Monday, May 19, 2014

Healthy Foods Healthier, Part Three, the Ferment

The Ferment.  This process is one thing about cooking that is nearly universally misunderstood.  In America anyway.  Other cultures do it, they just probably don't actually understand it, they just know it happens, and the food that was fermented, is altered.  It tastes different, it can be stored longer, and you feel better after eating it.  Yep, it becomes healthier.  Better.  And yet most people shun the ferment, they think it's bad, stinky, and rotten.  And for those that think "There's stuff growing in it!" all I can say is, "How little you know about the world."

Fermentation has been around since the beginning of life.  It is after all, just bacterial growth. From the beginning of creation, bacteria fed upon the remnants of other bacteria and then plants and animals as evolution (or creation, if you are so inclined in thinking) progressed from single celled things to multi cellular plants and animals.  At some point everything that lives, dies, and then fermentation takes place.  Man, learned a thing or two during their evolutionary path from the jungle to the city, and how to control that ferment is top of the list.  To my friends that claim they don't or won't eat anything stinky or alive, I point out the wonders of the ferment to them.  Alcohol, yogurt, cheese, pickles, (okay, that one is a stretch, no one actually makes real pickles anymore) and just for fun, meat.  WHAT?  MEAT?  Yeah, weird hunh?  Meat for the most part is fermented.  Back in those old Paleolithic days of yore, man learned that after the lions killed it and ate their fill, the leftover meats that sat on the ground for a few days were tastier, more tender, and more easily digested.  So it became the standard practice for our cavemen ancestors that when they finally learned to sharpen sticks and kill their own beasts that they hang it up in their caves for a few days.  A practice that continues to this day, with wild game hanging when shot, and better steak houses dry aging their beef in order to add a premium price to it.  Even the standard grocery store version of modern meat (YUCK) lets the stuff age at least 5 to 7 days, as that allows a bit of fermenting in the flesh as well as lets the natural enzymes begin to breakdown the collagen fibers.  Oh my, look, healthier. 

Yep, my friends eat fermented foods all the time and they don't even know it.  Probably the stuff they and well, most people eat isn't really all that much healthier for them in the long run what with it being provided by modern agrigiant food conglomerates that have learned to harness the ferment and make a buck on the process.  Grocery store yogurt is a far cry from the real deal that anyone can easily make at home, but there are a few live bacteria in the stuff.  And those bacteria are in reality, good for the overall health of our own digestive systems.  Modern research has been alluding to the fact that modern researchers have discovered that our ancestors might have figured out a thing or two about living healthier lives and that the multitude of bacteria living within us can in fact be beneficial to our lives.  And a healthy gut flora leads to a healthy life.  I think that is something that most people in the world knew for generations and it has only been in the last century or so that big business has destroyed the lifestyle of the ancients to provide us with quick and easy foods that make profit and forgo the hard won knowledge from the past.

So, what can we do, what can we eat that will feed our digestive system, satisfy our taste buds and make us into the proverbial Popeyes from the cartoons with health, vigor and life sustaining nutrition?  Look for the stuff, it's there.  Make your own, it's easy.  Hey, think about it, cavemen and ancient people living in mud huts made the stuff, you can too.  Some stuff to look for and try,
  • Kombucha Tea
  • Real yogurt, Kefir, Lebin, Lasso (milk products
  • Real cheeses, un pasteurized boutique produced from small farms (O M G the flavors)
  • Kimchee, real uncooked sour kraut, 
  • Real pickles if you can find them, the fermented kind are FAR FAR FAR superior
  • Natto, Miso and other fermented soy products (fermenting is the only way to make soy edible)
  • Fermented Bean products found in most oriental markets provide a multitude of flavors
  • Bread
I know what your thinking, bread?  Yeah, bread is a fermented product and it has been a traditional ferment product for over a hundred thousand years.  Fermenting the grain actually breaks down the lectins and phytates that make it indigestible and a bit unhealthy and miraculously turn the stuff into a plethora of readily available nutritional powerhouse.  Bread used to be made that way, I can remember as a child an old TV commercial for a bakery that actually advertised that they took the time to allow long rises with the result being better flavor and nutrition.  They don't do that anymore, no one does.  Well, no commercial baker does, it takes time, and time is MONEY.  But that just means that what I preach to everyone here on my blog is in fact real and important.  It only takes a bit of time, but anyone can learn to bake their own bread, and once you get away from the horrors of commercial stuff you won't ever go back.  In fact, once you start eating any of the stuff in the list above, you will see the difference in your over all health, your bowel habits, your increased vigor, vim and vitality.  And you will begin to seek out more and more of the weird stuff not just for the flavor, which in itself is an excursion into realms most people never visit but love love love once there; but to get an extra dose of good healthy bacteria.  We now know that the more varied the varieties of healthy bacteria in your system, the better.  Oh, and just for fun, this link goes to one website that I rip here all the time, Mark's Daily Apple, just one site about Paleo diets that is chock full of misinformation and erroneous conclusions about food.  But they do have this one right about fermented food. 

Anyway, let's just talk about one recipe that you can use to make bread using the time honored tradition of the ferment to make a food product, in this case wheat, healthier.  Start off your bread making excursion the night before.  Grind some wheat into flour, or buy a good high quality whole wheat flour that is ground then packed in nitrogen to prevent oxidation of the nutrients.  Next put two cups water in mixing bowl, dissolve one 500 mg tab of Vitamin C in it.  (Vitamin C does a good job of mimicking the toxic dough conditioners the big agribusinesses use) and add a half cup plain yogurt.  Mix in enough flour to form a think paste.  Cover it and let sit overnight.  The next day, dissolve a tablespoon of yeast in a quarter cup water, and add it to the mixer.  Add some honey, a half teaspoon good sea salt and mix on low for a few minutes.  If not a stiff dough, add just enough flour to make one.  Knead the dough on low speed for eight minutes, then add a stick of butter.  When incorporated into the dough, turn the mixer off and either move to a oiled bowl or just let rise in the mixing bowl for an hour.  Punch the dough down and let rise again for an hour.  Then take globs of the dough out and shape into loaves and put into oiled pans.  Let rise, score the top and bake at 425 until well browned.  This stuff is the bomb. 

Anyway,  a lot of the stuff in the list above you can make at home and even though some of it is a bit stinky, the flavor profiles are remarkable.  I make my own kimchee style sourkrauts and eat it all the time.  I make my own yogurt and kefir and love love love them.  And I bake my own bread.  And of course, I teach all this stuff to people.  Try some yourself, hunt around, check out the local oriental markets for different things, try them, and I am certain you will be surprised. 

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