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The Cureality Basic Guide to Fermentation
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Add this rich source of probiotics to your diet

Making your own fermented foods is a wonderful way to help maintain healthy populations of bowel flora, while also adding some interesting flavors to salads, breakfast, and other dishes. The Lactobacillus, Bifidobacteria, and other species that proliferate in fermented foods add to the bowel flora that you have living in your intestinal tract, helping ensure their persistence.

Because the methods to ferment dairy and dairy-substitute products differ from that of fermenting vegetables, we break our discussion down into those two sub-categories.

Kefir and Yogurt

If you include dairy in your diet, choose milk that is organic and full-fat. Recall that, while proteins such as casein and whey and sugars such as lactose can pose problems for some people, the fat is the healthiest component in dairy despite the popular focus on low-fat and skim milk products.

If you avoid dairy products, coconut milk (canned), almond, or other nut milks can be substituted. Because of the thickness of canned coconut milk, this works the best and yields the richest end-product. Yogurt or kefir made with coconut milk has a unique and delightful flavor that mixes perfectly with fruits, nuts, and seeds you add. Goat and sheep’s milk are other alternatives.

If intolerance to cow’s milk is due to lactose or casein, some people are able to tolerate fermented yogurt and kefir, since lactose content is reduced through conversion to lactic acid, especially if fermentaton is allowed to proceed for 48 hours or longer. In addition, the casein protein structure can be altered, or denatured, by the acidic shift in pH yielded by the process of fermentation. Such decisions should be made on an individual basis.

By making your own yogurt or kefir, you are in control of the ingredients. You won’t add agave, high-fructose corn syrup, sugar syrup, or food coloring. You are more likely to add blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, or pumpkin seeds. You can choose to start with full-fat products. You have the option of fermenting for longer periods to reduce sugar content and increase microbial counts.

In past, making kefir or yogurt required a setup that permitted incubation at a temperature of 110º F (43.3° C): higher than room temperature, but below that provided by an oven. One choice is therefore to use a commercial yogurt maker or similar device that provides low-heat in that temperature range. More recently, room temperature kefir and yogurt cultures have become available, such as that from Yógourmet or Cultures for Health. However, while manufacturers claim that their cultures should grow at room temperature, in our experience we have found that temperature is best maintained between 85-90º F (29.5-32.0º C) for the fermentation period. In a warm climate, this is no problem, of course. One easy solution: store the (oven-safe) vessel containing the fermenting kefir or yogurt in the oven and turn the oven up to 300º F (150º C) for 2-3 minutes, then turn off, and repeat every few hours while keeping the oven door closed. (Do this also just before bedtime and resume the process in the morning; there is no need to get up in the middle of the night!) This is just enough to keep the temperature greater than room temperature, but not long enough to heat the bowl. Be careful not to allow the container to heat, as it will kill the starter culture and you’ll have to start all over again with a new batch of starter culture.

Once you create your first batch of kefir or yogurt, you can add a tablespoon of your finished yogurt/kefir to the next batch to serve as the starter culture. There is no need to purchase starter culture for every batch.

Because lactic acid fermentation requires sugar, and coconut and nut milks have next to no sugar, it is necessary to add some sugar to aid the process. The sugar is converted to lactic acid and the fermented end-product should have little to no sugar if fermentation is allow to proceed to completion.

To make basic kefir or yogurt
  • 1 14-ounce can coconut milk or 16 ounces full-fat milk
  • 1 tablespoon sugar if coconut or nut milk used
  • 1 packet kefir or yogurt starter culture.
If using cow, goat, or sheep’s milk, heat first in pan to between 110° and 112° F (43º - 44.4º C), monitoring temperature with a candy thermometer. Allow to cool to room temperature before adding culture.

In a medium- to large-bowl, combine coconut milk/milk, sugar, and starter culture. Stir until combined, then set aside to ferment (at desired temperature, depending on your culture) for at least 24 hours. (Coconut and nut milks require 48-72 hours.) Ferment longer, e.g., an additional 24 hours, to reduce lactose/sugar content and enhance bacterial counts. Kefir/yogurt is done when it is the approximate thickness of cream. (It will thicken further upon refrigeration.) Store in an airtight container in refrigerator.

Fermented Vegetables

Lactic acid fermentation occurs in an anaerobic environment, i.e., an environment without oxygen. The key to successful fermentation is therefore keeping oxygen away from vegetables while the fermenting process proceeds. Fermentation should not be confused with pickling, i.e., soaking in vinegar and brine without lactic acid fermentation. Most commercial pickles and sauerkrauts are pickled, not fermented, and thereby do not provide the health benefits of fermented foods.

Consuming fermented vegetables is a terrific way to inoculate your bowels with healthy bacteria, while obtaining all the health benefits of vegetables.

To get started fermenting your own vegetables, you will need some basic ingredients:
  • Raw, fresh vegetables—onions, bell peppers, asparagus, cucumbers, radishes, onions, carrots, cabbage, green beans. Chop into 1-inch or slightly larger pieces.
  • Large jars or other containers, empty and cleaned. Start with a jar that holds at least one quart of fluid.
  • Sea salt or other salt.
  • Water—without chlorine or chloramine, as these disinfectants will prevent fermentation. If water is chlorinated, boil for 20 minutes to remove the chlorine and allow to cool to room temperature. Water containing chloramine is unusable, as it takes many hours to boil off (over 24 hours). (Your city water department can advise you which is used. Try their website first.) Use spring water, distilled water, or water filtered via reverse osmosis.
  • Herbs and spices—Favorites include peppercorns, dill, garlic cloves, coriander seeds, mustard seeds, and caraway seeds.
  • A plate, rock, or other heavy object, cleaned, that easily fits into the jar or container and used to weigh down fermenting vegetables.
Basic fermentation process

Place chopped raw vegetables into your jar or container. Cover with enough water such that, when vegetables are pushed down, there is at least 1-2 inches of water at the top.

Add salt until lightly to moderately salty to taste. Add your choice of herbs or spices. Stir to mix salt and to release any trapped air bubbles. Cover with plate or other object, sufficiently heavy to keep vegetables submerged beneath the surface and out of contact with air. Cover with towel, cheesecloth, or other lightly applied material to keep flies and other pests out. Do not make your system airtight, only loosely covered, as fermentation releases gases.

Set aside for at least 2 days before consuming. Fermentation time required varies with the vegetables selected and room temperature, but can proceed for weeks to months. If longer time periods are going to be used, store in a cool place. Optionally, after fermentation has occurred, add ½-cup vinegar per quart of fermented mixture to enhance flavor.

Should any white or other colored growth appear on top, skim it off. This is mold. It should not be eaten, but it does not harm the process.

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