Sauerkraut and Other Fermented Foods
The lady wrinkles her nose. “I can’t stand sauerkraut,” she says.
I nod, hoping to look somewhat empathic. Too many people have waxed rhapsodic about their dislike of sauerkraut whenever the subject of food – or my German origins – come up. I gave up long ago trying to convince anyone of its health benefits, or that commercially produced sauerkraut is a world away from the home-made variety. It is like comparing mass-produced supermarket bread with a fresh loaf from an artisan bakery. I began to offer it as a side dish at dinner parties and pot-luck events. It rarely fails to convince, and many have joined the ranks of sauerkraut converts in the Western world. Most try a little bit out of sheer politeness and then tuck in, disregarding the potential scandal over enjoying a modest cabbage dish and reputed to be a German one at that.
As with almost every food, home-made sauerkraut tastes better by far. Furthermore, we know exactly what is in it and that it is entirely free of additives allegedly serving to retain colour, make the product longer lasting, and whatever harebrained other ideas the PR crowds of the corporations can come up with. Sauerkraut hardly changes colour. If it does (ie. if it goes a weird grey), something went wrong, and we can thank the miracles of Nature to let us know by changing its colour because it may just not be quite so edible. Longer lasting is equally pointless because the very reason cabbage is fermented is to make it last through the winter. That is how most fermented foods were invented. Their tremendous health benefits just happen to be more than convenient side effects.
Other Fermented Foods
Fermented foods are absolutely teeming with probiotic bacteria, far more than any supplement could provide, at far better prices and with no unknowns added either. Many regions of the world have over the millennia come up with ways to ferment this or that. In Southeast Asia we find Kimchi: a mixture of Napa cabbage, daikon, spring onions, ginger, garlic, all fermented together. In Japan, miso, fermented soybeans, often combined with barley or rice, is a popular food, and from Java hails tempeh, fermented whole soybeans pressed into a block that makes a perfect meat substitute in addition to its original uses.
And then there is the humble yoghurt. Just milk, with nothing more than some cultures added and left overnight, provides an abundance of probiotics. Kefir is a dairy drink full of bacteria that is highly beneficial. And there are various soft cheeses, such as quark or fromage frais.
The gut is to the human body what the brain is to its environment. And it goes further: without a well functioning gut, the brain becomes impaired. Every chronic condition can be improved, if not entirely healed, by generating a healthy ambience for the gut.
The gut contains way more bacteria than the body contains cells, and only some of the bacteria is “bad.” The aim for good health is to achieve and maintain a healthy balance of good and bad bacteria, and this is where fermented foods come in. They provide the good bacteria that will work in the gut to ensure the bad bacteria cannot take control.
So, if you’ve been looking for a new hobby, perhaps start experimenting with fermenting vegetables or milk? It is not hard to do, not even labour intensive, and will enhance general well being.