all fermented foods. And guess what, they do a lot more than just stink up your kitchen. Fermented foods offer incredible health benefits and can help to heal your gut and boost your immune system. And to that, I say, “More kraut please!” People have been fermenting food for hundreds of years to make it last longer and add flavor. However, recently, we have become aware of the amazing health benefits that these foods offer.

What is Fermentation?

Fermentation is a natural process through which microorganisms like yeast and bacteria convert carbs — such as starch and sugar — into alcohol or acids.”

What Foods Are You Talking About?

I already mentioned some at the very beginning of this article – kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha. These are pretty common examples of fermented foods. In recent years, kombucha has become all the rage because of the amazing health benefits that come from the fermentation process. 

Let’s take a look at a bunch of different fermented foods.

Kimchi

Kimchi

Kimchi is a Korean fermented dish consisting mostly of cabbage. It’s a personal favorite  of mine and you’ll find it plopped on to any meal that I can fit it into. Its  strong flavor and aroma make people  either love it or hate it. Some might need to walk out of the kitchen when you open the jar, while others may flock into the room to get just a taste of this spicy dish. 

Watch out: If you’re vegan or vegetarian, make sure to check the ingredients of your kimchi and get one that is suitable for your diet. Most kimchis have fish sauce in them. 

Recipe Recommendation: The Korean Vegan’s Vegan Kimchi

Sauerkraut

Fermented foods

Sauerkraut reminds me of New Year’s Day when my dad puts together a huge pot of sauerkraut and (vegan) hot dogs. The pungent smell drifts through the house on a cold January first – perhaps the rich smell is cleansing for the welcoming of a new year. Nonetheless, the hearty meal serves as  a joyful way to start another year and celebrate abundance and good food.

This Eastern European version of kimchi goes on hot dogs, kielbasa, Reuben sandwiches, a Pittsburgh-original sandwich at a place called Primanti’s- basically everything. 

Recipe Recommendation: Sauerkraut with Beets and Carrots

Kombucha

Yellow, homemade fermented tea raw kombucha made with ginger and lemon.

This fermented tea drink is made from green and black tea. It’s a little fizzy and is a great alternative to soda, especially when flavored with fruit juices. 

Recommended Recipe: Lemon Ginger Kombucha

Fermented Soybeans

fermented foods natto

There are a few different kinds of fermented soybeans:

Natto

Otherwise known as Japanese fermented soybeans, these often served as a breakfast food. I’m told it’s an acquired taste. 

Recommended Recipe: Homemade Natto

Miso

Miso is a Japanese fermented soybean paste, great for adding umami flavor to dishes. 

Recommended Recipe: 15-Minute Miso Soup With Greens and Tofu

Tempeh

Tempeh is an Indonesian fermented soy product.

Recommended Recipe: Marinated Peanut Tempeh

Gochujang

 Sweet, spicy Korean chili paste Gochujang. Red fermented foods.

Belo, Anton. “Gochujang”.shutterstock.com

Gochujang is a Korean fermented pepper paste. 

Recommended Recipe: Vegan Gochujang and Easy Bibimbap with Gochujang

Pickles

Assortment of dark green cucumbers ready for fermenting in a large bowl.

Some pickles are fermented with vinegar while others are actually allowed to go through the fermentation process. In order to get all of the health benefits, look for the “naturally fermented” label!

Health Benefits

Fermented foods

The Gut Microbiome and Probiotics

The secret to all of the health benefits found in fermented foods — probiotics!

Probiotics have magical effects on gut health. Your gut is full of these little critters called microorganisms that create your microbiome. This microbiome can be upset and affected by a number of factors including consumption of  antibiotics, stress level, and diet. You can imagine with the crazy and busy lives we live, our gut can get a little frustrated with us. Mine certainly does. 

Fermented foods are key to keeping us balanced.

Digestive Problems

Mental Health

Some strains of probiotics are linked to reducing anxiety and depression! Yes, that’s right, drinking more kombucha will keep you calm and leave you more satisfied. And, with less stress in your life, your gut will be healthier in general – it’s a cycle of goodness.

Supports Immune System

The bacteria in your gut is essential to your immune system. With the probiotics in fermented foods, your gut is supported and therefore your immune system is too.

Easily Digestible

Fermentation can increase the vitamins and minerals in food and make them more available for absorption. Fermentation increases B and C vitamins and enhances folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, and biotin. The probiotics, enzymes, and lactic acid in fermented foods facilitate the absorption of these vitamins and minerals into the body.”

Our Own Expert Fermentor – Cambria Sinclair

If you’re not convinced yet of the magic of fermentation, let’s get a little more personal. Cambria Sinclair, a Cook and Culture blogger and graphic designer, is also an expert at fermenting. She can do it all. She answered a few questions so you can get started fermenting as soon as possible.

How did you start fermenting?

I started fermenting foods because of my interest in cooking and doing fun experiments in the kitchen. My mother has been making Kombucha (fermented tea) for a long time, so I have had experience helping her and making it myself, but I was really intrigued to try other fermented foods and experiment with flavor combinations. I decided to really give it a go this past summer, we had a  surplus of vegetables from our garden at home, and I wanted to take the opportunity to try fermenting a variety of vegetables.

Photo of fermentation expert, Cambria Sinclair, holding camera and smiling in front of large bush.

What’s your favorite thing to make and eat?

My favorite fermented food is fermented radishes and onions. I am notoriously known to dislike raw radishes and onions, but something magical happens when you ferment them that turns them into delicious little morsels. The fermentation process takes away the harsh flavors in raw onions, radishes, turnips, and rutabagas, and imparts a subtle sweet and salty flavor that pairs beautifully with the natural taste of these vegetables. I love putting fermented radishes and onions on sandwiches, veggie burgers, and in ramen! Fermented foods help cut the fat and richness of meals and help make them lighter and taste fresher.

Is it easy?

Fermentation is an extremely easy process, all you need is some water, vinegar, sugar (or honey), salt, glass jars, and some time! Anyone can do it, even if you aren’t great at cooking or spend much time in the kitchen, fermenting is an easy thing to do and can add variety to your meals. Once you get the hang of a basic fermentation, you can start adding flavorings like dill and rosemary to achieve  more complex levels of flavor.

Any tips for someone who might want to start?

If you’re just starting out, I suggest starting with an easy brine recipe, and choosing foolproof vegetables like raw radishes, onions, and green beans. Here are my tips and tricks, as well as some things to watch out for when fermenting/pickling. 

  • Always keep everything clean! Thoroughly clean the glass jars you will be fermenting in (make sure they have tight-fitting lids), the utensils you will be using to cut and transfer the produce, and wash your hands with soap and water. All of this is to keep out the bacteria that will ruin  your vegetables   when they go through the fermentation process. And make sure to use clean utensils when you are taking your vegetables out of the jar to eat. 
  • Keep your  vegetables in a cool (around 65 degrees F) dark space when they are going through the fermenting process. Once the vegetables have reached their desired level of fermentation, they can be put in the fridge and the fermenting will stop. 
  • If something smells or tastes off , I recommend not eating them and starting over. They should  have a briny, salty, sweet, vinegary flavor to them, so if it’s anything outside of that throw them in the compost and start over. 

 

Cambria’s Pickling and Fermenting Recipes

Quick Pickling Brine

Make sure your vegetables are completely submerged in the brine and leave at least half an inch of space at the top of the jar. Scale recipe to the jar and intended amount of vegetables. 

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup white vinegar (variations: rice vinegar, or apple cider vinegar)
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 tablespoon honey (or white granulated sugar)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • Optional flavorings: 
  • 2 large sprigs dill (variations: rosemary sprigs, garlic cloves, or sage leaves)
  • ½ teaspoon mustard seed (variations: whole coriander, celery seed)
  • 1 teaspoon peppercorns (black, white, or pink) 
  • 1 16 oz wide mouth mason jar or other glass jar with a tight-fitting lid that is rated for fermentation

Note:  You can use a number of smaller jars to try out different vegetables and flavorings.

Instructions: 

  1. Cut your vegetable to the desired thickness and length to fit into your jars. 

2. This recipe can fit about 1 – 2 cups of vegetables. I like to use a mandolin to thinly slice my radishes and             onions so they are thin but in large rounds or rings. 

3. If you are using flavorings, place those at  the bottom of your jar and  pack the vegetables  above that.                 Make sure there is enough room for the brine to thoroughly submerge the vegetables. 

4. Bring your water to a boil over medium heat. Once boiling take it off the heat, add  honey and salt and                 pour into the jar. 

5. Screw the lid on your vegetables, leave them to cool for 1-3 hours, and then place the jar into your fridge         for 4-6 hours. Feel free to taste along the way to see how the flavor progresses. 

Fermentation Brine

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon coarse sea salt (or brining salt) 
  • Vinegar (optional) It adds a more acidic flavor and intensifies the fermentation.

Optional Flavorings:

  • 2 large sprigs dill (variations: rosemary sprigs, garlic cloves, or sage leaves)
  • ½ teaspoon mustard seed (variations: whole coriander, celery seed)
  • 1 teaspoon peppercorns (black, white, or pink) 
  • 1-quart wide-mouth mason jar

Instructions: 

1.Place vegetables and any spices/herbs you’re using in the mason jar right up to the bottom of the neck,              there should be about 1 inch of space to the top.

2. Stir the salt and water together until dissolved. You may need to heat it, to aid in the dissolving process. 

3. Pour the water and salt mixture into the jar, stopping when there is ½ inch of open space at the top. Make       sure your vegetables are submerged. 

4. Screw the lid on the jar tightly, and place in a cool dark spot (around 65 degrees F). 

5.The mixture will start bubbling after a few days (that’s how we know it’s working!). After two days, take            your jar and unscrew the lid to let out the gas that has built up inside. 

6.Burp your jar once a day to make sure it doesn’t burst from the compressed gas. 

7.Check your vegetables starting on the fourth day to see if they have reached your desired flavor. 

8.The longer they ferment the tangier they will be! When they are at your desired flavor level, put the jar in        the fridge, and enjoy for two to 3 months. 

Cambria recommends

Use your fermented vegetables in salads, tacos (specifically fish tacos), ramen, and sandwiches! 

Once you become more comfortable with fermenting you can explore fermenting meat and fruit as well. 

Are you going to start fermenting? Or at least adding a little more kimchi into your diet?

Let us know if you try the recipes by tagging us @cookandculture in your pics. 

 

Happy Fermenting!

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Image Source:

Belo, Anton. Gochujang. Photograph. Shutterstockwww.shutterstock.com/image-photo/gochujang-traditional-korean-soybean-paste-sticky-1478361533. Accessed 27 Mar. 2021.