Our second Mini-Medical School was a rousing and informative investigation into the world of organic and fermented food. Dr. Taylor gave a short talk on organics and the health benefits of fermented foods. Kathryn Lukas, owner of Farmhouse Culture, shared a history of sauerkraut and offered a demonstration of kraut preparation and a tasting. For those of you who were not able to attend and for those who were there who need references, here is a summary of our event.
Dr. Taylor spoke about the benefits of organic foods and distributed a flyer from CCOF, one of the two organic certifying agencies in California. The other is “USDA Organic”. There are many reasons to eat organic. Pesticide residues are clearly a risk factor for many diseases and disorders, especially for young and growing children. There are a large and increasing number of scientific studies identifying the risks of pesticides and herbicides. On a larger scale, organic gardening is more sustainable for the earth and will probably prove more resistant to climate change than monoculture. If you ever need to buy conventionally farmed foods the best information is from The Environmental Working Group. The EWG has a useful app for your smart phone (also available to download to print). It is called the “Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen” food list at www.ewg.org.
Refrigeration is a relatively recent invention. Although our generation has never known anything else, most of mankind’s history with food preservation utilized smoking, salting, drying and fermenting. Fermented foods that are familiar are sourdough bread, sauerkraut, kimchee, yogurt, kefir, kombucha, but also coffee, cocoa and vanilla.
There are four primary benefits of fermented foods: pre-digestion, nutritional enhancement, detoxification and live bacterial cultures. Pre-digestion occurs when relatively indigestible fibers are broken down to smaller parts that are more easily digested by humans. This also makes some minerals more available. Nutritional enhancement refers to the production of several vitamins by the microorganisms directing the fermentation process as well as other compounds such as nattokinase which appears to have specific health benefits. Cabbage ferments produce compounds that appear to reduce cancer risk. Detoxification of phytates occurs in fermentation. Phytates bind minerals and prevent absorption. There is a fermentation enzyme that releases the minerals bound to grains, legumes, seeds and nuts. Finally, the effect of the live bacterial culture is vitally important. You can take supplemental pro-biotics, but research shows that they colonize the gut somewhat briefly. It is better to think of your bacterial companions as a vast and complex rainforest that you cannot replant with just one or two species. Clearly, it is in your best interest to consume a variety of friendly probiotic foods and supplements to establish a healthy ecosystem. The human cells in your body are outnumbered 10 to 1 by the bacteria in your digestive tract, so being on good terms is very important. Recent research demonstrated improved immune function with a healthy gut flora. This is actually no surprise since a large portion of your immune system is in the gut!
Kathryn Lukas then gave us a masterful presentation of the history of sauerkraut, and a demonstration of kraut making. All of her Farmhouse Culture ingredients are locally sourced, including the salt! It was amazing to see the cut cabbage, coming from the field already colonized with right lactic acid bacteria, develop into a kraut just with the application of salt. We followed the demonstration with a tasting of her creative varieties with Kimchee and Ginger Beet being a big favorite. Farmhouse culture products are locally available at Whole Foods in the refrigerated section. More information is available at www.farmhouseculture.com.
References and resources
Sandor Katz, The Art of Fermentation, 2012, Chelsea Green-A great summary of ferments by a master fermenter and also friend of Kathryn!
For kraut making supplies and a good time Kathryn recommends: Mountain Feed and Farm Supply, 9550 Highway 9, Ben Lomond, CA, www.mountainfeed.com
Classes and resources at Happy Girl Kitchen at 173 Central in Pacific Grove, California, www.happygirlkitchen.com