Whatever you… make sure you never, never, never, make this face when someone is taking a photo of your presentation. (Eucalyptus Speaker Series, Stillheart Institute)
This excerpt is from our new book “Cultured: Learn to Make Fermented Foods at Home” which contains over 70+ fermented food recipes. Click here to learn more!
Today, to end this week’s fermented food journey, I’m going to close with some frequently asked questions taken from “Cultured: Make Healthy Fermented Foods at Home.”
In these excerpts, I cover questions like:
- Do bacteria survive the journey past your stomach acid?
- What is the difference between fermenting and rotting?
- Do alcoholics need to worry about eating fermented foods?
- What is the right temperature to ferment foods?
- How long do you ferment foods?
- Should you ferment at home or buy fermented foods from the store?
- Why do some experts say eating fermented foods are bad for you?
Let’s get started…
Do Bacteria Survive the Journey Past Your Stomach Acid?
Despite how powerful stomach acid is, many bacteria do make it into the gut, which you’ll definitely understand should you take a trip to Mexico or India and mistakenly drink the water. Not good!
This all largely depends on the strength of the strain of the bacteria in question, and it’s the strongest ones that make it through to help repopulate your gut. As such, it’s important to make sure the foods you’re eating have a wide variety of live, healthy, strong bacteria, which is one of the main reasons we prefer cultured ferments.
What’s the Difference Between Fermenting and Rotting?
If the thought of eating fermented foods makes you a bit queasy, you’re not alone. There are indeed some people for whom the thought of eating anything more than a week old is simply gross. This is a frame of mind worth changing, however, as fermented foods are so far from the rotting foods that might be coming to mind for you. In simple terms, fermenting is great and safe, while rotting food is awful and downright dangerous! Although there is indeed a thin line between two processes, they couldn’t be more different in the results they produce. Let’s break down that distinction.
Putrefaction is the process that causes food to rot, and when this occurs, harmful bacteria run amok on the food in question, breaking it down to an inedible and terribly stinky state. These bacteria rob your food of life. With fermentation, however, you’re exercising some degree control of the environment in which the food is placed; when this is done correctly, beneficial bacteria are produced that inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria. This preserves and infuses the food with beneficial bacteria, allowing you to eat it well past its usual shelf life.
So if you’re worried that fermented foods have spoiled or rotted in any way, rest assured – fermentation has banished the bad bacteria that can make you sick, or at the very least, get your gag reflex going.
Do Alcoholics Need to Worry about Fermented Foods?
Great Question! Alcohol is a by-product of the fermentation process, although this isn’t the case for foods such as kefir and miso. In most fermented foods, alcohol is produced in such minute quantities that it will have no effect on your body. I would, however, be careful with kombucha. Many store-bought brands of kombucha can produce levels of alcohol up to 3%, and sometimes may not be labeled to reflect this. In fact, Whole Foods Market pulled all of the kombucha on its shelves in 2010 due to the fact that the labels didn’t state how much alcohol each bottle contained. 
Many brands have since accurately updated their labels, so make sure to inspect each bottle you might decide to buy. At the end of the day, whether or not to buy kombucha will be a personal decision.
Finding the Right Temperature For Your Fermented Food…
Fermentation is a delicate process, and it’s very important to be mindful of maintaining the right temperature in the area where you choose to let your ferments sit.
I’ll give you an example: my wife Annmarie and I tried our hand at yogurt once. We were using a yogurt maker, which we figured would be pretty straightforward as it maintains a constant temperature of 90 degrees. Everything would have been fine had we not left the yogurt maker close to a window that let a steady stream of sunlight in. What we ended up with was most definitely not yogurt.
This principle also applies if you’re living in a colder climate. If this the case, you’ll want to set your ferment in warmer area of the house, or else your ferment may not grow at all.
Fermentation Times – How Long Does It Take To Ferment Something?
Here’s a tricky subject: how long should you let your ferments sit for? There’s no firm answer for this, but that’s all part of the fun. Effective fermentation times vary entirely based on how much prebiotic you add and what temperature your ferments maintain. With experience however, you’ll come to recognize this as an art, knowing what to look for and taste for.
Of course, personal preferences come into play here as well. Many foods will have sufficiently fermented in the course of a week, but that time can be extended or reduced. For example, in the case of coconut kefir, you might like it very bubbly, which requires a longer fermentation time; less bubbly doesn’t need to sit as long. Similarly, most vegetables break down more and develop a stronger, more vinegary with time; as such, if you prefer milder flavors, you might not want to allow your ferment to sit as long.
The best thing to do aside from consulting recipes is to taste your food at regular intervals, every 3 or 4 days. This will allow you to experience and understand the relationship between time the various stages of the fermentation process, in addition to allowing you to determine what kind of taste is pleasing to your taste buds.
Fermenting at Home Vs. Store-bought Ferments
Just as we took a moment to consider why producing your own ferments was preferable to buying probiotic supplements, you should give some thought as to why fermenting at home would be preferable to buying ready-to-eat ferments from the grocery.
Right off the bat, there’s an immediate advantage that shouldn’t require much consideration: it’s so much cheaper to do it yourself! Many things are cheaper DIY style, but this is especially the case with fermented foods, as many of them can very pricey.
For example, I remember once buying a jar of sauerkraut from a store for about $9. This was the good stuff, sauerkraut that hadn’t been heated to pasteurize and “purify” it, allowing all of the beneficial bacteria to remain intact. I was quite pleased with my purchase until I came home and realized I could literally ferment almost four times that amount of sauerkraut for the same price with very little effort.
Of course, if you’re buying fermented foods from your local farmer’s market, there’s a good chance that those are recipes that have been fine-tuned over hundreds of batches. That’s fine, and it shouldn’t discourage you from trying your own ferments at home. It allows you to support your local farmers and get an idea of the standards you can hope to achieve with practice.
If you’re buying from a larger chain supermarket, try to look for information on the label about their fermentation practices. You definitely don’t want pasteurized ferments, as they won’t provide the health benefits that you’re seeking. If they don’t, however, and the rest of the information on the label checks out, feel free to give it a go. One advantage is that these foods will likely have been subject to extremely strict processing guidelines, giving you the assurance that the food you’re getting was prepared in a very hygienic setting.
Some Health Experts Say Fermented Foods Are Bad For You… Are They Right?
As with every other aspect of life, people will always disagree on some topics. In fact, this is especially the case with medical science. Just as there are countless health advocates who tout the beneficial effects fermented foods have on the human body, there are also those who dismiss them as anything more than interesting culinary preparations.
Modern medicine loves to dismiss anecdotal evidence, but in the case of fermented foods, it’s absolutely silly, even haughty, to deny thousands of years of information speaking to the health benefits of fermented foods from cultures around the globe. Furthermore, most of this information has been confirmed by modern, scientific studies done by reputable researchers.
For us, the answer is clear: fermented foods are awesome!
I want to know your thoughts: What is your most pressing question about fermented foods?
Be sure to get a copy of “Cultured,” or at least read more about this incredible new book that is literally FLYING off the shelves. It’s over 70+ fermented food recipes contributed by culinary experts – the best of the best. 🙂
Here’s where you can get a copy now… http://www.renegadehealth.com/cultured/