Fermented food for the Family
The production and consumption of fermented foods have been part of many different cultures for a long time, as a way both of preserving food, and adding nutritional and probiotic value.
Ever heard of lacto-fermentation? It is one of the simplest processes used in making fermented foods like Sauerkraut, Kimchi and pickled cucumbers. This process involves submerging the vegetables in a brine which creates an anaerobic environment (no oxygen present) for a period (often several weeks depending on the temperature) until the bacteria present, are predominantly lactic acid bacteria. Studies of the bacterial cultures present in lacto-fermented Sauerkraut have found a predominance of Lactobacillus and Leuconostoc species, as well as Weissella, Enterobacteriaceae and Lactococcus1. The ‘living’ nature of these lacto-fermented foods is different to many store-bought ‘pickled’ vegetables, which are preserved in vinegar and contain few live bacteria.
All of this is relevant to an evolving area of health and physiology called the gut microbiota. Associations have been found between lower bacterial diversity in the gut and many different health conditions including, inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, coeliac disease, psoriatic arthritis, type 1 and 2 diabetes, atopic eczema and blood vessel stiffness2.
Diet has a strong influence on gut microbiota composition2. Probiotic supplements, many of which contain lactobacilli species, may have several beneficial effects on human health however, further research is required to clarify these benefits compared to an improved diet alone.
There is still much to be learned in this area. Having a diet that includes a variety of live bacterial cultures, such as those in fermented foods, may have health benefits.
Perhaps a spoonful of sauerkraut per day might help to keep the doctor away?
Gastroenterologist, Dr Josh Butt has an interest in the health benefits of fermented foods. He enjoys not only the delicious flavours, but also the process of creating fermented foods. It is an activity he likes to get the whole family involved in. Below, he shares his simple sauerkraut recipe.
JOSH’S EASY SAUERKRAUT
Fermenting Crock or some sort of glass jar/ ceramic vessel washed with warm soapy water and rinsed well
Weight to put in the crock or jar – could be a small saucer or similar
1 Large cabbage (can be white or purple) approx. 1kg
Non-iodised salt approx. 20g
Wash your cabbage and remove any damaged outer leaves. Keep two clean outer leaves for later. Remove the core and then finely shred the cabbage using a sharp knife or food processor.
Put the shredded cabbage into a ceramic or plastic bowl and sprinkle over the salt (we use approximately 2% salt but you may prefer slightly more or less).
Allow it to rest for a few minutes before massaging the salt & cabbage leaves together with your fingers (or giving them a gentle pound) until the water from the cabbage starts being released.
Put the cabbage into your clean vessel and continue to compress it down until enough water has been released to completely submerge the shredded cabbage. Lay the washed and reserved cabbage leaves over the top of the shredded cabbage to hold it all down. The cabbage may want to float up – in which case, weighing it down can be helpful. The weight should also be completely covered in the water that has come out of the cabbage to prevent it from growing unhealthy bacteria.
Once you have the cabbage pressed down in your crock (or jar), place the lid on the crock (or jar) without screwing it down. Alternatively, you can use a tea towel over the open top. You don’t want to seal it as gas will form as part of the fermentation process, and if the crock or jar is sealed with the lid on, the jar may explode. Place the jar into a cool part of the house and let it sit. You can taste it at various points to see how crunchy/ tangy it is. In warmer weather it will be ready sooner, in winter it may take 3-4 weeks. At the end it should be slightly soft, yet still with texture and bite, and it should have a lovely zingy feeling on your tongue.
- Zabat MA, Sano WH, Wurster JI, Cabral DJ, Belenky P. Microbial Community Analysis of Sauerkraut Fermentation Reveals a Stable and Rapidly Established Community.Foods. 2018;7(5):77. Published 2018 May 12. doi:10.3390/foods7050077
- Valdes AM, Walter J, Segal E, Spector TD. Role of the gut microbiota in nutrition and health.BMJ. 2018;361:k2179. Published 2018 Jun 13. doi:10.1136/bmj.k2179