I first tasted fermented vegetables in the kitchen of a local health guru in the small town of Charlottesville, VA. C’ville is a quaint, eclectic college town (UVA) in the valley of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and was my home for eight years. The town was full of academics, hippies and hipsters, lawyers and musicians, doctors, and organic farmers. It was where I learned how to grow a garden and live more in synch with nature and the cycle of the seasons. The natural beauty surrounding the town is indescribable and I spent the majority of my time inhaling the smells, gawking at the landscape, and digging my fingers into the soil.
One day, on an outing to a local whole foods coop, I found a flyer for a seminar on making your own fermented foods. I had been reading Sally Fallon cookbooks (Google her!) and had a slight understanding of fermented foods—but this was more than a decade ago-before fermented foods had gained any popularity. I was intrigued. I called the hostess of the class and grabbed a spot. At the class, she gave a talk and handed out some literature on fermentation and then we sampled some of her creations. She showed us how to make a cabbage, carrot, and fennel seed batch of fermented vegetables. I liked the tangy, crunchy flavor right away. Besides the chopping of all the veggies, it was surprisingly easy to make a huge batch to keep for months. So what the heck are fermented vegetables and why are they good for our bodies?
Well, they are super popular right now, but for centuries, people in all parts of the world have been preserving vegetables through the process of lacto-fermentation. In this process, good bacteria breaks down sugars and starches in vegetables, which are converted into lactic acid. The lactic acid acts as a preservative, but beyond just preservation, fermented veggies are pretty much major rock stars. They enhance digestion and absorption of nutrients, they contain helpful enzymes, and promote the growth of healthy gut flora. Fermented veggies help form a protective lining in the intestine, shielding it against pathogens. They bolster our immune systems, regulate our appetites, make our bodies more alkaline, and can even reduce sugar and carb cravings. Since fermented veggies are pre-digested, they are higher in available nutrients.
It wasn’t long before I was growing my own veggies to ferment and filling my pantry shelves with jars and jars….doing so improved my health and I’ve been a fan for years.
Examples of fermented foods are: yogurt (choose plain, full-fat versions with no added sugar, or dairy-free options), keifer, sauerkraut, kimchi and endless varieties of fermented vegetables.
I encourage my clients to eat fermented vegetables with each meal….whether it be a few forkfuls before sitting down, or as a small accompaniment to the meal, the benefits are far-reaching….like taking a pre-digestive enzyme and a probiotic and a vitamin all in one. Be adventurous and give them a try. If you want to try some store-bought versions, here are some of my favorites:
Harvest Roots “Curtido”
Farmhouse Culture Krauts