Beating the Winter Blahs and Boosting Health With Beneficial Bacteria

Photo of sauerkraut by JoePhoto via FlickrOkay, who out there is weary of this winter weather and being inside-bound and weighted down with layer upon layer to fend off the bitter cold?  I have been seriously stir-crazy and blue, too, so I went looking for some solution, some relief from the bleakness found within and without. I needed some way to figuratively “climb out of winter,” like the flower bulbs will do come springtime. I decided a new hobby would help keep me going until the first crocuses surface.

Here’s what I found to do:

Make sauerkraut!

I’d been hearing in the ambient noise surrounding me the past few years that fermented foods had health benefits, and I had a vague notion it had to do with dosing your gut with friendly bacteria. Fermented foods (miso, tempeh, kefir, yogurt, kombucha, kimchi and other cultured vegetables, cheese, beer, wine, etc.) are taste bud-pleasers with lots of flavor and zing and texture – that in and of itself is good thing.

And always looking to economize, I felt compelled to try making my own kraut, because unpasteurized (pasteurizing foods kills bacteria, including the friendly stuff) kraut is expensive – $7 for a quart jar! Since the ingredients are very cheap, just salt and cabbage, $7 seemed too dear a price to pay, especially if I wanted to eat it on a regular basis.

But what makes fermented foods so beneficial to your health? In the fermentation process microscopic bacteria and fungi produce alcohol, lactic and acetic acids, which naturally preserve the food, thereby retaining their nutrients. Fermentation also breaks the nutrients down into more easily digestible form, increases the bioavailability of minerals and creates new nutrients. In a nutshell, by eating fermented foods you essentially line your gut with healthy living cultures vital to breaking down food and assimilating its nutrients. “Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods” by Sandor Ellix Katz has a short and informative chapter, “Cultural Rehabilitation,” that nicely explains the health benefits of fermented foods. In my reading about this topic, I also discovered that research indicates that live bacteria in fermented foods improve the body’s “response-ability” to infection and inflammation.  Wow! That’s a lot of health benefits to claim.

I was thrilled to demystify this process, and it was SO easy. The results were scrumptious, and visually, the food was stunning. (Did you know that purple cabbage turns a bright, neon magenta when transformed into kraut?) There is an easy recipe in this book if you’d like to give kraut a crack.

So now I have a spot on my kitchen countertop permanently dedicated to small-batch jars of fermenting food. I’m not going to stop with kraut either. On to kimchi, kefir and kombucha!

Photo used under a creative commons license

About Larkspur

Larkspur prefers biking to work, even in the rain and snow, having 2-3 car-free days per week. She raises children, frequents the Farmers’ Market, dances and earnestly wedges in time to draw, print-make and paint, and sometimes knits, and sometimes writes poetry.
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