When you say the word “cultured food” or “probiotic”, most people think of yogurt. But there is an entire world of delicious fermented fruits and vegetables that can be included in this realm. Before people learned of the immense health benefits of consuming probiotic containing foods and “probiotics” became such a buzz word, culturing was done simply as a method of preservation. In a world without freezers and fridges, fermentation – specifically lacto-fermentaiton – allowed people to store the bounty of the fall harvest for long periods of time, as the lactic acid produced through such fermentation is a top rate preservative .
Today we know that culturing provides myriad benefits beyond just increasing shelf life. Here is a breakdown of their many contributions to our health:
- microflora in our guts synthesize B vitamins (especially folate), and vitamin K as well as convert fiber into short-chain fatty acids that nourish the cells lining our colon
- Lactobacilli help to improve digestibility and nutrient availability in our food
- bacteria break down dietary oxylates, which can contribute to kidney stone formation when absorbed intact into the body
- bacteria also metabolize cholesterol, helping to lower circulating cholesterol levels
- GI function:
- gut microflora increases the development of villi (the wave like structures projecting off our intestinal cells that increase absorptive surface area)
- bacteria improve the vasculization (number of blood vessels) in our GI tracts, immensely improving absorption of nutrients
- bacteria also impact the development of the mucosal barrier lining our small and large intestine, helping to protect against irritants and infectious organisms
- the microflora that colonize the intestine at birth play an essential role in stimulating development and functioning of gastric immune barriers
- normal gut flora provide competition to pathogenic bacteria through production of anti-bacterial compounds
- bacteria also tighten the junctions between cells, helping to protect against “leaky gut” and the absorption of unwanted material into the bloodstream
Of course you can find these beneficial micro-organisms in yogurt, kefir and our cultured dairy products (which are all delicious and very healthy foods), but you can also get them by making your own lacto-fermented pickles and condiments. Including a small amount of a lacto-fermented condiment with each of my meals is one of the best traditions I’ve introduced into my diet. They are intensely flavorful, support digestion, and provide the many health benefits that come along with cultured foods. They are also incredibly easy to make and a great way to preserve some of the harvest from your garden.
One my my favorite of these condiments is gingered carrots. Here is my recipe:
- 4 cups grated carrots, tightly packed
- 1-2 tbl freshly grated ginger, or to taste
- 1 tbl salt
- 4 tbl whey ( whey can be obtained by straining yogurt overnight through a cheesecloth lined colander
Mix all ingredients in a large bowl, pressing the carrots against the side of the bowl to release their juices. Place in a quart sized, wide-mouthed mason jar and press down firmly until the juices rise above the carrots. The top of the carrots should be at least 1 inch below the top of the jar. Cover tightly, and leave in a warm spot for 3 days. Then transfer to the fridge.