Grow your own probiotics: fermented foods

(Health Secrets) Fermented foods have been around for centuries. They are commonly found in Korean, Chinese, Japanese, and North and Central European cuisines. Some examples are sauerkraut, kimchi and miso, but there are literally hundreds of fermented foods worldwide. Different cultures ferment everything from breads to fruit and vegetables to fish and meat. Lacto-fermentation is used to preserve foods, enhance the flavor and even create “new” foods. Instead of being preserved with vinegar like most pickles and sauerkraut you buy in your local grocery store, these foods are “pickled” through the action of live bacteria and yeasts converting natural sugars into lactic acid.

Fermented foods should be consumed raw and unpasteurized with the exception of breads. The live organisms are naturally acid resistant and repopulate your gut with beneficial organisms as you ingest these foods.

Besides providing probiotics, other benefits of lacto-fermented foods include:

  • Approximately 70% of the body’s immune system is in the gut. A healthy gut leads to a healthy immune system and body.
  • Fermentation destroys such plant inhibitors as goitrogens and phytates.
  • Fermented foods are able to keep bad bacteria and yeasts in check. For example, if your gut contains plenty of the beneficial organisms that should be found there, and you consume food contaminated with Salmonella, you are much less likely to become ill than someone with poor gut health. If you get sick at all, it will likely be a short, mild illness.
  • The lactic acid-producing lactobacilli in fermented foods alter the acidity of the intestine, which in turn, helps prevent the overgrowth of the unfriendly bacteria, molds, and yeasts such as Candida Albicans.
  • Fermented foods provide enzymes, organic acids, B vitamins, Vitamin C and Vitamin K.
  • Lacto-fermented foods are lower on the glycemic index than similar foods when unfermented, even when these foods are cooked. For example, lacto-fermented bread is around 68 on the glycemic index while regular bread is 100. Therefore, regular ingestion can help control blood sugar. This is partly because some of the sugar has been converted into lactic acid.
  • Fermented foods provide an energy boost because the nutrients are “pre-digested” and more easily assimilated.

Making your own cultured vegetables is really simple. Cabbage already has a plentiful supply of lactobacillus and can be fermented with nothing but salt, water and time. Many other vegetables that have not been through chlorine baths or irradiation also contain a plentiful supply of beneficial bacteria.

You can speed up the process of fermentation by adding whey from yogurt or preferably kefir to you veggies. Add 2 tablespoons to 4 cups vegetables. If you are using whey you can decrease the amount of salt used. There are different recipes all over the web, and the most fun is experimenting. Your nose will tell you if something is “off”.



*1 small cabbage, grated
*1 cup non-chlorinated  water with 2 teaspoons salt and 3 tablespoons of whey added (this is the brine).
*½ cup shredded carrots
*½ cup shredded daikon radish
*1 tablespoonful coriander seeds
*1 large or 2 small Granny Smith apples
*1 cup of chopped greens like kale or chard
*Pinch of red pepper flakes
*Several of the large outer cabbage leaves

This usually yields about 6 cups of packed vegetables.


  1. Grate the cabbage and place in large bowl. Pound until you have quite a bit of liquid, or you can put the cabbage back in the food processor with the plastic blade and bruise it this way.
  2. Add all ingredients except cabbage leaves and brine, and mix well.
  3. Pack tightly into your chosen container leaving about 1 ½ inches of space. This container needs to be glass with an airtight lid, or a special fermenting crock. Mason jars with plastic lids work fine.
  4. Add the brine slowly, letting it work its way down to the bottom of the veggies. If the liquid does not cover the vegetables, add more water until they are covered. Cover the vegetables with the cabbage leaves and make sure everything is submerged. Put lid on.
  5. Place in dark cabinet and leave undisturbed 3 or 4 days at room temp. If your house is very warm, 2 or 3 days is adequate, if very cool, then 4 or 5 days may be necessary. Place your jars in a tray as they may leak as the sauerkraut ferments.
  6. Remove from cabinet and place in refrigerator. The sauerkraut can be eaten immediately at this point but I’ve found it develops a richer tangier flavor aging in the refrigerator for 2 or 3 more weeks.

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