Today’s post comes from my friend Dave over at I’m Simply a Dad. He is an expert at incorporating a whole food diet into daily routine with his kids! I am so inspired by his commitment to keeping his kids healthy and his creativity! Enter Dave:
Who is I’m Simply a Dad
My name is Dave, and I’m Simply a Dad. Everyday, I focus on raising my kids to have a healthy attitude towards food and life. I teach them the power of real food, and the dangers of pretty packaged foods. But, it wasn’t always like this. I struggled with poor health for decades, but my oldest son’s autism diagnosis started me down an alternative path. It was a path that taught me how to better care for him and his siblings. Not only that, it was a path that showed me how to better care for myself and appreciate the important things in life. Now, I want to teach my fellow parents the tricks I have learned that get my kids eating veggies at every meal. On my blog, I share practical, everyday advice and inspiration that you can use to improve the health and happiness of your own family. I’m Simply a Dad on a mission to make the road to better health and healing easier for all families.
Join me at I’m Simply a Dad
Few things in this world have the power that probiotics possess. After all, they destroyed an entire alien invasion and prevented the annihilation of mankind, as we know it! (see War of the Worlds) While they have the power to destroy life and cause disease, they also possess the ability to help us flourish. Research is mounting on the benefits of probiotics to provide the foundation of our physical, mental, and even emotional health. The best way to get a good dose of beneficial microbes is to make fermented foods at home.
Holistic Approach to Autism Led Me to Make Fermented Foods
I first discovered the power of fermented foods when diving into the research on autism. My wife and I take a holistic approach to treating our son’s autism. It seemed like every article I read, every conference I attended, and every book I flipped through pointed to probiotics as the basis for treating autism and autoimmune disease. We gave my son an oral probiotic for years with little improvement in his gut health. Dietary and lifestyle changes did strengthen his immune system and improve his sleep quality; however, lab tests routinely showed an imbalance in his gut flora.
My son’s gut microbiome is in dire need of reconstruction. The microbiome is a term used to describe the balance of good/bad microbes in a person’s gut. Sadly, before the age of 3, my son underwent over 10 courses of antibiotics; when he was only a week old, he was placed on IV antibiotics for 3 days. Needless to say, his microbiome was obliterated and it has now become my mission to reestablish his gut flora. These days, my weapon of choice is probiotic rich foods, and I make fermented foods on a weekly basis.
Why is it Important to Make Fermented Foods?
The bulk of your immune system is found in your gut. Poor gut health can lead to a myriad of problems including leaky gut, ADHD, learning disabilities, autism, allergies, autoimmunity and can leave the body vulnerable to pathogenic (disease-causing) microbes. Probiotics can protect our health. Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride, creator of the GAPS diet, describes probiotics as the housekeepers of the gut. Good microbes protect the gut lining and allows it to perform many of its’ critical functions. The good guys also fight against pathogenic bugs and can even be used to treat Candida, or as we autism parents like to call it, the Yeast Beast.
Fermented foods provide your body with massive amounts of good microbes. Here’s an analogy for you–fermented food is like the Navy. They escort the Marines & Seals into battle. Once the good guys are in place, they can begin to fight infections and rebuild the infrastructure. During the fermentation process, the microbes produce enzymes and create nutrients like B-vitamins and Vitamin K2. Regular consumption of probiotic rich foods can strengthen the immune system, improve digestion, and increase the absorption of nutrients. The good guys may also make you happier and fight obesity.
Why Make Fermented Foods at Home?
Hopefully, I have sufficiently convinced you to give these foods a try, but why should you make fermented foods at home? Sure, you can buy already-made cultured foods at Whole Foods or from a local natural grocer. However, those will not be as viable as the ones you make yourself. Don’t be confused. Most traditional probiotic foods, like yogurt, sauerkraut, or pickles have been processed to the point where they no longer have living organisms. Some yogurts do, but most are too processed and full of sugar to be of any benefit. There a few brands that make claims to have living bacteria. Bubbies is one such brand, and they do make delicious pickles. However, you can’t be sure that the grocer stored them properly, and that they were transported at the proper temperature to keep those good guys alive. When you make fermented foods at home, you can ensure the probiotics are viable and that no sugar or artificial ingredients have been added. And, here is the icing on the cake; it is WAY CHEAPER to make them at home!
Two Methods to Make Fermented Foods at Home
There are two ways to make fermented foods; the first is called wild fermentation. This method uses the bacteria already existing on the food to start the fermentation process. In this way, you create a brine of salt water, and allow the food to ferment for several weeks. I am not a fan of wild fermentation because you cannot control what microbes are growing on your produce. The last thing I want to do is cultivate a jar full of bad bugs. If I grew my own vegetables in my yard, I’d be more likely to try out wild fermentation, but with store bought produce, it’s too risky for me.
Another reason I don’t care for wild fermentation is the time required. Depending on your food, it can take a month or so, before it’s ready. You’ll also need special fermentation lids that let out the air, so it doesn’t explode. Fermentation produces carbon dioxide, and if it is not allowed to escape, that CO2 will blow up your fermentation vessel. Furthermore, the longer your fermentation time, the more potential for mold to invade your brew.
It’s Best to Use a Starter
I prefer the other method to make fermented foods. This method uses a starter culture which is a controlled group of beneficial bacteria. Using a starter allows for a more consistent end-product in terms of taste; you’ll always know what to expect with a starter. With wild fermentation, taste will vary depending on which type of bacteria or microbe takes over the brew.
The biggest reason to use a starter is to guarantee that you are cultivating microbes that will be beneficial to your body. You can use whey from a homemade yogurt, a good probiotic capsule, or a commercially available starter.
How to Make Fermented Foods: The Basic Ingredients
It’s actually quite easy to make fermented foods yourself. The basic ingredients are
- A starter culture
- Glass mason jars w/airtight lids
- A brine
- Produce of Choice
-1) A Starter Culture
Cultures for Health, Body Ecology, & Cutting Edge are a few good brands. I personally use Dr. Mercola’s Kinetic Culture. Dr. Mercola is the leader in natural health education online. His team has done lab testing to ensure his starter produces the most vitamin K2 available. Dr. Mercola measured the probiotics in cultured veggies using his starter and discovered that 2 ounces of fermented foods contained 10 trillion CFUs! That’s more than an entire bottle of probiotics. These starters will cost around $25-35. If you consider the cost of one bottle of probiotics is around $30+, this is a steal of a deal.
-2) Glass Mason Jars
Plastic or metal containers can leach chemicals and metals. This will disrupt your brew and introduce toxins into your food. I like to use the 2-cup size Ball jars personally, but any airtight glass jar will be fine. You want your vessel to be airtight to prevent mold. * Note the plastic lids for mason jars are not as good as the metal lids. I have had mold grow when using the plastic lids.
-3) A Brine
Your brine is simply a liquid mixture containing your starter culture, salt, and water. Dr. Mercola actually recommends using celery juice instead of water and salt, but I’ve always used water and salt with good results. To me, celery juice adds an extra cost, but feel free to experiment with it. To prepare the brine, I simply mix in my starter with about a tablespoon of high quality sea salt and good clean water. You don’t want to use tap water because the chlorine in tap water can kill your culture. I usually use Ozarka water, but any clean water will do.
-4) Produce of Choice
You can ferment almost anything found in the produce section. The most common fermented food is cabbage, a la sauerkraut and kimchi. However, making sauerkraut at home is a ton of work, and it makes a big mess. The end result is yummy, but the mess is not worth the effort for me. Because treating my son’s autism is the #1 reason I make fermented foods, it has to be kid-friendly. Sauerkraut is a little harder to get my kids to eat, so I like to ferment different fruits instead. If you want to learn to make sauerkraut, check out this video from Dr. Mercola.
How Can Fermented Foods be Kid-Friendly?
You may be thinking, “well this all sounds great, but there is no way my kids will eat fermented food.” That may be true with certain foods; they may not enjoy fermented beets, and they may not dive into a jar of sauerkraut. However, you can ferment just about any food including their favorite fruits. My son with autism loves apples but rarely gets to have them because of the low sugar diet he is on. Because of this, I started fermenting apples for him. Aside from reducing the sugar content, I am also able to add ginger and cinnamon to the brew. Ginger and cinnamon are great for the body, and they enhance the flavor of the apples. The bacteria consume some of the sugar and allow my son to enjoy one of his favorite foods. I encourage you to try and ferment your kid’s favorite fruits as a starting point. Simply follow the basic process below and if you still have trouble getting them to eat fermented foods, try drizzling some raw honey on top.
How to Make Fermented Foods: The Process
Prepare your fruit or vegetable of choice. Depending on your vegetable or fruit you’ll need to slice, dice, peel, chop, or shred before fermenting. Add your vegetables, fruits, herbs, and/or spices to the jar. You’ll want to make sure you pack the jar tightly and push out any air pockets. When fermenting always remember, Air = potential for mold.
Fill the jar with your brine ensuring that your produce is completely covered; you will still want to leave an inch or so at the top. Hopefully, the jar should be packed tight enough where you will not need to weigh down any stray fruits or vegetables. It’s important to make sure whatever you are fermenting is completely under water in an anaerobic environment. If need be, add a couple of cabbage leaves to the top to ensure veggies stay completely under the brine. There are special fermenting weights designed to fit in mason jars, but I have not found them necessary. Allow your brew to ferment in a warm place (around 70-75 degrees) for 3-7 days. You will see bubbles forming in the jar, and it will have a slightly sweet, sour taste when they are ready. Tougher vegetables take longer while soft fruits can be ready in just 2 days. Strawberries will ferment in just one day. *Pro tip Do not let strawberries go for very long as they can turn alcoholic quickly. Once you get the hang of fermenting at home, you’ll get to know the timing of each fruit or veggie.
Are You Ready to Make Fermented Foods?
A healthy gut microbiome is the foundation for good health. Whether you are treating autism, IBS, or just trying to maintain good health, fermented foods should be a part of your diet. Take advantage of all the health and wellness benefits of probiotic foods by making your own! It is really easy to make fermented foods at home. My personal favorite is daikon & peppers, but I enjoy ginger carrots, spicy apples, blueberries and vanilla beans, jalapenos, and mangoes. Experiment with different combinations to find your favorite.
Still Confused on How to Make Fermented Foods at Home?
Here is my kids’ favorite recipe.
Cinnamon Ginger Apples
1 3lb bag of Granny Smith Apples sliced into wedges
1-2 tbsp cinnamon flakes or 2 cinnamon sticks*
1-3 tbsp fresh ginger peeled & grated*
1 tbsp sea salt
½ tsp starter culture
4 2-cup mason jars (or 1 8 cup jar)
3-6 cups of chlorine free water (enough to ensure apples are submerged)
*I’ve found that using ground cinnamon yields a slimy texture on the apples.
* You don’t need to grate the ginger, but it does help the ginger flavor be more potent. Fresh ginger is best!
Prepare the Brine
- Using about 3 cups of water add in starter culture & sea salt.
- Mix Well
Prepare the Brew
- Add fresh ginger & cinnamon to mason jar
- Add apple wedges to the mason jars. Be sure to pack them tightly, so they do not float
- Pour the brine on top ensuring everything is underwater completely. If necessary, use glass weights or a couple cabbage leaves to ensure everything stays submerged.
- Seal the jars tightly and store them in a warm place (68-75 degress) for 3-5 days.*
- The apples will be slightly sour, but retain some sweetness when ready.
*The longer the apples ferment, the more probiotic organism will grow. However, the longer they ferment the more sour and the less crunchy they will be. I typically let mine go for 3 days.
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For Crunchy Mama Science readers, I’ve created a handy reference tool. To get your convenient & free info graphic, head over to my blog. You’ll also find more fermented food recipes. While you’re there, sign up to get my free mini Ebook, Simply Paleo: 10 Easy Recipes Prepared in 10 Minutes or Less.
Please consult a doctor before making any health changes, especially if you have a specific diagnosis or condition. The information on this site should not be relied upon to determine diet, make a medical diagnosis, or determine treatment for a medical condition. The information on this website is not intended to be a consult with a healthcare provider. Any statements or claims about the possible health benefits from food or supplements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and are not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease. Full disclaimer here.