Incorporating fermented foods into your diet is simple and cost-effective, reducing the need to buy expensive probiotics and dietary supplements. Nadia Lim shows how.
Modern food technology and changes in the way we prepare our food have seen the ancient tradition of eating fermented foods disappear from our plate.
Where lacto-fermentation would have once been the method for pickling vegetables and making fresh yoghurt, nowadays these foods employ vinegars and thickeners to do the job instead.
The “lacto” part of lacto-fermentation refers to the specific species of bacteria called lactobacillus that have the ability to convert sugars into lactic acid, in a naturally occurring fermentation process. You may have heard of Lactobacillus acidophilus — the good probiotic bacteria found in yoghurt that makes it healthy for our gut.
I know it may sound strange that something fermented (isn’t that another word for “off”?) and full of bacteria is good for you, but these little guys are vital to our digestive health. We are only as healthy as our gut — the largest part of our immune system — and a healthy gut is essential for overall good health. When your gut is in tip-top shape you digest and absorb nutrients better, and improve your bowel’s ability to rid waste. An imbalance of gut bacteria has not only been linked to bowel problems like irritable bowel syndrome, but gluten intolerance, allergies, asthma and yeast infections too. Here is a recipe for kimchi — a fermented spicy cabbage pickle and a recipe for yoghurt which is very easy and cost-effective to make yourself at home.
Make sure you use yoghurt that has live cultures i.e. good bacteria (often referred to as ABC – (lactobacillus acidophilus, bifidus and casei cultures) in it. Don’t choose a yoghurt that has lots of other added ingredients and thickeners in it; chances are it won’t have the live cultures. Real yoghurt only contains milk and live cultures, no other unnecessary additives.
Makes 1 litre of yoghurt
1 litre milk (I use full cream milk, but you could use 1.5 per cent fat milk if you like)
¼ cup natural unsweetened yoghurt, (see above)
- Gently heat milk to just above blood temperature, 42C if you have a thermometer - this is the perfect temperature for bacteria to grow.
- In a clean thermo flask, plastic container or glass bowl, mix milk and yoghurt together until well combined. Screw on lid tightly, wrap in a tea towel, and leave in a warm place overnight or for at least 8 hours (the hot water cupboard is ideal).
- The next morning, you’ll have fresh yoghurt! If the yoghurt is a little grainy, simply whisk it until smooth. Now you can flavour your yoghurt with anything you like e.g. fruit puree (I like canned black doris plums that have been stoned and pureed) or fruit jam.
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Kimchi (fermented chilli cabbage)
Kimchi is a Korean food staple. It’s pretty much the Asian version of sauerkraut (a fermented cabbage dish from Germany). They eat it almost every day as an accompaniment to their meals. It has a reputation for being one of those polarising foods that people either love or hate. I’m on the love it team — I can’t get enough of it when I eat bulgogi (Korean barbequed beef) or bibimbap (a rice bowl with marinated beef mince and vegetables).
Makes about 5 cups
½ large wong bok (Chinese) cabbage (or you could use a savoy cabbage)
2 litres cold water mixed with 3 Tbsp salt (this is your brine)
2 green apples grated
Juice of 1 lemon
2.5cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2 tsp minced garlic
¼ cup chilli paste (from a jar or made from fresh red chilies)
1 small white or red onion, very thinly sliced 4-5 spring onions, finely sliced
1-2 Tbsp sesame oil
- Chop cabbage, removing any tough bulky parts of the stalk. Place in a large container or dish with the brine and leave to soak for about 2 hours or until the cabbage leaves are limp.
- Mix grated apple, lemon juice, ginger, garlic and chilli paste together.
- Drain cabbage and rinse under clean water a few times. Toss with onion, spring onion and apple chilli paste. Place in a large plastic container (or a large bowl) and loosely cover (leave a little space open for the gas that the bacteria form during fermentation to escape). Leave on the bench, at room temperature for at least 6-8 hours or overnight to ferment.
- Season well with salt and sesame oil, to taste. Store in a container in the fridge. It will keep for a few weeks.