Getting Started With Fermented Foods Part 1: Buying Guide

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If you want to start including fermented foods in your diet, there are 3 ways you can go about it:

You can:

  1. Buy them

  2. Use a starter culture

  3. Make them from scratch

Or you can do a combination of them all.

In the next 3 posts I’m going to walk you through the 3 options, so you can choose which works best for you.


Buying Ferments

If you aren’t feeling super confident to make your own ferments, then your next best option is to buy them ready made. This is a great way to get a taste for what you and your family like before you learn how to make them yourself.

Even if you do make all your own ferments, store bought versions are great to try for inspiration.

Unfortunately a lot of ferments you see on the shelf are mass produced and don't contain the benefits traditional ferments do . The ferments you want to eat are the ones fermented with traditional techniques. These are good for your guts and full of beneficial bacteria, vitamins and minerals.

The best place to look for these is at your local health food store in the fridge section.

Here’s a run down on what to look out for when buying your next ferment:

(Please note I am not affiliated with any brands mentioned in this post. These are products that I personally use and recommend).


Cultured Vegetables (Sauerkraut and Fermented Whole Vegetables)

  • Always choose cultured vegetables from the fridge section. These ones are full of live bacteria (like a probiotic) that are good for our guts. Steer clear from your supermarket ones on the shelf. These have been pastuerised (heated) which kills all the beneficial bacteria.

  • The only ingredients on the label should be vegetables/herb/spices and salt - no sugar or vinegar.  

  • Some brands add starter cultures for consistency in their products and this is normal. 

  • My favourites: Nourishing Wholefoods, Gutsy Ferments, Lewis & Son, and Peace Love and Vegetables


Kombucha/Kefir

  • Always choose a kefir or kombucha from the fridge section (the ones on the shelf have been pastuerised which kills all the beneficial bacteria). 

  • The only ingredients on the label should be tea, sugar, water, fruit/roots/spices to flavour and kombucha/kefir culture.

  • Sugar is a normal ingredient needed for the fermentation process. It provides a fuel source for the culture to convert it to beneficial bacteria.   

  • My favourites: Buchi Kombucha, Nourishing Wholefoods and Remedy.


Yoghurt (Coconut or Dairy)

  • Choose a plain variety with no added sugar.

  • The only ingredients on the label should be milk and live cultures (except for coconut yoghurt which usually contains tapioca starch to thicken and a natural sweetener).

  • The more variety of live cultures listed the better. Lactobacillus acidophilus, lactobacillus casei, lactobacillus bulgaricus, bifidus and streptococcus thermophilus are the most common.

  • Choose organic when possible to ensure you are getting yoghurt from happy, healthy cows (or coconuts). 

  • My favourites:  Coconut - Born Cultured or Coyo, Dairy - Barambah and Jalna.


Other ferments made with traditional techniques

  • Miso - look in the fridge section of your health food store. The only ingredients on the label should be rice, soy beans, salt, koji starter, and perhaps other grains or vegetables depending on the variety. Avoid any miso paste containing preservatives, additives or sugar. These have most likely been pasteurised which destroys all the beneficial bacteria. My favourite brand is Meru Miso.

  • Cultured dips/vegan cheeses - Look for these in the fridge section of your health food store. Botanical Cuisine make the most delicious variety of vegan cheeses and cultured dips. Other great brands to look out for are Peace Love and Vegetables and Nutty Bay.


The best place to buy them

  • Farmers markets - This is the best place to get your hands on locally produced ferments and speak directly to the producer.  

  • Health food stores - Check the fridge section for what's on offer, look for a locally produced product or ask staff for their recommendations.


Where to from here?

Once you find a favourite ferment (or two), that you and your family love, the next step is to learn to make it yourself.

In the next 2 posts I’ll run you through the options for making your own ferments.

Seven Steps to Successful Sauerkraut

I love sauerkraut. It's one of the simplest and safest fermented foods to make. One of the things I love most about it is that you don't need any fancy equipment to get started. All you need is a clean jar (with a wide enough mouth to get your hand in), a cabbage and some confidence to give it a go!

Below I share my seven simple steps that I've been using to make sauerkraut successfully for the last three years. You can use these steps to make any flavour sauerkraut you like.  

With cabbages in season at the moment what better time to start!? Let's dive right in. 

Step One: Choose your cabbage 

cabbage

Any variety will do: green, red, wombok/Chinese cabbage or a combination of them all. For a pink kraut - use a combination of green and red cabbage. The fresher your cabbage is the better and the more juice you will be able to massage out of it. 

If you want to make plain sauerkraut (i.e. cabbage and salt) skip step two and go straight on to step three. 

Step Two: Add your extras (totally optional or just leave it plain) 

You can add in any combination of vegetables, herbs, spices and even fruit to add different flavours and textures to your sauerkraut. My basic rule is to make up the bulk of my kraut with cabbage then add a small amount of extra vegetables, herbs and spices for flavour. These are my go to add ons: 

Step Three: Chop, salt and rest

Chop your vegetables and sprinkle salt on them as you go. The finer you chop your vegetables the softer your kraut will be and the easier it will be to draw out the liquid. Be careful of cutting them too fine (like in a food processor) as it can result in a soggy kraut. Resting the chopped, salted vegetables in a bowl allows time for the salt to draw the liquid out of them. The longer you leave it the more liquid will come out and the easier it will be to massage your vegetables. 

My basic salt to vegetable ratio: 1kg of vegetables to 1-2 tablespoons of salt (sea salt or himalayan salt is best) 

Step Four: Massage

massage

With your hands massage the vegetables squeezing out the liquid until you have a good amount pooling at the bottom of the bowl.  

Step Five: Pack them in and weigh them down

Pack the vegetables tightly into your clean jar or fermentation crock. The vegetables should all be submerged under their own liquid (this creates an environment where no harmful bacteria can grow). Leave about an inch or two space at the top of your jar to allow room for the vegetables to expand then weigh them down with some cabbage leaves and a small fermentation weight, saucer or shot glass. 

Step Six: Leave to ferment

Put the lid on tight and place your jar away from direct sunlight. The time it takes to ferment is dependent on a few variables: temperature, size/texture of your vegetables and taste. There are no set rules. The warmer the temperature the faster it will ferment and the longer you leave it to ferment the softer your final kraut will be and the more tangier in flavour. In summer I ferment for about 7 days and in winter about 14 days.  Experiment with what works for you and don't be afraid to taste the kraut as it ferments. 

Step Seven: Monitor and eat!

Keep an eye on your kraut as it ferments. The most important thing is to keep the vegetables under their liquid. In this acidic environment no harmful bacteria can survive. If any liquid spills out of your jar as it's fermenting this is totally normal just push the vegetables back down under the liquid. Once your kraut is to your liking place it in the fridge and it's ready to eat. Unopened kraut will keep for months in the fridge but once it's open it's best to use within a month. 

Some troubleshooting 

White mould growing on the surface can happen, it means that the vegetables were exposed to oxygen. Don't panic! Scrape off the mould and an inch or two below the surface and keep the rest of the batch.

If you come across any colourful mould, slimy vegetables, pink (unless you've used a red cabbage) or brown vegetables these are signs of a ruined batch so best to throw away and start again. 


Have you ever had any problems making kraut before? Or do you have any of your own steps, tips or tricks to share? I'd love to hear them. Leave a comment on the post below.

 

You might also want to check out some of my favourite sauerkraut recipes: 2 Ingredient Sauerkraut, Kimchi and Curtido