Why Fermented Foods?
Before the days of glass mason jars, cold and hot packs or pressure canning; before the days of refrigeration or refrigerated shipping containers and a booming market for produce from around the world, our ancestors still managed to eat. Imagine that? How in the world did they do it during the snowy, frigid winters in northern climes?
Fermentation. Controlled rotting. Perhaps it doesn’t sound terribly appealing to our modern palates, but you’d be surprised to learn how many popular foods, still widely enjoyed here in the west, are produced via fermentation. Some recognizable examples would include sauerkraut, wine, beer, yogurt and cheese, yet some others like chocolate, coffee, tea, salami or sourdough bread, are less obvious. In fact, fermentation has literally shaped every society on earth. The microorganisms we’ve consumed for thousands of years have been passed down through the generations, providing us, their hosts, with increased immunity and intestinal fortitude.
We have approximately as many microbes as human cells in our bodies. The human gut contains tens of trillions of microorganisms, which carry out various functions to maintain our overall health. These microorganisms break down certain foods, produce vitamins, and maintain the mucosa lining of the intestine, providing a barrier to combat aggressive bacteria, thus strengthening immunity. Recent scientific hubris has changed this understanding of the symbiotic relationship between people and bacteria. Antibiotics destroy beneficial as well as harmful bacteria in the gut, leaving us more vulnerable to illness and more susceptible to disease. Pathogenic bacteria have become highly resistant to the drugs we once thought would utterly eradicate them. With the overuse of these antibiotic drugs, antimicrobial cleaners and hand sanitizers, as well as the utilization of pharmaceuticals in livestock and over-crowded factory farms, our health as a species is at risk.
So how can we fix it? Reintroducing a wide variety of fermented foods back into our daily diets is a step toward healing our guts, our immune systems, and our relationship with the wee beasties that willingly claim valuable real estate in our digestive systems in order to keep the baddies at bay.
The most familiar fermented food to westerners is the pickle, although these days they are primarily made for a commercial market with unhealthy distilled white vinegar. Traditionally, all pickles were fermented in brine and boasted digestive benefits and loads of nutritious probiotics. Check your local health food store for naturally fermented pickles. You can also try Kefir, sour cream, buttermilk, miso, nuka, kimchi, kvass, tempeh… the list of fermented foods goes on and on. You can even ferment your own veggies at home. Every region of the world boasts its own varieties of deliciously complex ferments, and each community and household offers unique variations, so your options moving forward are limitless. But be warned that home fermenting is so easy and the results are so scrumptious, that you’ll very likely become an enthusiast in short order.
“HerbaLisl” Lisl Meredith Huebner, Dipl.CH (NCCAOM), RH (AHG) is a nationally board certified Chinese Herbalist, and a Registered Herbalist with the American Herbalists Guild. Lisl is also a certified Medicinal Aromatherapist, a Reiki Master an Acupressurist, an Auriculotherapist, a plant photographer, a renowned diagnostician, a teacher and a published writer who has enjoyed a successful private practice for twenty years.