We farmers sometimes treat our soil better than we treat our own bodies. We nurture our growing beds with compost, cover crops and other healthy amendments, but too often, our health takes a backseat thanks to busy farm schedules.
The slower months of winter offer the perfect time block to rekindle efforts to your wellbeing. An easy way to do this is to add fermented foods into your daily diet.
“Fermentation may be all the popular rage right now, but it really is one of the oldest, most historic ways of keep our body systems healthy and add some of those ‘good bugs,’ the healthy bacteria, back in,” says Angelica Hollstadt, owner of Angelica’s Garden, a 44 acre farm and fermented-foods business in northern Wisconsin.
If you dig back in history, just about every culture has a form of fermented food that regularly appeared at meals, from German sauerkraut to Greek yogurts. Hollstadt crafts a variety of live-fermented vegetables in her on-farm kitchen, including kimchi, a traditional vegetable ferment from Korea, and kvass, an Eastern European fermented root beverage made with grains, vegetables and other flavorings. She began exploring fermented foods as a way to address digestive health issues she experiences.
“Finding fermented vegetables was truly my saving grace,” Hollstadt says. “Cultured vegetables provide an array of beneficial bacteria and enzymes that aid in digestion. Once I started eating just a small amount daily, my health improved and I developed a palate for the taste and said to myself, ‘Holy moly this is good stuff.’ That motivated me to start the business, as I wanted others to experience the same healthy properties.”
But even enthusiasts admit fermented foods don’t have the same appeal as a chocolate cupcake—at least not initially. However, by approaching fermented foods with an open mind and health-motivated curiosity, and you just find yourself craving them. Here are some tips from Hollstadt to get started with a daily fermented-food routine.
1. Start with What’s Familiar
“If someone is new to ferments, it’s best to start with a more familiar food like sauerkraut or cultured dills,” Hollstadt recommends. To readily experiment and see what you like, see what live cultured foods are available in your area. As interest in fermented food grows, just about every area of the country has it’s own “Angelica’s Garden.” Look for ferments in the refrigerated section of your health-foods store or co-op, as shelf-stable foods will have lost the probiotic health benefits.
2. Take Two Bites
Remember, a little goes a long way with fermented foods. You don’t need to eat a lot of reap the benefits. “A daily forkful or two of cultured vegetables will contribute to overall health,” Hollstadt explains. “Sometimes more is better if one is feeling under the weather.”
Think of your fermented food addition as small, crunchy side salad and you may find, as Lisa did, that you come to expect the flavor as part of your meal. After an overabundant cabbage crop last season, Lisa took on making fermented sauerkraut. She started just adding one large spoonful to her lunch plate and while she admits the first couple of bites didn’t rock her taste buds, after a few days she found herself yearning and looking for that salty crunch.
3. Make Your Own
Once you identify what you like and want to explore fermentation further, try making your own ferments. “For folks starting their own fermentation projects, I would suggest looking at Sandor Katz’s book Wild Fermentation,” Hollstadt says. “That offers a comprehensive look at fermentation basics and gives good recipes.”
Fermenting may be the a hot foodie trend, but we share Hollstadt’s belief that it’s not a fad but here to stay.
“People are looking at alternatives to modern medicine for wellness,” she says. “Cultured veggies provide many great health-promoting properties. I think the cultured vegetable revolution is at its infancy and will continue to grow.”
Start making your own fermented foods with these recipes:
- How to Make Sauerkraut
- Ferment Your Own Vinegar
- How to Make Yogurt at Home
- Lacto-Fermented Cranberry Salad
- How to Ferment Everything