Strolling around the garden last weekend I discovered that my 2 grapevines really stepped it up this summer and actually produced a bunch of grapes. Woohoo! Now what to do with them?
I pulled out my Nourishing Traditions cookbook and found a recipe for “grape cooler”. It’s a fermented, non-alcoholic beverage that requires the addition of whey (the liquid stuff not the processed powder) and sea salt. The whole mess (and it does look pretty messy!) spends 3 days sitting on the counter at room temperature. From there it’s a quick strain through cheesecloth and then into the frig for long-term storage. This was my first attempt at this recipe but I’ve spent the last few years playing with sauerkraut, chutneys, kombucha and various other kitchen experiments. They all have one thing in common…fermentation and bacteria!
Now why would I want bacteria in my food? YUK! Oh, but not so fast…
Unless you’ve been living on desert island you’re probably aware of the many benefits of probiotics (fancy name for beneficial bacteria) and a healthy gut microbiome (fancy name for the unique starting roster of bacteria in YOUR gut) that have been identified by the scientific community:
• Enhanced immunity
• Improved gut function
• Reduced risk for many diseases to include heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, depression and other psychological disorders
• Decreased risk for obesity – more on this next time!
It’s a classic case of “grandma knew best” AKA “darn that technology!” You see, before industrialized food production and wide-spread refrigeration took over our food supply, lacto-fermentation was an essential method of preserving food. From the Weston A. Price Foundation, “lactic acid is a natural preservative that inhibits putrefying bacteria. Starches and sugars in vegetables and fruits are converted into lactic acid by the many species of lactic-acid-producing bacteria”. This form of food preservation is still prevalent in many less developed parts of the world. The bonus is that it provides us with a built-in source of probiotics and also makes foods more digestible and improves availability of many nutrients. Almost every society in the world has at least one fermented food as part of their food culture…pun intended! Here are just a few:
Far East – soy sauce, fish sauce
Japan – miso, natto, pickled vegetables
Korea – kimchee
Eastern Europe – sauerkraut, pickles, root beers
Africa – sorghum beer, fermented grain porridges
Middle East and India- yogurt and kefir, pickled vegetables and grains
Micronesia – fermented fish
Hawaii – poi
Native American tribes – fermented cornmeal dough
Sadly bacteria can be somewhat unpredictable and they take time to get the job done. Neither trait meshes well with the industrialized food processing machine. Thus even foods that were traditionally fermented no longer provide us with any probiotic benefit. For example, pickles and sauerkraut are now often made with vinegar and are not fermented at all. Even if they are lacto-fermented they’ve usually been pasteurized which kills the beneficial bacteria.
Recently, the food industry’s answer has been to add probiotics back to foods that traditionally provided them and many that have not. And of course there are many probiotic supplements available. This adds cost for the consumer and often does not provide the improved digestibility that traditionally lacto-fermented foods provide.
I recommend eating a serving of fermented food or taking a probiotic supplement daily, gradually working up to a serving at every meal. It may be a couple tablespoons of sauerkraut or kimchee, a couple squirts of soy sauce or fish sauce, a cup of kombucha or a serving of yogurt. If you are undergoing medical treatment that compromises your immune system or have small intestine bacterial overgrowth you should discuss use of probiotics with your health care provider.
I’m keeping this short today but this is the first of a series of posts on this topic. In the future: making your own fermented foods, how to change your gut biome for the better, best probiotic supplements.
Oh…almost forgot…the grape cooler turned out great! It’s concentrated so I mix it half and half with cold water. It’s actually great post-workout, providing carbs, sodium, potassium and rehydration. Let me know if you’d like to sample and I’ll bring some in to the Box.
Thanks for reading!
717 Nutrition Coaching