Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Why So Much Fermenting? The Benefits of Fermented Foods

Many of you are aware that I've just started a little side business called Mama's Mason Jars.  The goal of the business is to provide people with healthy, delicious, and nourishing foods.  Many of the foods that I'll be selling are fermented foods, so a friend on Facebook asked a very important question:

"Why so much fermenting?"

My usual answer to a question about why I make fermented foods for my family is something like, "Lots of good probiotics and stuff in there!"  While that may be true, it isn't quite eloquent enough to explain a business model.  So I've been doing a bit more research to find out what is really all the hubbub about fermented foods.  The first thing I learned is that fermenting is an extremely old practice.  Like, ancient civilizations at the beginning of history old.  While of course I believe that humans have been selfish, foolish sinners since Adam and Eve, I take great comfort in food practices that have been around for hundreds, and even thousands of years.  Before the age of medicine, people had to figure out how to make themselves well through food, and fermented foods were one that ancient cultures used across the globe.

"Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food." ~Hippocrates

Speaking of the age of medicine, did you know that antibiotics kill good bacteria along with the bad?  Your gut is filled with good bacteria that are meant to help you properly digest food and absorb nutrients.  If you have been on antibiotcs in your life (and I feel sure that all of us have, some more than others) your gut has seen some damage to its good bacteria.  That bacteria can be built back up through probiotics.  And this is where the ever-popular yogurt comes in.  

Many people know that yogurt contain probiotics, and if you or your children have been on frequent antibiotics, your doctor may have even recommended eating more yogurt to balance out your gut flora (a fancy way of referring to the bacteria in your gut).  This is definitely a step in the right direction.  But I'm here to tell you that there are lots of other fermented foods that you can make (or buy!), eat, and enjoy!  Fermented dill carrot sticks are a favorite in our house.  We also drink kombucha, which is a very delicious fermented tea.  I'm working on a jar of fermented ketchup right now--who knew that you could make your own ketchup, and that it could be healthier (and cheaper) than the store-bought version!  My husband loved the fermented sauerkraut I made, and pickles are a big hit anywhere!  My favorite fermented food, however, is sourdough.  There is nothing so diverse as a sourdough starter, and nothing so delicious as hot from the oven sourdough bread!  Buyer beware: the sauerkraut, pickles, and sourdough bread you buy at the store have probably not been made using ancient fermenting methods.  Two buzzwords for detecting a food that hasn't been truly fermented are "vinegar" and "yeast" which are used to speed up the process.  I am a firm believer that good food takes time!

My first loaf of sourdough.  I was so proud!

Beyond containing good bacteria for your gut, fermented foods also contain enzymes.  According to Food Renegade, “Your body needs [enzymes] to properly digest, absorb, and make full use of your food. As you age, your body’s supply of enzymes decreases. This has caused many scientists to hypothesize that if you could guard against enzyme depletion, you could live a longer, healthier life.”  I learned last week at The Well of Life that if your digestive system isn't working properly, you may not be properly absorbing all of the nutrients you're eating, which can make you super hungry!  Megan noted that Adelaide was eating raw almonds like they were going extinct, and suggested that after we implemented her new diet and supplements her appetite may start to wane.  (To read more about our experience at The Well, click on my post "Healing Adelaide).  I would LOVE for my kids appetites to be a bit smaller, since food can get pretty expensive, but more than that I want to make sure that their little guts (and mine and my hub's slightly larger ones) are able to absorb the good nutrients in our food!  Fermented foods help us in that quest! Fermented fruits and vegetables also last longer, so fermenting fresh produce in the summer can allow you to enjoy the harvest all winter long!  

There are so many benefits to fermented foods; I feel like I have barely touched on them here.  However, if you are interested in learning more about fermented foods and how to make them yourself, you can visit Cheeseslave, Mommypotamus, and Nourished Kitchen.  Or, if you'd like to skip the part where you spend half an hour peeling carrots, a week starting a sourdough culture, 10 days fermenting komucha tea, and a day watching the thermometer rise and fall for slow-cooker yogurt, check out my page Mama's Mason Jars to purchase some yummy fermented foods!

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