The Holy Trinity Of Fermented Foods: Kefir, Kombucha, Fermented Vegetables
Atkins, South Beach, or Weight Watchers. Cabbage soup or grapefruit three times a day. Juice fasting, diets based on blood type, eating no carbohydrates at all, eating nothing but carbohydrates … there are so many ways to “eat right” in today’s modern society, how can you possibly know which one will work for you?
Here’s an idea. Instead of using a modern diet, go back to the traditional foods that have kept people around the world healthy for thousands of years. Seasonal produce, whole grains and legumes, naturally-raised meat, and a minimum of chemicals from processed foods can do more for your health (and your weight) than most diets based on fad or fiction. And there’s one more aspect of the traditional diet that you need to consider: fermented foods.
A History of Health
While there has been important progress in food safety and sanitation, in some respects modern society has taken it a bit too far. Antibacterial hand washes are now being shown to have the opposite effect – instead of wiping out bacteria, these soaps are just encouraging bacteria to become stronger.
Antibiotic use in commercially-farmed animals is now linked to decreased efficiency when antibiotics are given to humans for serious medical conditions. Instead of living in the natural world, people live in sanitized environments and no longer have exposure to the huge diversity of helpful microbes that live outside and inside the human body.
If you have a health condition, you are often given medication to ‘treat’ it, which often does not address the underlying issues causing the condition. This is especially the case when the health condition is bacterial in nature; you are almost always given antibiotics to kill the bacteria causing the problem.
However, while antibiotics is effective at stopping harmful bacteria, it also kills the good bacteria.
Indeed, many medical problems are now being linked to issues related to the digestive system, and to the “gut flora” that populate the human intestinal tract. These beneficial bacteria are crucial to your health. Without them, you wouldn’t be able to get the nutrients from your food. When your digestive bacteria are out of balance, you’re not as healthy.
One easy way to help stay in balance is by adding probiotics to your diet. These microorganisms and nutritional compounds encourage good bacteria, help control bad bacteria, and add essential vitamins and minerals to your daily diet. But rather than spending lots of money on expensive supplements, why not have fun with your food and eat probiotic-rich foods instead? Here are just a few ways that probiotics can improve health:
- lowered risk of colon cancer
- better nutrition from the food you eat
- improved digestion
- increased resistance to allergies and autoimmune disorders
- fewer symptoms from IBS and ulcers
- less chance of eczema and other skin rashes
People have been getting these and other benefits of probiotics for centuries from fermented foods and drinks like kefir, kombucha, and fermented vegetables.
Kefir is a fermented dairy drink that first appeared in Eastern Europe at least a thousand years ago. It’s a little like yogurt, but the cultures and methods used to make kefir are slightly different. Both depend on the action of bacteria (primarily Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus) to transform the sugars in milk into organic acids, which is what gives yogurt and kefir their tangy flavors.
Kefir is more liquid than yogurt, and it’s also slightly effervescent and bubbly. That’s because the kefir grains that do the fermentation also contain yeasts, and these yeasts transform some of the sugars into ethanol and carbon dioxide (CO2).
Another difference between yogurt and kefir is that kefir has at least twice the probiotics as yogurt. It’s easier for many people to digest, and it’s full of vitamins and minerals like calcium, amino acids, phosphorus, and vitamin B-complex.
Scientists have recently identified another important nutritional compound in kefir, kefiran. Initial research shows that it can regulate blood glucose levels, lower cholesterol levels in the blood, and help control blood pressure.
How to Get Started Making Kefir
Kefir is pretty simple to make. You just need the following:
- milk (preferably full fat organic milk)
- kefir grains
- a glass jar to ferment the kefir in
- a strainer to filter out the kefir grains
You can follow our detailed How to Make Kefir guide to see the exact steps need to turn milk into kefir.
Once you know how to make kefir you can add this probiotic-rich drink to your daily diet. Kids love it, too! Make sure you read our why you should make kefir article for more information about the benefits of kefir. You can make kefir from water or from milk, depending on the type of kefir grains you have.
Where to Get Kefir Grains?
You’ll need to get the Kefir grains to start making Kefir. You can get them from a family or friend that make kefir or you can buy them on Amazon from a reputable supplier.
Why I recommend this: Cultures For Health Kefir grains, if you are looking for quality kefir. These guys have been around for years, have an active website about fermented foods, and very high ratings. You won’t end up with a bad batch of Kefir grains if you buy these..
A dairy-free option for drinking your probiotics is kombucha. Like kefir, it’s got a tangy flavor and a nice subtle fizz. However, instead of being made from milk, it’s made from sweetened tea that has been fermented by the microorganisms in a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeasts (SCOBY). These bacteria include the Lactobacillus family, but also Acetobacter and Gluconobacter strains, which provide different nutrients as byproducts of the fermentation. There are also yeasts in the SCOBY mix that help create an even more bubbly brew when you second ferment kombucha in bottles.
Kombucha has been around for thousands of years!
The high organic acid content of kombucha helps regulate your body’s pH. Keeping the right pH in your body and your bloodstream helps you fight off invasive bacteria, and researchers are studying the link between elevated blood pH and cancer risk.
Kombucha is rich in vitamins, including folic acid, vitamin B-complex, and vitamin C. It also contains minerals like copper, zinc, and iron. It’s a good source of amino acids, including L-theanine, a compound in tea that has been shown to reduce anxiety and stress.
Drinking kombucha is an easy way to regulate your digestion. People who drink kombucha tea regularly report that they have fewer problems with stomach cramps, ulcers, diarrhea, constipation, and gas.
You only need three ingredients to make your own kombucha tea and start enjoying all of the nutritional boosts that this ancient health drink provides:
- a SCOBY
You can easily buy tea and sugar at any grocery store. However, the on essential ingredient that you need is a Kombucha SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast). These mushroom looking organisms ( a combination of yeast, bacteria, and a cellulose matrix that hold them together in circular shape) are what turn regular old sweet tea into fermented tea which is called Kombucha.
Where to Get a Kombucha SCOBY?
You can pick one up from friend, find one on Facebook, or hope you find one in front of your doorstep (unlikely!).
Most people will probably have to buy one, unless you know someone in your area or you have a family member who makes Kombucha.
If you want to get started brewing Kombucha and you don’t have access to a SCOBY, then we recommend the GetKombucha brand of SCOBYs. These SCOBYs come from a trusted source and you get a number of FREE videos, guides and more along with the purchase of their SCOBY starter kit.
Why I Recommend This: This starter kit includes a healthy SCOBY and the starter liquid. But even better, it’s backed by a full refund policy. And if you happen to develop a mold infestation, they will send you a new SCOBY! What’s not to love about that?
Another way to add beneficial bacteria to your digestive system without any dairy products is to eat fermented vegetables. Although the traditional technique of lactic acid fermentation may sound like it requires lactose (a milk sugar) the name comes from the Lactobacillus family of bacteria that do the work of fermentation. When you eat fermented vegetables, you’ll absorb the nutrients from the food along with a healthy population of those bacteria.
When your “gut flora” are in good shape, you will be too. You’ll be able to absorb more vitamins and minerals from your food, and you’ll have fewer digestive problems. A well-balanced digestive system helps you lower your risk for developing more serious health issues like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and autoimmune disorders.
You’ll find fermented vegetables in many kitchens around the world. From German sauerkraut and Eastern European pickles to Korean kimchee and Peruvian tocosh, most cultures have some form of fermented food whose recipes have been passed down for generations. All you really need to make fermented vegetables are fresh veggies, a sharp knife, a good container, and a handful of sea salt.
With all of the probiotic benefits of fermented vegetables, kefir, and kombucha, it’s no wonder that more and more people are making these fermented foods at home.
How To Get Started Fermenting Vegetables
It’s incredibly simple! You only need to following:
- Glass jar with a sealed lid
- Sea Salt or Himalayan Salt (no table salt or salt with iodine added)
- Chopped up veggies
1. Slice / Dice Your Veggies
You simply chop your veggies into small pieces (or use a Spiral Vegetable Slicer to really speed things up!). Place the veggies in a large container
It can take you a while to chop the veggies (by far the most time consuming of this process). However, you can dice your veggies in a couple minutes with a Vegetable Slicer, rather than the 20 or 30 minutes it will take you with a knife. Trust me, this device will save you a LOT of time!
2. Add in 2 tablespoons of sea salt or Himalayan salt into the container and mix around.
We recommend this Himalayan salt which tastes delicious. You can also use sea salt (recommend Celtic sea salt). Don’t use plain old table salt (sodium chloride), however. It includes iodine which will affect your fermentation.
3. Pack veggies into your glass jar and press down every six inch with your hands, making the veggies as compact as possible
4. Fill jar with compacted veggies to about 2 inches until the top.
5. Optional: Use a Fermentation Lock for a Hand’s Off, Mold Free Veggie Ferment
6. Seal with lid and let sit for 7 or so days
If you have a special fermentation lock, you can just leave it without worry of mold growing on top layer. If you just have a regular jar, you may need to scrape some (harmless) mold scum off the top surface.
What Products Do You Need to Start Fermenting Veggies?
Technically, all you need is a glass jar with a lid (preferably, one that releases the pressure buildup) AND some quality salt.
However, we HIGHLY recommend you get two simple items that will make fermenting your vegetables an absolute breeze to do: a spiral vegetable cutter and a fermentation lock jar. Again, you don’t ‘need’ to have these to ferment vegetables, but they make life a LOT easier if you have them. As such, I recommend your buy them without any questions — trust me — you’ll save a lot of time.
Why I recommend it: This is basically a device that you clamp your vegetables into then turn the spindle. It chops up ANYTHING (carrots, cabbages, etc) into nice sized, ferment friendly pieces in under a minute, by your hand power. Typically, it takes me a good 30 minutes to chop up 3 or 4 cabbages and 3 or 4 carrots — which makes about a 1 gallon sized container veggies to ferment. This device lets me chop up the veggies in less than 5 minutes, rather than the 30 or so minutes.
Here’s a video showing how easy it is to dice up veggies with this slicer:
There’s a number of these fermentation jars you can buy. I recommend this specific model because it’s big — about 1.2 a gallon. The fermentation lock on the top keeps the environment CLEAN and mold free inside. The problem with using a regular jar with lid or a regular canning jar is that you always develop mold slime on the very top surface — the parts of the veggies / liquid that touch the air. This lock allows you to remove all the air from the jar and it seals the container so no air gets in. Any excess pressure (co2 buildup) is automatically released. Basically, you put your veggies in her then you forget about them for a week or two and you won’t have any mold on top to scrape off.
Trust me, it’s worth it!
The Final Word
We’ve given you three of the easiest to do, yet healthiest Do-It-Yourself fermented foods that you can do on your own. There is no reason why you shouldn’t get started! The benefits are huge and you seriously boost your health by consuming these three fermented foods every day.
Even better, Kombucha, Kefir, and Cultured Veggies are extremely delicious to boot!
Get started today, and get healthy!
For more information, read our 3 reasons why you should ferment vegetables article.