Before we get to the second critical Super Food you should be consuming daily, I have a confession: I am a zymurgist. Yup. I love fermenting. Probably best known for its starring role in the making of alcoholic beverages such as beer and wine, fermentation is also a process whereby foods can be made more digestible, nutritious and delicious. What’s not to love about that?
So what is Super Food #2? Fermented vegetables! Eating fermented vegetables, such as sauerkraut and kimchi, can be one of the best things you can do for your health. 80% of our immune system is regulated in our guts, and fermented vegetables are one of the best ways keep our guts healthy. And, eating fermented foods may make us happier! Serotonin (a neurotransmitter probably best known as a mood-regulator, but also essential to focus and concentration) receptors are found on every single cell of our bodies, not just in our brains. The largest concentration of these receptors are found in our guts. The term “gut feeling” has a scientific basis. Our guts are a major producer of the serotonin in our bodies (serotonin in the brain must be made in the brain; it cannot cross the blood-brain barrier).
So what's so great about fermented vegetables?
- Fermentation is a traditional means of preserving foods. Before there was refrigeration and chemicals to do the preserving for us, salt was used. The salt creates an environment for beneficial bacteria to proliferate while harmful bacteria can't get a toe-hold.
- Fermented vegetables are rich in probiotics, which are critical to the health of our guts. Our microbiome (the collection of bacteria in our intestines) outnumber us 10 to 1. That means that for every lung cell, liver cell, kidney cell and heart cell, etc. there are as many as 10 bacteria living in our guts. These beneficial bacteria are mini factories pumping out serotonin, B vitamins, vitamin K, immune system modulators and much more to keep us healthy.
- They contain prebiotics, which is the food that feeds the good bacteria.
- Fermented vegetables contain enzymes, which helps our bodies digest and absorb the nutrients in our food.
- The fermentation process creates lactic acid, (which provides the preservation aspect of fermentation). Lactic acid gives fermented veggies their signature sour flavor. and aids in digestion. It also helps produce more saliva, which is a crucial first step in the digestive process.
- The nutrients contained in the vegetables are enhanced and more easily absorbed. Cabbage, for example, is a nutritional powerhouse, but like many cruciferous vegetables can be hard for some people to digest. The process of fermenting cabbage into sauerkraut increases the nutrient profile, especially the amount of Vitamin C, while making it easy to digest, and oh-so-yummy!
If you take a probiotic supplement every day and think you've got your needs covered, it's important to note the many other benefits of eating fermented vegetables, as listed above. Additionally, probiotic supplements can't come close to matching the diversity of species present in fermented veggies.
So what does it take to work this magic? Salt, vegetables, a brine, and time. Fermenting is a fun and ideal way to preserve your garden abundance. And kids love making - and eating! - it! Here's one of my favorite recipes:
Luscious Lemon-Dill Sauerkraut
Makes about ½ gallon of kraut
3 lbs savoy cabbage, about 1 medium sized head
½ lb watermelon radish
1 small red onion
3 - 4 tablespoons dried dill
3 - 4 tablespoons sea salt
2 lemons, juiced
Shred the cabbage, watermelon radish and onion using a food processor or sharp knife. Put in a large bowl and sprinkle the salt over the veggies.
Using your (clean!) hands, massage the salt into the veggies until they get juicy. The cabbage should be translucent and have a good amount of juice in the bottom of the bowl.
Add the dill and lemon juice, and mix in well.
Transfer to a half-gallon mason jar or two quart size jars. Pour any liquid in the bowl over the veggies and cover with extra filtered water if necessary. (Chlorine and/or fluoride in the water will kill the beneficial bacteria we want in the ferment.) The veggies must be completely submerged to avoid mold growing on top.
- Cover with a metal lid and let sit 4 - 6 weeks so your microscopic probiotic helpers can work their magic. A longer fermentation time leads to a stronger sour flavor. Try your ferment after 4 weeks and if you like the flavor, transfer to the refrigerator. If you like the flavor stronger, leave out for another couple weeks and try again. Enjoy!