Last year I heard the Hemsley sisters speak at their book signing in Edinburgh. They were promoting their cookbook, Good + Simple. ‘Cooking with love, for someone you love’ was a phrase they used a lot. Their way of eating and living doesn’t cut out ‘all the good stuff’, as many healthy eating regimes demand. They are all about natural, organic, fresh home cooking. You don’t need to be paleo, or even vegetarian, to enjoy their ethos and get stuck in to their recipes.
What is important though, is how you treat your gut. They are the first to admit it’s not the sexiest of topics, but one we need to hear more about. Inspired by their energy and enthusiasm, I wanted to find out more about the gut and the benefits of eating fermented foods.
The gut, otherwise known as our digestive system, is in many ways key to how our body functions. It helps us to digest our food, decide exactly what to do with it and protects us against unnecessary substances as required. Our immune system is located in the gut and many of the chemicals responsible for our mood are produced there. It can even be considered to have it’s own brain!
The bacteria in our gut (technical name: microbes) play the most important role. They ensure we get all the nutrients we need, fight infection, regulate our bodily functions and even communicate with our central nervous system. So you can see, ensuring a healthy environment for these microbes is essential.
There are certain foods that produce probitoics, or ‘good bacteria’, during the fermentation process. This good bacteria aids our digestion and help us on our way to having a happy, healthy gut. So, what are these foods, and how can we factor them into our diet?
Just a quick side note, before you bulk buy in mason jars and delve into trying all the foods listed below, remember: everyone’s body is different, just like our hair and our skin. Not all these foods will agree with you. We all have different levels of bacteria in our gut, and this effects how well we can process and digest raw foods. Try a little at a time, and most importantly, listen to your gut and how the food you are putting through it is making you feel.
Pickling foods has been around for centuries, it’s what we did before fridges were invented to preserve fruit and vegetables. Get back to basics and pickle your own cucumbers. All you need is salt, white vinegar, root ginger and a form of natural sugar. This BBC Good Food recipe suggests stem ginger in sugar syrup.
How to eat it: picked cucumbers work wonders on a burger or in a roast beef sandwich. Add a few slices to salad to give it a bit of zing.
Incredibly easy to make (and quite stinky!) all you need is cabbage, a little bit of salt, a mason jar, salt water and patience. The Hemsley sisters swear by the stuff, you can find their incredibly easy recipe in their first book, The Art of Eating Well.
How to eat it: exactly as you would with braised cabbage. Enjoy it with a casserole, throw it in a stir-fry or have it with bangers and mash.
For those who enjoy Asian spices and flavours, Kimchi may be more desirable than Sauerkraut. Exactly the same process but a different type of cabbage – napa cabbage – and the addition of garlic, ginger, radishes, scallions, fish sauce and spices. Follow this recipe.
How to eat it: Mix it into pork mince for an Asian-style burger, add it to your favourite egg fried rice recipe or throw it in a frittata.
Miso paste is simply fermented soy beans and gives food a strong umami flavour. However it seems to take up to 6 months, if not longer, to ferment, so I don’t think it’s one I’ll be trying at home. For the patient ones amongst you, try this recipe. For others, Miso paste is usually fairly easy to come by in your local supermarket.
How to eat it: Miso soup will be the method you are most familiar with, but it is also delicious when used as a marinade on tuna steaks.
Last but not least, the one I find most appealing… mainly because it can be used in cocktails instead of sodas. Yes, you read that correctly, we can make cocktails healthier! Kombucha is a type of fermented tea, typically black or green. It is less well known, and therefore not nearly as readily available, you’ll need to head to your local health food shop to get your hands on some.
How to drink it: Whenever you want to reach for a fizzy drink, enjoy some chilled Kombucha instead, it will do your body the world of good. Plus, make sure it features in any brunch time cocktails instead of sodas or mixers.