This is a guest post by Hannah Crum & Alex LaGory with Kombucha Kamp. Hannah is known as “The Kombucha Mamma” and speaks at consumer and corporate events nationwide.
If you’re trying to cut processed food out of your diet, two of the most common challenges (and ones we might overlook while cooking the entrees and side dishes) are drinks and condiments. Most commercial offerings are loaded with unwanted chemicals and corn syrup. But our family gets so bored drinking straight water, and we like bold flavors. Fortunately, people have been using fermentation to make delicious drinks, such as kombucha, and much more since before recorded history.
Thanks to a recent fermentation revival, many of these freshly made foods and drinks can be purchased at local grocery stores, or you can save money and ferment them right on your own kitchen counter. Even better, fermentation adds nutrition and shelf life, not to mention that kick of flavor and a boost to digestion and immunity, just to name a few benefits.
But keep in mind that fermented foods aren’t just a luxury. They have been critical to human history and development. Before the invention of the refrigerator, fermentation helped us preserve foods for leaner times. When water was often unsafe to drink due to pathogens, fermentation was the process we used to make it potable via beverages like naturally made ginger ale and root beer.
20th-century industry gradually replaced our traditionally fermented foods with warehouse stable versions for convenience and ease of manufacturing, but mostly for profit. Ketchup, mustard, steak sauce, mayonnaise: these were once living, probiotic “dressings” for our meals, prepping our digestive systems and helping us break down the food. Unfortunately, modern day versions lack the healthy bugs and natural enzymes that keep us feeling great, not to mention they’re made with unwanted additives!
Science is starting to uncover the vital role that bacteria play in every aspect of our immunity and well being. The brand new research into the human microbiome bolsters the principles of many progressive food movements, which have long encouraged a shift away from foods of convenience back to foods and preparation methods similar to those of our ancestors. The great news is that as these food movements have picked up steam, many of these naturally fermented foods are now making their way to grocery store shelves, often produced by small family businesses!
Once you start looking, fermented foods are everywhere. Here are some fermented foods that you’ll probably find in your grocery store aisles today:
- Yogurt (avoid ones with sugar added!)
- Pickles (some brands)
- Milk Kefir
- Water Kefir
- Miso paste
The breakout star of this 21st century fermentation revival is kombucha – fermented tea with natural fizz and lots of fun flavors. There are literally hundreds of brands on store shelves around the country and the world, from farmers markets and natural foods stores to traditional grocery, big box (Costco, Target), and even convenience stores and airports. If you’ve never tried kombucha before, it may be love at first sip or it might take a few tries to find your flavor. But don’t give up, there’s a brand out there for everyone, or you can always make it taste however you want by brewing it at home. We call it a “gateway ferment” because people often start with the “booch” and love it so much they get hooked.
Sauerkraut is typically salted, fermented cabbage, while kimchi is its popular spicy Korean cousin. A little bit adds a lot of flavor and assists the body in digesting meat and other dense foods (that’s why there’s sauerkraut on Reubens!) Choose brands that are raw and not pasteurized so you get all the good bugs. These days, so many delicious varieties from spicy to mild can be found in creative combinations that include carrots, horseradish, beets, and other veggies. A little bit goes a long way with kraut, so use it sparingly but frequently. Often paired with meats in traditional cuisine, it makes a great addition to sausage, sandwiches, and just on the side as a cold “salad.”
Yogurt and Kefir (and More!)
Yogurt has been around for a while now, and it’s become popular enough that the processed food companies have gotten in the game. Watch out for those brands and choose ones that do not add sugar, binders, or thickeners. Milk kefir is a tangy, drinkable version of yogurt with more bacterial diversity. It can also be made into kefir cheese, which is a great substitute for commercial sour cream or cream cheese.
Water kefir is a lightly flavored ferment of sugar water into a probiotic “pop.” If you don’t find these at the mainstream grocery store, check the local co-op or health food store. Some are also made with coconut water for a unique, healthy treat.
Fermented soy, consumed for millennia, is used to create many delicious dishes. Miso is a salty paste that lends umami and rich flavor to soups and stews, while tempeh is a great meat substitute for Meatless Mondays!
Making Fermented Foods at Home
The great thing about fermented foods is that nearly all of them are incredibly safe and easy to make at home – an ideal option for those on a budget. Sometimes a culture is required, such as when brewing kombucha, milk kefir, or water kefir, but the cultures are prolific and offer a lifetime supply if cared for properly. Others, like sauerkraut and kimchi, simply require salt and time. Plus, making fermented foods as a family is a great way to pass on healthy habits, create unique flavors, and revive this ancient practice that has nourished humans for thousands of years.
If you are brand new to ferments, as with any new habit, the road to success begins with a single step. Pick out one ferment to try from your local grocery store this week and see how you like it. If you enjoy it and want to learn more about fermenting at home or need cultures, visit KombuchaKamp.com today. And as we say, Trust Your Gut!
Hannah Crum and Alex LaGory created Kombucha Kamp to provide the highest quality brewing supplies, information, and support. Known as “The Kombucha Mamma,” Crum speaks at consumer and corporate events nationwide. LaGory is a writer and producer who, with Crum, mentors homebrewers and serves as a commercial brewing consultant. The couple co-founded Kombucha Brewers International in Los Angeles, where they reside.