Since this week’s article and podcast were all about the what, why and how of Boosting Your Digestion, I wanted to follow those up by sharing this recipe with you – it’s an easy way for you to further boost your digestion, by making your own cultured vegetables.
Cultured (aka fermented) vegetables are made by a process called lacto-fermentation — an age-old type of food preservation that not only makes foods keep longer, but enhances their nutrient content, and, when the cultures used are carefully chosen, can help to rebalance your gut flora with more beneficial microbes (aka probiotics). And most of us can definitely use that help!
This process is called lacto-fermentation because lactic acid bacteria (ex. Lactobacillus brevis, Lactobacillus planetarium) are what is used to naturally ferment and preserve the food. Lacto-fermentation decreases the pH of foods, increases the beneficial bacteria content, and prevents/crowds out the growth of harmful bacteria in the foods.
Other examples of foods produced by lacto-fermentation are yogurt, kefir, and sour cream – learn how to easily make those yourself here – as well as sauerkraut, kimchi, and sour pickles.
During fermentation, the beneficial bacteria begin to digest (ferment) the vegetables, making it easier for our body to absorb certain nutrients and also provide enzymes that support digestion.
Note that commercially available versions of lacto-fermented foods have been heat-treated to make them shelf stable and therefore do not contain the benefits of the live probiotics found in homemade yogurt, kefir, sour cream, and homemade cultured vegetables.
What’s the difference between cultured vegetables and sauerkraut?
Great question! There are 2 main differences: salt, and starter. Sauerkraut traditionally uses salt in the brine, and no starter, and cultured vegetables are the opposite (yes starter, no salt). So the flavor of the two is quite different – cultured vegetables are tart/tangy, similar to yogurt, and sauerkraut is salty and sour.
I prefer cultured vegetables, and recommend them over sauerkraut, simply because of the addition of a starter – this gives us the opportunity to introduce a controlled mix of beneficial bacteria, which IMO has more healing power for your digestion. But, because of that, they are also stronger, so when first starting out with consuming cultured veggies, have only a little bit at a time (ex. 1 tablespoon per day, max), and increase gradually over time, to give your system time to get used to it.
If you get gassy and bloated and such from cultured veggies, this is a sign that 1) you really need them, but also 2) you’ve had too much. So take a break, and then ease up on the quantity/frequency for a bit. Over time, your system should adjust, and then greatly benefit!
Below is my favorite cultured vegetable mixture. Feel free to experiment with different ingredients and proportions to find your favorite combo(s)!
This recipe makes 1 gallon of delicious cultured veggies, and while this might sound like a lot, this will keep in the fridge for weeks and even months when properly stored in a sealed glass jar, with the contents always fully submerged in the probiotic brine. You can also cut the recipe in half or quarters, especially when starting out, until you find the mixes you really love and are ready to make a full gallon batch!
- 1 large green cabbage, cored
- 2-3 carrots (not peeled)
- 1 medium yellow onion, peeled
- 1 packet of Body Ecology Veggie Culture Starter
- 1 bulb of garlic, peeled
- 2-3 inches of ginger root (not peeled)
- 2 cups room temp filtered water
- 1 small bunch of cilantro or parsley (optional)
- Just before you begin the following steps, thoroughly clean a 1-gallon glass jar (or 4 x 1-quart glass jars) and lid(s) with hot water and soap, and rinse very well with hot water (or run them through the dishwasher).
- Set jar(s) aside, with the lid(s) on to avoid introducing unwanted microbes from the environment.
- If you have a food processor, use that to shred the cabbage, carrots and onion, or, shred or finely chop them by hand.
- Place shredded/chopped veggies in your clean glass jar(s).
- In a blender, combine veggie culture starter, garlic, ginger, filtered water, and cilantro or parsley if using, and blend until garlic and ginger are in fairly small pieces throughout (or at least no big chunks).
- Pour this watery mixture into the glass jar.
- Press down the solids so that they are 1-2″ below the surface of the brine.
Close up your jar(s) with your clean lid(s), and let the mixture sit out at room temp for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on 1) the temp of your room, and 2) how strongly fermented you’d like your mix to be. Take a little taste of it daily (using a clean fork), and when it’s at a flavor stage that you like, store it in the fridge and enjoy some daily.
Serving ideas: add to salsa, salads, soups, salad dressings, tacos, or as a topping on meat, fish or poultry. It’s great with just about any savory dish!
For a fantastic book on fermenting foods, check out Sandor Katz’s The Art of Fermentation – this is a great all-around resource on fermentation in general, fermentation problem-solving, and fermentation health benefits.