While writing a post about making fermented ketchup, I found I was basically writing a book. The recipe was super simple and really didn’t need to be a million words. But, I thought my ideas about fermented foods and why I try to consume less sugar may be interesting or helpful to some. As a result, I wrote this separate post.
For those unacquainted with home fermentation, as well as those raised in the anti-bacteria generation (hi mom!), the term lacto fermentation may send a jolt of fear down your spine. Why on earth would you want to add bacteria to your food? But more and more research is coming out about the importance our health has on having a diverse microbiota, the community of microorganisms inhabiting every living thing on earth, and that our modern diets are hurting this diversity. People are turning to fermented foods as a solution to this lack of diversity for two reasons: it is how we preserved food before the modern convenience of refrigeration and chemical preservatives and it is a method that depends on the growth of bacteria.
I am not a scientist or doctor. I am not a journalist who has had a month to research this piece. What I have written here is a short summary of my thoughts and some shared ideas about fermented food, the gut, and eating sugar. I am by no means an authority on the subject. Chat with your doc before you jump into any new regimen or routine.
WHAT ARE FERMENTED FOODS?
A food that is fermented is simply food were the sugars have been broken down by microorganisms into acid, gas, alcohol, or all three.
In my most recent post for a ketchup recipe, I used lacto fermentation in order to add probiotic properties to the sweet, tangy condiment. There are many ways to ferment. Lacto fermentation is one of the oldest ways humans have preserved food throughout history. It has everything to do with the specific kind of bacteria used in the fermentation process, lactobacillus, and does not necessarily have to do with dairy. Lactobacillus is a common bacteria found on all fruits and vegetables. These bacteria convert sugar into lactic acid, which in turn keeps away bad bacteria and preserves food.
You can simply lacto ferment anything, say carrots, by pouring a brine over them and letting them sit at room temperature for a period of time. The salt is the key ingredient in this method. It’s basically pickling. It is how we preserved foods before refrigeration and the ability to can with a hot water bath. You can also use a starter, similar to baking sourdough, which is what I did in my ketchup recipe. I took a little bit of the liquid from something that was already fermented, in this case yogurt or kombucha, and added the good bacteria from those foods into the ketchup. This gives the fermentation process a head start.
FFFTW (fermented foods for the win)
If you’re feeling a little uncomfortable about the idea of eating fermented foods, let’s talk about all the everyday things we eat in North America that are also fermented (and are so good because they are fermented).
- hard sausages like pepperoni, salami, and chorizo
- black tea
- sourdough bread
- balsamic and other vinegars
- hot sauce
- WINE! and other alcoholic bevies like beer, cider, and mead
This is basically a list of my favorite foods. See, not so scary.
Fermented Foods and The Gut
So I am a fermented food apologist because these foods are seriously tasty, but also we are finding out that there are major implications of the health of our gut on the health of our body. The benefits of building a strong microbiota to prevent disease and maintain mental health are becoming more and more evident. Increasing your intake of fermented foods, along with eating a variety of whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes, can be one way build a stronger gut. Here are a couple articles if you’d like to read more. This article is from a peer reviewed journal about fermented foods and mental health, for all you academics. Here is an article for the rest of us by BBC Good Food about the health benefits of fermented foods.
Sugar and The Gut
My daughter Willow is a very good eater, as long as there is a bottle of ketchup on the table. It’s equally a relief and annoying at the same time. While I’m glad that Willow is willing to try almost any food and doesn’t need a lot of bribing to eat dinner, she ends up eating a lot of ketchup in the process. A tablespoon of store bought ketchup contains 4 g of sugar. While that doesn’t seem like much, Willow will consume over 3 Tbsp of ketchup at dinner alone. Those 12 grams of sugar are equivalent to 3 teaspoons of sugar, which is half the daily recommended amount of sugar for an ADULT! So basically, all the hard work I put into making a healthy dinner was partially destroyed.
While there seem to be numerous health affects to eating a diet high in sugar, it can also wreak havoc on your gut. Remember, those bacteria live on sugar and produce alcohol, gas, acid, or a combination of the three. Imagine what could happen in the gut if we add too much sugar. Also, if your gut has an imbalance of good bacteria and bad bacteria, and the bad bacteria are winning, feeding it a bunch of sugar may be causing the bad bacteria to win even more.
“NATURAL” SUGAR VS PROCESSED SUGAR
As a solution to my daughter’s ketchup problem, I made a homemade ketchup recipe that has almost half the sugar of store bought ketchup but also uses maple syrup as a sweetener, which is minimally processed, as opposed to glucose, corn syrup or cane sugar. While there is no definitive research about whether or not less processed sugars are better for you than processed sugars, it is true that less processed maple syrup and raw honey have phytonutrients, minerals, and antioxidants that have been completely stripped from processed sugar. That seems reason enough to me to stick with a less processed option. When you see something sweetened over here at POP KITCHEN, most of the time it will be with a “natural” sweetener for this very reason.
DON’T STOP HERE!
Do you find this interesting? There are loads of resources, books and articles, being written every day about these two very hot topics. Do you want to know more? Keep digging. Feeling skeptical about the whole thing? “Thumb” through the numerous articles I have tagged here in this post. Have any questions or comments? Leave me a message below or on my contact page.
I hope this gives you a little more information about fermentation and gives you that extra nudge to try fermenting at home (i.e. my homemade ketchup recipe). Wink wink. Nudge nudge.