Keeping it healthy

Probiotics Part 3: Make your own fermented foods

One of the best parts about fermenting your own foods is the cost benefits. With very few exceptions (for example cheeses) it is much cheaper to make it yourself. In addition, it doesn’t take very long to prepare the raw products for fermenting and then they are just left to do their job for the specified time while they grow all the good stuff. The US department of Agriculture has produced a document that gives some tips on ferment rates which you will find at the following link: USDA Ferment Rates

Aside from those tips it is a good idea to find a recipe that has stood the test of time. I have been searching for some of these recipes and have provided links to them below.

Kimchi -

I have not personally made this one yet. I have bought it, as it is great with many main courses. Kimchi is traditional Korean dish that is primarily made from cabbage with a variety of seasonings added. It is left to ferment at room temperature for around 2 days and then placed in the fridge to slow the process down. Koreans like to use Kimchi in many dishes, and it is often consumed daily.

Just a warning, Kimchi can be quite spicy, so don’t bother if you don’t enjoy spicy food! Click on this link if you would like to try a Traditional Kimchi Recipe.

Sauerkraut -

I'm not in the habit of making sauerkraut, but I have made it once. These days I buy it as I am a bit time poor with uni, and it is a little bit fiddly.

Sauerkraut is a traditional German side dish, made with cabbage that is then fermented. It is left to ferment for 2-3 weeks and once again stored in the fridge or a cool place to slow fermentation down. With Sauerkraut it is possible to add other vegetables such as carrot and ginger to create a different flavour. There are many varieties of this dish that you can experiment with, but I have found a Traditional German Sauerkraut recipe for those who would like to start making this ferment.

Kefir -

Since kefir has about a 5 minute prep and a one day sit on the bench, I do make it regularly. We add it to cereal, or in smoothies, with yoghurt or on top of a curry or chilli con-carne.

Kefir is a type of fermented milk product like yoghurt made with kefir grains. The Kefir grains are small (10-30mm length) lobed, whitish grains that contain a combination of various lactic acid bacteria, acetic acid bacteria and yeast cells [1]. Kefir is one of the easiest ferments to make at home and has some significant reported potential beneficial effects [1]. These include:

  • Anti-carcinogenic effect

  • Anti-bacterial effect

  • Positive effect on the immune system

  • Anti-inflammatory effect

  • Reduction of high cholesterol

  • Reduction of lactose in milk

  • Increase of good bacteria in the digestive system

  • Reduction of blood glucose

  • Reduction of food allergies

  • Anti-oxidant effect

  • Reduction of blood pressure and serum cholesterol

It is important to remember that these benefits are not universally scientifically acknowledged, but consumption of kefir has shown promising results in the studies that have been undertaken.

The most difficult part of making kefir is obtaining the kefir grains. The grains grow, so once you have some, you are unlikely to need to get some more unless you stop feeding them! Due to the fact that they multiply, people that are making kefir often have extra that they can give away or sell to you. So keep an eye out for them or ask at your local health food shop. In a pinch, they can also be bought online, although the quality control may not be as good. Follow the link for a basic Milk Kefir Recipe.

Kombucha -

My daughter makes this one semi-regularly. But due to it's longer fermentation time she sometimes forgets it until it is too vinegary to drink. When she does manage to make it correctly, we enjoy it as a cool summer drink on a hot day.

Kombucha tea is a fermented drink from Russia and China. In its natural form, it has an apple cider vinegar taste to it and the longer it is left to ferment, the more vinegary it becomes. My daughter will often add fruit to the completed brew, which gives it a character somewhat like a fizzy iced tea with only a mild vinegar taste.

The health claims around this drink that have been scientifically demonstrated include [2]:

  • Anti-microbial effect

  • Anti-oxidant effect

  • Anti-carcinogenic effect

  • Anti-diabetic effect

  • Treatment of gastric ulcers

  • Treatment of high cholesterol

  • Positive impact on immune response

  • Liver detoxification.

Even so, these benefits are not universally accepted in the scientific community, but the studies undertaken have shown promising effects.

It is not a very pretty ferment. When it’s brewing, it contains a large “mother” or SCOBY (an acronym for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast). This SCOBY looks like a gelatinous circular disc that floats on the surface of the brew.

Making kombucha tea is a relatively quick and easy process, with the procurement of the SCOBY being the most difficult part. Once again, the SCOBY multiplies and so, those that regularly brew Kombucha tea will likely have a spare SCOBY to give to you or sell to you. Otherwise, you will need to search for a health food shop or online shop that will sell you one, along with a bit of the tea as a starter culture. It will take 1 to 2 weeks for your tea to be ready to consume.

Follow this link for a Kombucha Tea Recipe.

Food Safety

Fermented foods are relatively safe to consume. This is partly due to the lactic acid produced in the fermentation process which creates an environment where pathogenic bacteria are unable to survive [3]. Having said this, it is still important to follow food safety practices. These include:

  1. Ensuring the food is not contaminated prior to fermentation through contact with

contaminants such as raw meats, human or animal waste, dirty utensils and/or vessels. It is also important to wash your hands prior to contact with the raw ingredients.

  1. The correct temperature to allow for fermentation - this temperature will vary depending on what is being fermented

  • Botulism can occur if the correct temperatures are not maintained for products such as tofu and fermented bean products

  1. The correct acidity will ensure that the pathogens are killed, but ensuring that there are no contaminants in the food prior to the ferment is still important.

As previously mentioned, it is not recommended to consume fermented foods if you have a compromised immune system, critically ill or for chronically ill children.


[1] Ahmed, Z., Wang, Y., Ahmad, A., Khan, S. T., Nisa, M., Ahmad, H., & Afreen, A. (2013). Kefir and health: A contemporary perspective. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 53(5), 422.

[2] Chakravorty, S., Bhattacharya, S., Chatzinotas, A., Chakraborty, W., Bhattacharya, D., & Gachhui, R. (2016). Kombucha tea fermentation: Microbial and biochemical dynamics. International Journal of Food Microbiology, 220, 63-72. doi:10.1016/j.ijfoodmicro.2015.12.015

[3] Mizock, B. A. (2015). probiotics. Disease-a-Month : DM, 61(7), 259-290. doi:10.1016/j.disamonth.2015.03.011

Featured Posts