Ferments seem to be the newest health craze. But the truth is they are a form of food preservation cultivated by our ancestors. Before the invention of refrigeration, there was fermentation. This was necessary to preserve the autumn harvest and supply food over long, arduous winters. Every culture across the globe has its unique form of fermentation and most cultures continue the tradition of aging, storing and eating these sour foods.
So, are American hipsters returning to this age-old process because they really like the taste of vinegar, pickles and soured milk, or for the health benefits of fermented foods? Due to poor diets, antibiotics and overconsumption of sugar, many Americans are beginning to feel the pain of gut disorders. Inside your digestive system live thousands of bugs, some good, called probiotics, and some not so good. The key to a healthy gut is a ratio of 80% good gut bacteria to 20% bad, but for most people that percentage is flipped. The roots of the word probiotic are pro meaning “for” and biotic meaning “life.” This brings a new meaning to the word antibiotics.
Most people are now supplementing with expensive bottles of probiotics. Although this is a start, there is a better way to restore gut health. Pill forms usually contain about 10 strains of probiotics. But over 200 different forms of probiotics reside in your intestines. Using the same pill every day can lead to a different form of imbalance by overdosing on the same bugs day in and day out. By eating a variety of fermented foods, you receive a variety of bugs. Your body’s wisdom will help guide you to the ones it needs most by creating cravings for certain ferments.
Your local health food store now carries ferments like kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut and kefir. Most of these items come with a hefty price tag. Sometimes sugar has been added. Read labels!
Some research shows that homemade ferments can contain 20 times more probiotics than the store bought versions. Those of you who are kitchen savvy and/or want to save money should consider making your own food and beverage ferments. Once I embarked on eating homemade ferments daily, I witnessed a slew of benefits. I looked younger, my acne cleared up and my energy was restored to the point that I no longer needed my morning cup of coffee!
Here’s my favorite recipe for ginger ale, the original soda pop. It’s a great starting point because it’s easy on the palate.
This natural recipe for ginger ale uses fresh ginger and a cultured ginger mixture (called a ginger bug) to create a naturally fermented and naturally fizzy ginger ale. This mixture can contain a small amount of alcohol if left to ferment at room temperature for weeks; I use the short-brew method to create a fizzy soda without the alcohol.
Homemade ginger ale is soothing for digestive disturbances and contains probiotics and enzymes. As with any fermented product, I suggest drinking small amounts (4 ounces) and slowly increasing the dosage as all the probiotics and enzymes can cause an upset stomach for those not used to consuming fermented products.
Natural Ginger Ale
You will need:
• large pot to hold at least one gallon easily
• several Groelsch-style flip-top bottles (can be found at the Beer Nut or on amazon.com)
• Fresh ginger root
• organic sugar
• filtered or spring water
• strainer or fine mesh colander
• 2 lemons
Part 1: Start the ginger bug
This is going to be your starter or “bug,” which is reusable. The ginger bug prefers temperatures above 75 degrees F.
1. Chop 2 Tbsp. of fresh ginger, cleaned but not peeled.
2. Add the chopped ginger to a mason jar.
3. Add 1 c. water. Do not use tap water as chlorine kills the good bacteria needed to make this work.
4. Add 1 tsp. of organic sugar and stir vigorously. Place lid on jar, cover with towel and ferment in cupboard at room temperature for 24 hours.
5. Everyday for the next 6 to 7 days, add another tsp. of organic sugar and a tsp. of chopped ginger. Be sure to stir well each time. By the end of the week, the water will have become somewhat cloudy and you should see the little bubbles. Now you have a live bacteria start.
Part 2: Make the base
1. Into a large pot add 6-7 oz. of grated fresh ginger to 3.75 qts of non-chlorinated water (almost a gallon).
2. Add 1.5 c. organic sugar.
3. Reduce heat and let boil gently for 20-30 minutes.
4. Let mixture cool. This is important: Do not add the bug when the base is too
hot or it will kill the good bacteria culture.
5. After cooling, add the juice of 2 lemons and stir.
6. Add most of the starter bug/water from Part 1, reserving a few tablespoons of the bug to be reused for your next starter.
7. Mix the bug with the base, then strain the ginger pieces out through a fine mesh strainer into a larger bowl or pot.
8. Using a funnel, bottle the ginger beer into airtight bottles and leave in a dark place to ferment and get fizzy. Check in 5-6 days if room temperature is above 75 degrees. You can leave them longer for a more fizzy ferment; just be sure to let the gas out and check them so they don’t explode!
9. The culture is a living bacteria. I find that all of my ferments work and taste much better if I take the time to give them some sweet words of love and encouragement as I place them in the cupboard.
10. Use extreme caution when checking your bottle. Open slowly in the sink. Ginger beer often gets quite active and can spray all over if the CO2 is not released slowly and carefully.
11. If fizzy, move to the fridge; otherwise leave out at room temp for a few more days.
Ginger has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years and is said to help:
• soothe digestive disturbances
• alleviate nausea (great in early pregnancy)
• reduce fever
• calm coughing and respiratory troubles
• stimulate the circulatory system
• relieve muscle aches and pain
• cure dandruff
• lower cholesterol, blood pressure and cancer risk
Nicole deVaney offers classes on fermenting at her own studio (Iron and Salt) at 13th South and 9th East, and at Real Foods Market in Sugar House. She has been fermenting for over five years and loves showing people how easy and fun it can be. www.IronAndSalt.com