Friday, October 9, 2009

Fermenting wildly . . .

One of my favorite books is Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz.  It is the bible of fermentation.  He gives complete and detailed instructions for fermenting comparable to Julia Child's instructions for cooking all things French in Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

I got into the whole fermentation thing a few years ago when I started to pay more attention to the role of food in my health.  The more I read, the more research I did, the more I was convinced that for the most part we are hell bent on killing our food prior to eating it.  Pasteurization, irradiation, freezing, canning, drying, manufacturing (e.g. HVP, TVP, "breakfast" bars) - we just can't leave it alone.  What is wrong with picking an apple and eating it out of hand, on the spot?  Why not lightly steam some veggies right out of your backyard garden and drizzle them with melted butter?  How about a big glass of raw milk? 

So what can we do about it?  I will get to that in a minute.  I want to point out a few more problems with how we eat.  A UN study showed that it would take 10 apples of today to equal the nutrition from just one apple from 1976!  In 1950, a serving of spinach provided us with considerably more nutrients, especially minerals, compared to the nutrition of spinach tested today.  In looking around at various studies, the decrease in nutrition varies wildly depending on who paid for the study and who wrote the summary.  One study goes so far as to state that nutrition is actually increasing in spinach due to newly developed hybrids.  But I worry about those hybrids.  Hybrids were the precursors of genetically modified foods.  Just because we aren't injecting a fish gene into nature's spinach gene doesn't mean that we are not mucking with Mother Nature.  We think we can do better - sort of like deciding that margarine was better for us than butter.  We know that was a pig in a poke, hey?  So in addition to foods that are manufactured after the fact, we are manufacturing foods before the fact - messing with the genetic makeup of the plants - again, thinking we can do better than said Ms. Nature.

We are the lab rats for the genetically modified organism (GMO) study.  It has been pushed on us without our knowledge, given the power of the agribusinesses that own the patents on GMOs to back a law that prevents us from knowing that a product contains genetically modified products.  Yes, in this country, they do not even have to list GMOs on the label.  So how do you know if you are eating GMOs?  Count on anything containing soy to provide a dose of genetically modified food, first because 95% of soybeans in the US are GMOs, and second because the GMO beans have corrupted the non-GMO organic soybeans so that about 30% of organic soybeans tested are now genetically modified.  Those ill winds blow no good, leaving GMO beans to pollinate their pristine organic neighbors.  And soy is in everything!  See my earlier blog Food and Health.  You can be pretty sure you are eating soy, unless you are buying fresh fruit and vegetables and staying away from the edamame beans. 

Tests conducted and interpreted by the very companies that are developing GMOs have been used to convince the FDA that there is nothing wrong with GMOs.  Proverbial fox watching the hen house, hey?  I found this while surfing the web for information based on reliable studies.   "Mice fed genetically modified (GM) soybean were not affected in nutritional performance, but pancreatic microscopic features were disturbed . . . This indicates that GM soy protein intake affected pancreas function, evidenced by the early acute PAP mRNA increased levels and pancreas cellular changes . . ."  I found this in PubMed,   This surely is a fairly reliable source of information.  And it is bothersome.

As a further safeguard from eating GMOs, look at the code on fresh fruit and veggies.  If it starts with "8" and has five numbers, then it too is genetically modified.  If it starts with "4" and has four numbers, it is chemically grown.  If it starts with "9" and has five numbers, then it is organically grown.  So that is a little help for you in making healthy choices

Okay, we know we can stay away from soy, and we can look for the right fresh fruit and vegetable codes, and we can stay away from manufactured foods.  What else can we do?  What if you don't have access to raw milk or wouldn't drink it if you could find it?  How do we give today's vegetables a nutritional boost?  Impossible, you say?  No, it's not.  Try fermenting!

Fermenting adds helpful bacteria and enzymes to our food.  It's easy, safe and prolongs the life of our food without high heat, irradiation or pasteurization.  Yes, you can ferment milk.  It's called kefir.  If you can't find someone to give you live kefir grains, then buy the kefir powder from your health food store.  But do try to get live grains.  Then all you do is put the grains in a quart of milk (be sure to leave some head room for the fizz that is going to develop), leave the milk on the counter, and give it a shake every time you walk by.  Depending on how warm your kitchen is and how strong you like it, you will have kefir in eight to 36 hours.  It is a little like thin yogurt and has a tangy taste.  After straining out the kefir grains to use for your next batch, add fruit, maple syrup or honey and whir in blender for a smoothie.  It is said to have 50 times the probiotics found in yogurt.  And it is a lot easier to make.  So now you have taken that dead ultra-pasteurized organic milk from the grocery store and injected it with new life!  And if you are lactose intolerant, those kefir grains live on lactose, so kefir can often be drunk by people with lactose intolerance given that the kefir grains have disposed of most of the lactose in the milk.

When we speak of fermenting food, the first food most people think of is sauerkraut.  And well they should.  It is such a great food!  Eating a bite or two of sauerkraut before each meal helps us to digest our food.  It starts the digestion process in our mouths by encouraging saliva production.  Then the rest of the meal digests more quickly and easily.  It is a simple thing to do, and very healthy.  Got to the bottom of the jar of kraut?  Try drinking the juice for a concentrated dose of the goodness of kraut.  It's low calorie, chock full of vitamin C, and inhibits the growth of undesirable flora in the gut.

Then there is kim chee, that Korean fermented vegetable dish that makes many people say yuck!  Okay, I don't like it either, so I make my own.  I love it with chopped root vegetables such as winter black radishes, carrots, beets, turnips and parsnips, a recipe that I found in Katz's Wild Fermentation.

The list of what you can ferment is just about endless.  If you really get into it, then you will create a crock of never-ending fermented veggies, pulling out what you need and adding more fresh veggies when you do so.  It bubbles away continuously, providing you with the liveliest of live foods 24/7.

So yes, we can improve the quality of our foods through fermentation.  Try it.  It's easy and fun!  I just decanted a gallon and a half of kraut yesterday.  Some of it was made with red cabbage.  The color is absolutely stunning!   It is edible now, but it will just get better with time.

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