Facts on ferments

Green Lifestyle Magazine

It’s one of the oldest ways of preparing food, but ferments are making a modern-day comeback for their delicious and nutritious benefits.


Rosa Mauvra's Kvass, a Russian fermented drink (the recipe is below).

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“All disease begins in the gut,” said Hippocrates over 2000 years ago. Yet scientists are only now discovering just how true that statement is – linking an imbalance in gut flora to a range of illnesses such as irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, autism, depression and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Particularly damaging to the ecosystem of the gut are some of the cornerstones of our modern lifestyle – antibiotics, the birth control pill, processed food, and stress. While over-the-counter probiotics are widely used to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria, a far more potent source could probably be found in our grandmother’s kitchen – homemade fermented foods.

Hippocrates diet would have been rich in ferments, yet they predate him by thousands of years. Early evidence suggests the Babylonians were fermenting drinks as far back as 5000 BC, the Inuit burying fish to ferment, and the Masai drinking fermented clotted steer’s blood.

In fact until recently, before refrigeration, most grains, dairy products and vegetables were prepared using a natural ‘lactofermentation’ process. Unlike most modern ferments which use vinegar and are often pasteurised, in traditional fermentation microorganisms such as bacteria, moulds and yeasts work to break down carbohydrates and proteins, producing a nutrient-dense lactic acid brine which preserves the food, kills off harmful bacteria, and teems with the good sort such as Lactobacillus acidophilus.

While some ferments we are still familiar with – yoghurt, sourdough, sauerkraut, pickles, miso and tempeh – other such as kimchi, kefir, kvass and rejuvelac are slowly making their way back into modern kitchens as their health benefits come to light.

Sydney homeopath Linda Beaver began experimenting with fermented foods after years of suffering from hayfever, asthma and dust allergies. Starting with homemade sauerkraut, Linda also began fermenting coconut water and goats milk with kefir – an ancient Russian yoghurt-like culture.

“I worked my way up to having five small serves a day and started noticing results within a few months. Within a couple of years all my symptoms had cleared up. I used to get congestion if I ate dairy but now I can eat butter and some cheeses. They are the original healing food.”

Food Medicine consultant Rosa Mauvra also attributes the healing of her long-term emotional imbalance, poor digestion and skin problems, in large part to fermented foods.

“I was seeing naturopaths and eating a healthy diet and yet nothing seemed to make a difference. I started studying traditional Chinese medicine and realised how central fermented foods have been in diets across all cultures – except ours. I began making rejuvelac (a fermented beverage using sprouted wheat) and sauerkraut and my health began to turn around.”

Rosa is now a passionate advocate for ferments. “Their ability to balance intestinal flora is unparalleled. One recent study on sauerkraut found that it contained trillions of good bacteria compared to probiotics.”

“It can be daunting at first because you’re dealing with something live – you have to watch it, smell it. That’s ultimately what I love about ferments – tending them connects me with what I’m eating and with the earth.”

Make your own: KVASS
Recipe care of Rosa Mauvra

Kvass is a Russian fermented drink, traditionally made from old sourdough bread, but making it with beetroots is easy. Peel and cube 2-3 large organic beetroots and place in a 2 L glass jar. Add the juice of 1 lemon and one tablespoon of celtic sea salt. Fill the jar with filtered water and secure muslin around the top. Leave to ferment in a dark spot for several days. Pour through a strainer, skimming any grey mould off the top. Use as a refreshing summer drink or base for soups and sauces.