MY FIRST VISIT to Smoothie Club was extremely enjoyable, so I was raring to get along to the May evening for more of the same. When I found out that the topic of the night would be fermented foods, I confirmed my attendance and blocked out the date on the calendar, even moving to the morning yoga class so I could go get my fermenting on.
I’ve been mad about kombucha since I discovered this amazing fermented drink in the USA in 2011 (as seen here), and I’ve been skulling back water kefir since that same year (as seen here), with batches of each drink brewing away at home. Despite my best intentions however, I’ve never quite gotten off my butt to start making my own sauerkraut and kimchi, which are two of the healthiest foods around. So this was a golden opportunity to be inspired and to learn something.
Nicola Reilly from Forever Fit TV (a very cool online gym) was presenting, and she took us through the basics of fermenting and why it’s so healthy. She’s been fermenting for a long time to look after her own digestive system, and that’s more or less where good health starts – if you are what you eat, it helps to be able to actually absorb that food. If your digestive system isn’t functioning as well as it could be, then it doesn’t really matter how much good food you pour in, your body just won’t absorb it all that well. This is most obvious in people with genuine digestive tract issues such as IBS, but the modern diet can play havoc with our digestion (sugar and processed foods suck in this regard), and modern medicine’s preoccupation with antibiotics doesn’t help one bit.
I’m going to be obnoxious enough to say that you could go so far as to extend the food pyramid and add a block just above water and below the macronutrients – draw it in there and title it “Probiotics” and you’re on the money. Everything you eat is better for you if you can actually absorb it properly. I know I function and feel better when I’m cranking back kombucha and water kefir; they’re a foundation below the rest of my good eating that I don’t want to do without. If you’ve got gut issues, fermenting could well be be your passport to a new life, and yes, I’m totally serious when I say that.
People often reach for probiotic pills or yoghurt to give their digestive systems a boost but the pills are expensive and frankly the quantities and strains of probiotic bacteria in there can be fairly limited. Yoghurt’s not a bad option but most folk don’t like the taste of plain yoghurt, so they end up with a sugar laden fruity version, some of which aren’t exactly busting with goodness, let alone good bacteria. Also for us vegans, coconut and soy yogurts are only slightly cheaper than plutonium.
Those in the know will eat commercially prepared kimchi and sauerkraut but the really good, properly fermented organic types are hard to find and aren’t cheap either, which is why Nicola makes her own. And as of today, I’ll be doing the same.
Fermenting vegetables is much easier than you think. A great tasting sauerkraut can be made with nothing more than cabbage and salt. I’ll whip up a batch and will post the full recipe soon. I’ll be doing kimchi too because as anyone who’s ever tried it will tell you, this stuff is utterly delicious and dangerously addictive, but it’s almost as easy to make as sauerkraut, so my second newly purchased glass jar will be full of kimchi by the end of the week.
In addition to being loaded with good bacteria, fermented food like sauerkraut and kimchi is full of vitamin C. It’s also a great way to increase your intake of raw vegetables because the process scrunches down the ingredients – you crush the living daylights out of the cabbage when you’re making sauerkraut, so when you have a few spoonfuls of the stuff with a meal, you’re actually eating a whole stack of cabbage.
Nicola also looked at making Kombucha, which is also super easy once you’ve got a scoby (a colony of bacteria and yeast) – just add tea, sugar and the scoby, and you’re away. My batch has been turning out a fizzy drink that tastes like a cross between champagne and cider for years. It’s fresher and healthier than anything on a retail shelf and it costs pretty much cents per glass. Getting a scoby is easy: look online or just ask at your local health shop. There’s always someone with a scoby going spare because every time you brew a batch, you get another scoby. Self perpetuating health – does it get any better than that?
Of course it wouldn’t be Smoothie Club without a smoothie, so Kim of Kimmithgone (Miss Smoothie Club herself) whipped up a batch of a kombucha and fruit smoothie. As with last month’s mung bean and chamomile tea number, this was a long way from something I’d try at home (I’m not a big fan of feijoas) but it was actually delicious. And again, it served as a reminder that I’ve got to break out of my kale, dinosaur kale and spinach-based smoothie lifestyle. The perils of being a creature of habit, but I’m getting there. I actually put carrots and cucumber in a recent smoothie – someone call the papers! ASHLEY KRAMER