When I left my corporate job four years ago, little did I know that I would be experimenting with fermented foods! Nor did I realize that would be completing a research paper on the theme of preventive heart health for women, based on the dietary and life habits of our ancestors and indigenous peoples around the world.
After reading Dan Buettner’s book, The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who've Lived the Longest for my research, I concluded that these people were definitely on to something if they were living to such old ages, still functioning physically, mentally and emotionally and, most importantly, were happy in their lives! The key seemed to be summed up in a few words – eat real foods indigenous to their locations, connect with family and friends, have a sense of faith and purpose, be physically active and live a happy life contained within their community!
It was from these studies that I started to become more interested and aware of the value of fermented foods. Fermenting food is a process where food are exposed to wild yeast and bacteria which is literally helping pre-digest the food (how much depends on how long it is fermented). Our ancestors have been fermenting foods for a very long time, millennia actually, as a way of preserving foods since they didn’t have freezers and canning supplies back then.
In the past few years, there has been a resurgence of interest in these foods because of their ability to contribute good bacteria and yeast to the intestinal tract. This is key to keeping our own microbes happy and functioning well. How many of you realize that each one of us have our own community of bacteria - anywhere between 2-9 pounds, the average is 4 pounds of bacteria - that are resident primarily in our digestive tract?
These critters have a huge impact on everything from digestion, weight loss, cleansing and detoxification, immune support, reduction of joint pain and most importantly mood. Gut bacteria produce hundreds of neurochemicals that the brain uses to regulate basic physiological processes such as learning, memory and mood. Many may not realize that approximately 95% of serotonin ('feel good' neurotransmitters but also responsible for GI health) is created in our gut (not our brains), 50% of our supply of dopamine ('pleasure-seeking' neurotransmitters) and about 80% of our immunity happens there as well. So, it’s important that our microbes are kept healthy and happy – through real fresh foods particularly fruits and vegetables and fermented foods.
Some examples of more commonly known fermented foods include: sauerkraut, homemade yogurt, tempeh, nato, miso, kimchi, cacao, wine and beer. There are in fact many, many different variations of fermented foods – vegetable, fish, cereal and pulse, milk and alcohol-based fermented foods – all rich source of probiotics that in turn help feed and keep our gut bacteria in balance.
I have been experimenting with making my own fermented foods. My current foray is into the world of Kombucha, a sweetened fermented black and green tea that Dr. Axe recently referred to as an “Immortal Health Elixir”! Now, I am not suggesting that all of you need to try making this yourselves although it is relatively easy to do, inexpensive and fun once you get into the rhythm of it. I’ve been making my own brew for the last couple of months and I really enjoy this drink – it’s refreshing chilled in the fridge and has a natural carbonation to it (due to a small amount of sugar). If you are interested in trying it, I am including a recipe at the bottom of this page.
One thing I would say is that if you haven’t tasted or drank this before, you need to start off slow and easy - on average 1/2 – 1 cup daily - in order to allow your digestive tract time to adjust to it. Please check out Dr. Axe’s website for more information on this.
The important thing to remember is that each one of us is unique - what works and appeals to you may be very different than the person next to you. Take the time to experiment with Kombucha (or any other fermented food or drink that appeals to you) and monitor how your body responds to these. If you listen carefully, you will always get the answer you are waiting for.
For those who want to experiment on their own:
Kombucha Tea Recipe:
10 cups of filtered water
6 tea bags (can be a combination of black and green - but must be unflavored)
3/4 cup of organic sugar
SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast)
2 cups of Kombucha starter (which you can either buy or use from a previous Kombucha batch)
1 large glass wide mouth gallon jar*
Clean tea towel with elastic band
Before you get started, I want to emphasize the importance of using clean and sterile equipment; anyone who has done any home canning or freezing knows the importance of this. Otherwise, you run the possibility of contamination which you don’t want!
After initially washing your glass jar in a dishwasher, *rinse it with white vinegar and water only – as continued use of soap could harm your mixture. Also, always wash your hands in vinegar and water before handling the equipment and/or the SCOBY. Another key factor is the SCOBY must not ever come in contact with metals (pots, spoons etc.); brewing the tea on the stove is fine obviously, but once it’s cooled it is always transferred to a glass jar.
In a large pot on the stove, bring the water, tea bags and sugar to a boil. Turn off immediately and let the tea bags steep for 15 minutes before removing them. Set the pot aside and allow it to cool to room temperature. It’s very important that the mixture is not too warm otherwise it might kill off the SCOBY you will be adding later. The cooling process usually takes anywhere from 1-3 hours.
Once the mixture has reached room temperature, add 2 cups of Kombucha starter. Again, if your starter is chilled, you will need to let the combined mixture reach room temperature before you can proceed.
After you are satisfied with the temperature, pour the entire mixture into a clean wide-mouth gallon jar. Gently place your SCOBY disk on the top of the mixture and seal by placing the towel on top and seal with an elastic bad around it. This allows the mixture to breathe (since it is alive) and yet prevents any little bugs or dust to get into the mixture. Set it aside on your counter (away from direct heat or cold) and let it do its magic – ideally anywhere between 7-10 days works best for me and my critters.
After the time is up, guess what – you have a delicious tangy drink that you can enjoy! Place the completed mixture into another jar (or jars) in the refrigerator. You also have the option to start the process over again. If that is the case, remember to set aside two cups of the existing mixture and place it in the fridge until it’s time to add it to the next mixture (another 7-10 days).