Can You Use Honey to Ferment Foods? Plus, More Fermented Foods Questions… : Exclusive Renegade Health Article

Tuesday Jul 5 | BY |
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A red flag out the door in Peru means the owner has chicha for sale – just be careful since some add Pisco (a strong Peruvian grape brandy!)

After the last two chicha recipes (fermented Peruvian drinks), we had a lot of questions submitted in our Help Desk and on the blog about how to ferment foods and what value they have….

Today, I’m going to answer all of them (or at least all that I received and know the answers to, LOL!).

The questions range from why should we drink fermented foods to why we use certain products and ingredients in our ferments.

I think anyone can learn a bunch from my answers here, so here we go…

(BTW: If you want to see these recipes, here is the recipe for corn chicha and here is the recipe for quinoa chicha)

1. “Can you use any type of sugar to ferment? Raw Honey?” – Dan

Dan, yes, you can use just about any type of sugar to ferment.

Popular sugars to use are brown sugar, white sugar, cane sugar, maple syrup, coconut sugar and honey.

Depending on the food you’re fermenting, you may not have to use sugar at all since there may be enough natural sugars to feed to bacteria. This works for wine or fruit ferments like pineapple chicha – which is just the rind and core of the pineapple fermented in water for at least 7 days.

In fact, if your fermented foods are fermented long enough, you could even use white sugar because the bacteria will eat most or all of the sugar.

This is why those who are lactose intolerant can eat yogurt. The bacteria feeds on the milk sugar making the ferment sour and metabolizing most or all of the sugar (lactose.)

But, there’s no reason to use white sugar when you have other options like the ones I mentioned before – since all the other options have minerals that haven’t been stripped in processing.

We like to use honey or coconut sugar.

As for the honey question, I will get to that right now…

2. “Isn’t it true that you can’t ferment with honey because it’s antibacterial?”

This is a great question and it says a lot about how “common” natural health knowledge can quickly get out of hand.

Many experts (who’ve likely never fermented anything) say that honey won’t ferment because it’s antibiotic.

This is completely untrue.

The Ethiopians have been fermenting honey to make honey wine for thousands of years. Mead is a similar honey wine drink as well. Jun is a similar honey ferment as well. All these foods use honey as a base for fermenting and are quite alcoholic, meaning that there is a lot of fermenting going on (alcohol is a by-product of the fermentation process.)

What this also means is that honey isn’t as antibacterial as we think it is.

It’s great for a facial mask, covering up a wound or eating straight from the jar (LOL), but if you’re looking to use something that will actually inhibit bacteria growth, I’d look to oregano oil or something much more effective.

3. “Do you have to use a bacteria starter to ferment?”

This is a great question that we get all the time…

The short answer is “no,” but I want to explain why we like to use one.

We used a starter in the corn chicha and not in the quinoa chicha to demonstrate that you could do it a few ways, but I prefer using a packaged starter.

Here’s why…

There is a term called a “wild” ferment. This means that no starter or bacteria is added and what ferments the food or liquid is natural bacteria from the environment.

A wild ferment is just what is says it is, wild – which means that your food can collect good bacteria from the environment, but it also can collect bad bacteria from the environment. So depending on what it did collect, that’s what will grow as your food ferments.

When you use a starter in your ferments, you increase your chances of having a good bacteria culture. By adding bacteria that you know will be healthy for you, you have a better chance that the majority of your ferment will be healthy bacteria.

The reason why your chances are better to have a good ferment is because the bacteria, as they’re “eating” release antibacterial compounds that repel other bacteria. So it’s likely that as your good bacteria are fermenting the food, they’re also protecting it from the bad bacteria that may also be in the food – not allowing it to grow.

The main reason we show a wild ferment is because some people don’t want to pay for vegetable starters and that’s fine, just know that you don’t exactly know what you’re growing every time.

(If you want to try a vegetable starter, click here!)

4. “How much chicha would you drink daily to get the benefits? When do you drink it – before or after a meal?”

You can drink chicha or any other fermented food any time you like.

There’s no rules here, just what works best for you.

Some people respond really well to fermented foods and others find they can only drink them sparingly.

The best advice I can give is to give then a try and see what happens. If everyday works, that’s great. If once a week does, that’s great too.

Keep in mind, almost every culture that has been studied has or had a fermented food of some kind, so there is likely some value in keeping these foods around in your diet. Our modern science has shown that balancing gut flora and supporting the immune system are two reasons that support the regular use of fermented foods.

5. “I am surprised that the grain is boiled. This is a little like rejuvalac except rejuvalac is made with sprouted wheat or rye and it is not boiled and no sugar is added. What is better??” – Jia

Jia, thanks for your question!

The answer to this goes back to the wild ferment vs. controlled ferment issue.

Grains tend to stay around in bins for a long time before they get into your kitchen. What this means is that they can accumulate bacteria that you may or may NOT want in your ferment.

Some clinics around the country have actually stopped using rejuvalac because they tested various samples of their ferment and found bad bacteria growing in them.

While you likely can wash grains before you ferment them with hydrogen peroxide to help control bacteria, I think it’s better to control as many variables a possible and in this case – boiling takes care of any rogue bacteria that may get your stomach a little out of whack – or worse – get you really sick.

Also, since fermented foods are “living,” adding bacteria to a “dead” food like boiled quinoa brings it back to life in a way. The bacteria produce enzymes, metabolites and other nutrients that create a superfood.

Miso is a good example of this boiling-first process. To make miso, the soy beans are cooked before they’re fermented.

6. “Would this be a good substitute for coconut kefir water?” – Jacqui

Chicha can be used as a substitute or can be used in addition to coconut kefir. Just like I said above, there’s no real rules to eating fermented foods, so if you like coconut kefir, drink that. If you like these recipes, drink them.

The good thing about making chicha from quinoa and corn is that (at least in the U.S.) it is much cheaper to buy quinoa and corn than coconuts.

7. “Is this a homemade alcohol drink? or a health drink? or what?” – Tara

Tara, chicha is a homemade health drink that happens to contain a small amount of alcohol – just like any other fermented food.

The reasons why it’s a health food are these…

1. Chicha contains healthy bacteria to help build proper gut function.
2. The bacteria metabolize proteins to break them down into easy to assimilate amino acids.
3. Other metabolic by-products of the fermentation process are immune strengthening B vitamins.

There are other great benefits, but these are the most important.

Don’t let the little alcohol steer you away from these powerful and healthful foods.

8. “Can you use 100% quinoa? what’s the purpose of the rice flour?” – Hyesun

Yep, you can use 100% quinoa to make quinoa chicha. The rice flour was added because the recipe we were taught included rice flour.

When you’re fermenting, feel free to experiment with whatever you like to create the flavor that works best for you.

Just be sure to be careful with your wild ferments – and how to do this is use a starter to help ensure the quality of your bacteria.

I want to know your thoughts: What’s your favorite fermented food?

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Live Awesome!

Kevin Gianni

Kevin Gianni is a health author, activist and blogger. He started seriously researching personal and preventative natural health therapies in 2002 when he was struck with the reality that cancer ran deep in his family and if he didn’t change the way he was living — he might go down that same path. Since then, he’s written and edited 6 books on the subject of natural health, diet and fitness. During this time, he’s constantly been humbled by what experts claim they know and what actually is true. This has led him to experiment with many diets and protocols — including vegan, raw food, fasting, medical treatments and more — to find out what is myth and what really works in the real world.

Kevin has also traveled around the world searching for the best protocols, foods, medicines and clinics around and bringing them to the readers of his blog — which is one of the most widely read natural health blogs in the world with hundreds of thousands of visitors a month from over 150 countries around the world.


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  1. Rob says:

    Well I’ve done beer, kefir ginger beer, wine.

    But I think the most beneficial is cultured veggies, meaning various takes off sauerkraut. I’ve added carrot, asian turnip (like a white radish), etc. My wife makes kimchi. So I think those are my favorite. You can add them to any veggie dish to liven them up.

  2. Judith Furie says:

    I love the chicha morada in Peru (the non-alcoholic purple corn drink). I can occasionally find it at Peruvian rotisserie chicken places, but now I’ll try making my own from quinoa.

    I’ve made sauerkraut (so good with caraway seeds), kimchi, beet kvass (not my fave), fermented ketchup, mustard, and mayo, and fermented sourdough starter (for sourdough pancakes, etc.) Obviously, the foods we make with the ketchup, mustard, and mayo are fermented (barbecue sauce, coleslaw, deviled eggs, etc.).

    I keep planning to make kefir, but my family drinks the milk before I can ferment it! Definitely want to make coconut water kefir and water kefir, among other things.

    My fave is vanilla kefir, and I can’t wait to make my own. My husband’s fave is sourdough buckwheat pancakes. Our son’s fave is anything he puts the fermented ketchup and/or mayo on.

    Critter Cove Ranch

  3. Cherie says:

    Is culture starter the same as a probiotic? If not could the probiotic be used as a starter. Thanks for addressing fermented foods. I am very new to this. Saurkraut is about all I have seen before. I am going to try to make the Chicha. What will be the signs if it comes out good or bad? Thanks for all your help.

  4. hyesun says:

    thanks for answering my question!! 🙂
    i’m going to make some chicha tonight!
    to answer your question……besides mead and red wine (those are foods, right? :-)), my favorite fermented food, is probably all the different kinds of kimchi (there are at least 500 different kinds). i’m probably biased because i’m korean. i also LOVE fermented green tomatoes – i tried that for the first time last summer and if done right, they’re delicious. and then of course, fermented shredded beets, in which you also get beet kvass. oh wait, i forgot about real sourdough bread, even though i rarely eat bread. there are too many to just have one favorite! 🙂 oh, and of course, raw grassfed organic cheese – how could i forget… obviously, i like pretty much everything, and my house often resembles a fermentation lab. i ferment pretty much everything and anything.

  5. hyesun says:

    btw, i’d love to try fermented fish – supposedly that is a big scandanavian thing. has anyone tried it?

  6. Guadalupe says:

    Fermented coconut water is my favorite. Cultured veggies, kefir and beet kvass are a strong second.

  7. hyesun says:

    well, i made the quinoa/brown rice chicha last night – it turned out really thick and goopy. is it supposed to be like that? maybe i should add water?

  8. Jennifer says:

    Has anyone used manuka honey? Does it improve general health?

  9. Do i need to use sugar to make almond milk kefir. I make my own almond milk. Sprouted almonds and water. Can I use the green stevia for the sugar?

  10. sheri says:

    Lately I have been fermenting a lot. Cultured veggies with the perfect pickler, almond yogurt, coconut milk kefer, and most recently, water kefer, which my children love, we are really enjoying that one. It tastes a little like Kombucha, and so many healthy ways to flavor it. I really love the fermented veggies, also. Could you show us how you would make fermented veggies, too?

  11. Billy Green says:

    Love making raw milk kefir. The grains grow rapidly and have to keep giving them away. They can be slowed down in the fridg also. I like to mix in a scoop of immuno pro protein and frozen organic Maine blueberries. Yum!

  12. Judy Furie says:

    An inexpensive way to introduce probiotic starter into your ferments is with whey. Take organic, full fat, unflavored yogurt (the large size) with active cultures. Take a strainer, line it with several layers of cheesecloth or a cloth cotton dish towel. Place the strainer over the bowl and spoon the yogurt in; let it drip for several hours/overnight on the counter. The liquid you collect in the bowl is whey and it’s loaded with beneficial active cultures. Put it in a mason jar with at least 1″ of headroom, and put the top on, but don’t tighten it all the way. Let it sit in a room that is around 70 degrees for 3 days, then refrigerate. When making fermented foods (sourdough starter, ketchup, mayo, mustard, sauerkraut, etc.), add 1/8-1/4 cup of whey, depending on the size of your batch. You instantly have a healthy culture started!

    Critter Cove Ranch

  13. Kev, great article! YOU ROCK!
    My favorite fermented food is saeurkraut, I get it organic in a jar at the health food store just cabbage with a bit of salt all organic. I eat it with every meal. Just 2 tablespoons at a time. Makes a huge difference – thought it would make me a bit “farty” with the cabbage but that has not happened (yeah). I think what you are sharing is superb! Please keep up the great job you are doing. I love Anne Marie’s stuff.

    You also offer coco-biotics from Donna Gates.. have you tried this? I don’t know why you are out of stock? I would love to buy some. I like stuff that is all made – easy peasy. Just refrigerate, open the bottle and drink it down – idiot proof. No mixing or work required. If you are selling the coco-biotic again at some point I would love to try it. Let me know.

    Perhaps you could share about ormus and nano silver and Olive leaf extract. Would love an article on that. I think nano silver is extremely important to kill off infection as well as Olive Leaf Extract. If there is anything coming like bio-enviro-superbugs, it is very wise to have those 2 things in your home. Nano Silver and BARLEAN’s liquid olive leaf extract are the most powerful natural “anti-biotics” in nature. Better and more powerful than Oregano Oil. If you feel you start to get sick.. just a teaspoon of both really kills off the bugs. Colloidal silver was the natural form of anti-biotics before they found pennicilin.

  14. Gen says:

    Wow! Lots to learn here. I am lactose intolerant and CANNOT have yogurt — possibly because I’ve only tried commercial yogurts which may not have a whole lot of beneficial bacteria left in them. I used to eat soy yogurt for years, until I found out soy is not good for you (and it did affect me too — I just didn’t realize it was the soy doing it.)

  15. Luke says:

    We’ve been enjoying making our own water kefir the past couple of years. There are so many variations. Some tastes like sprite, and some like champagne. My wife says she feels much better since she started drinking it.

    We also like dairy kefir.

  16. Liz says:

    Could the reason you can use honey in ferments be that fermenting is done mostly by yeasts which are a fungus & not a bacteria?

  17. Denise says:

    Can you use starter from Kombucha to ferment?

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