No doubt you’ve heard of kombucha (fermented tea) and kefir (fermented milk). These are fermented foods and are all the rage among those seeking out healthy food options. And rightly so! Fermented foods have many health giving and nutritional qualities that processed foods lack.
Fermenting is one of the earliest known techniques for preparing and preserving food and is said to have begun when humans moved from hunter-gathering to an agricultural based society. So the process has been around a very long time and has played a role in every culture throughout the world.
Cabbage is one vegetable many will be familiar with as a fermented food; sauerkraut in Europe and kimchi, in its various forms, in Asia. Other fermented foods used throughout the ages include beetroot, peppers, lettuce, eggplant, turnip, cucumber, carrot, beer, cheese, yogurt, sourdough bread, miso, fermented grains and milks, and the list goes on.
Fermenting for Health and Sustainability
So what is all the fuss and interest about? A desire to take control of our own health is likely to be behind the recent reemergence of interest in fermented food. But I suggest that there is also a rising interest and consciousness among many to reduce food waste and use food more sustainably. Fermenting can make this possible.
I am not about to go into any detail about the fermenting process or the various health implication and benefits as there are ample resources to be found online. Needless to say though, many are seeking out commercial probiotics for this exact purpose. Fermented foods can provide most of the same probiotics (good bacteria and yeasts), and often more varieties, through simple food preparation / preservation, whilst having the added benefit of incorporating new tastes and flavors to the diet. In short, healthy fermenting can:
- inhibit the transfer of pathogens into the body
- improve digestion and nutrient absorption
- preserve food
- enhances flavor and nutritional value
Whilst learning the art of fermenting with Louise at Loula Natural we were reminded that incorporating fermented foods into the diet daily will facilitate good healthy bacteria to colonize the gut, thereby leading to long term gut health. Probiotics can certainly do that but fermenting offers a cheaper and interesting way of doing this whilst reaping those additional benefits. As for me, I will still take InLiven with my veggie juice or smoothie, but adding fermented foods to my diet will, over time, ensure that I retain good intestinal health even when lifestyle may steer awry, like during the silly Christmas season.
A simple yet favorite brew is Kombucha or fermented tea.
Actually all fermenting is relatively simple to do, it just takes a little time and effort, something required whenever we make food with love and intention.
Kombucha is produced by fermenting tea and sugar with a ‘tea fungus’ made up of beneficial bacteria and yeasts. A little vinegar or previously fermented kombucha is added to acidify the preparation and this is then left a room temperature to ‘brew’ for 1-8 weeks. Ideally 10-14 days works in Hong Kong. The tea fungus inhibits the growth of contaminating bacteria and supports the fermenting process. Sometimes referred to as kombucha mushrooms or SCOBYs (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeasts), this tea fungus is essential for achieving kombucha’s health giving properties. The best part of the brewing is the 2nd ferment when flavors can be added to create the delicious fizzy, carbonated like drink. Favorites I have experimented with are ginger and lemon, pomegranate and dried apricots. For my next brew I will add elderflower for a healing tonic.
But back to the health giving properties of kombucha. Some research, but mostly shared experiences have attributed kombucha to supporting detoxification (as certain acidic compounds prevalent in kombucha attach to toxic molecules and lead to the increased pace of excretion from the kidneys or intestines); reducing inflammatory problems; alleviating arthritis, rheumatism and gout; prompting liver function; normalizing intestinal activity and balancing intestinal flora. A comprehensive list of health benefits, predominately from personal experiences, can be found on “The Kombucha Center” website. A person’s subjective experience can be very helpful to those who are seeking our alternative means to regain health and wellness or even as a means to complement existing medical treatment for chronic conditions. Using food and in this case fermented foods is one such path.
What are your favorite kombucha flavours? Share ideas with us.
If you are in HK you may also be interested in the fermenting Hong Kong facebook group