Pickles Gone Wild: Wild Fermentation and the Good Bugs

wild picklesI’m excited to share this super simple wild pickles recipe with you! And I’ll say up front that although my recipe calls for green tomatoes, this formula works with cucumbers, peppers, cauliflower, and just about anything else you might be curious to try pickling. The fermentation time will vary based on what you’re pickling and whether or not you cut it up or pickle it whole, but start with this framework and you’ll have yourself some effervescently sour pickled veggies in no time. Eat a few bites at every meal to encourage healthy digestion.

What are Wild Pickles?

wild picklesWhat we’re making here is not the homemade version of what you can find in the grocery store aisles. These pickles are usually sterilized and, for lack of a better word, dead. While the internet is teeming with “refrigerator” pickle recipes that include vinegar as part of the pickling liquid, these are not true pickles in the purest sense of the word. True pickles are done with a wild ferment. They are a live food packed with living bacteria that do the souring instead of all that vinegar. And they’re awesome for your digestion and your wellbeing.

How do the bacteria get into the jar?

I’ll let you in on a little secret. Bacteria are in the empty jar in your cabinet right now. And they’re on the cucumbers growing in your garden. and they’re on the dill weed, the jalapeno, in your spice  rack … you get the point. Give the bacteria that live among us the proper environment to turn something good into something great, and they’ll be up for the task. All you need is some salt water, something to pickle, and some spices to make them delicious, and let the wild bacteria do the rest!

What’s the Difference? Why Wild?

On Tuesday in part 1 of my Why Gut Health Matters series, we talked about your gut as your body’s Gate Keeper. We covered quite a bit in that post, but one of the things we touched on was the important role gut bacteria play in the integrity of the gut lining, and therefore our health in general. Ensuring that we have a healthy ratio of good bacteria to bad bacteria in the gut is an integral step toward having a healthy gut lining and preventing leaky gut.  

Before we go further though, a little vocabulary speed round is in order.

All of these words refer to the microscopic bugs that live in your intestinal tract, primarily in the colon. I’ll use them interchangeably for the most part:

  • gut bacteria
  • microbiota
  • probiotic (refers to the good ones only)
  • microbiome (refers to the whole ecosystem)

So what else do probiotics do?

  1. Probiotics play a vital role in strengthening our immune system. In fact, anywhere from 65 to 90% of our immune system lives in our gut in the form of epithelial cells (villi), which are fed by … drumroll please … probiotics. These bugs keep us well!
  2. Probiotics protect us from harmful bacteria. They take up space in our bowel that might otherwise be filled with harmful bacteria, which cause disease, create gas and bloating, promote inflammation, make us crave sugar and junk food, and can even negatively affect our mood, resilience, and cognition. They also release substances (including lactic acid) that inhibit the growth of the bad guys, preventing them from taking over and wreaking havoc on our health. 
  3. Probiotics produce bioavailable vitamins from the foods we eat. Without beneficial bacteria in our gut, we would have no access to the B Complex (biotin, thiamine, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, folic acid, and B12). We would also be deficient in vitamin K, because the bugs down there actually synthesize it from our food.
  4. Probiotics reduce cortisol, (a stress hormone) and increase GABA (a relaxing chemical), therefore positively affecting mood disorders like anxiety and depression, and reducing stress. Reducing cortisol also improves insulin sensitivity, which is beneficial for folks at risk of developing type 2 diabetes or other metabolic disorders.

Let’s get to the Pickles

wild picklesThe instructions included in this recipe are for the green cherry tomatoes I pulled from my garden when the weather was cooling down but the vines were still full. They were very fresh when they were pickled. 

I recognize that green cherry tomatoes might not be the easiest thing to find on a whim, so if you make your pickles using larger tomatoes or cucumbers and you plan to slice them up, make sure they’re SUPER FRESH, and start checking them after 24 hours. One tip I’ve read but haven’t tried is to give your cucumbers an ice water bath before starting the process. Leave them in ice water for an hour or so before getting them into the jars to freshen them up and ensure crisp and crunch in the final product. (Adding grape or blackberry leaves will do that too, but why not do both just to make sure? Who wants a mushy pickle? No one.)

If you plan to keep your cucumbers, green tomatoes, or peppers whole, wait to check them until day 6 or 7. It takes the whole veggies a while longer to pickle all the way through than the slices. I’ve seen some recipes recommend that you leave whole pickles to ferment for up to two weeks; but again — check them. No one wants a mushy pickle.  In the meantime, check out this cool video on how to chop a bunch of cherry tomatoes super quickly!

 

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Wild Pickled Green Tomatoes
This recipe works with all sorts of veggies, so be creative!
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Ingredients
  1. One 1500 mL (6 cup) jar
  2. 2 lbs green cherry tomatoes, chopped in half
  3. 2 tbs sea salt
  4. 4 cups water
  5. 1 jalapeno (I used 1/2 the seeds, but how spicy is up to you)
  6. 10 sprigs fresh dill
  7. 5 cloves garlic sliced in half
  8. 1 tbs black pepper corns
  9. 1/2 tbs whole coriander seeds
  10. 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  11. 1 tbs mustard seeds
  12. OPTIONAL: grape leaves or blackberry leaves (this ingredient is as source of tannins, which is intended to promote crispness -- more useful when pickling cucumbers)
Instructions
  1. Slice the green tomatoes in half (for full-sized tomatoes, quarter them instead of halving them)
  2. Pack the jar tightly with all the tomatoes leaving at least two inches of space at the top of the jar
  3. Add all other ingredients on top of tomatoes
  4. Dissolve salt in 2 cups warm water in a separate container
  5. Pour salt water over all ingredients into the jar
  6. Fill the jar with the remaining 4 cups of water leaving no less than 1 inch at the top for gas and ensuring that the veggies are completely submerged in the liquid -- this is important. If you need to put something heavy on top to weigh down the veggies waiting to be pickled, do it.
  7. Seal tightly and leave on the counter at room temperature for 3 to 5 days (check at 24 hours for sliced cucumbers)
  8. You want the tomatoes to be firm but pickled all the way through (not mushy). When they are to your liking, refrigerate them and they will keep indefinitely
Notes
  1. BE CAREFUL when you open the jar for the first time. Gas can build up and create some effervescence as the bacteria do their thing.
Cultivated Wellbeing http://cultivatedwellbeing.com/

Why Gut Health Matters: A Series on You

As you probably know, gut health is one of my pet topics. I truly believe that it’s the cornerstone for whole-body and whole-mind health, not just because I had a radical change in my skin after healing my gut, but because volumes of research on this topic have shown that gut health is linked to everything from mood to the immune system; from stress to weight gain; from endocrine disruption to vitamin absorption; and the list goes on. Gut health will determine not only how our bodies function inside our skin, but how we interface with the world around us. In no uncertain terms, it has the power to determine the course of our lives.

why gut health matters - heal your gut

photo sourced through Creative Commons (Pixabay – 214522)

A Series on Gut Health

Over the course of the next few weeks, I’m going to dedicate at least one post per week to this series. I’m going to write until I run out of things to say, and in doing so, I’m going to propose some actions steps for you to take if you suspect that your gut health isn’t quite in order. To that end, I don’t know how many I’ll end up writing, but here’s what I have in mind right now, in no particular order.

Why Gut Health Matters: Your Gate Keeper
Why Gut Health Matters: Your Mood
Why Gut Health Matters: Your Weight
Why Gut Health Matters: Your Skin
Why Gut Health Matters: Your Stress

Under each of these posts should be a subheading that reads: How Inflammation in the Gut Affects Your ________. I’ve spent the last week or so taking a virtual class put together by the Institute for Brain Potential for continuing education credit called Understanding the Gut Brain: Stress, Appetite, Digestion, and Mood. This class, along with hours and hours of research of my own will inform the posts to come.

why gut health matters - heal your gut

free image sourced through Creative Commons

We’ll cover good bugs and bad bugs in the gut (aka: microbiota, gut flora, probiotics) and what they might be doing to your health. And we’ll also cover how to get the good bug to bad bug ratio back to ideal. We’ll talk about how the body becomes inflamed from within and how that affects the brain and our autoimmunity, and we’ll also cover how to throw ice on the flames. We’ll talk about just how much control we have over our own appetites and how physical changes inside our bodies can send our weight skyrocketing — and we’ll talk about ways to get that under control too. Overall, this series is going to draw lines connecting gut health (or the absence of it) to a number of ailments I know some of you are living with every day. 

It’s too often that I hear about people my age and younger suffering with debilitating autoimmune disease, painful cystic acne or skin problems, a laundry list of allergies, mild or severe mood disorders, and digestive distress that keeps them from venturing too far from the bathroom.  I’m certainly not saying that older folks should be suffering from these things any more than those my age and younger, but just as Type 2 Diabetes and fatty liver (both conditions historically referred to as “adult-onset” or reserved for an aging population) are creeping into the lives of younger and younger people, so too are these ailments I’ve listed commonly experienced by the elderly or infirm. 

Your Action Required

Either on Facebook or right here in the Comments Section, I’d like to hear from you which topic you’d like me to cover first. I’m sort of working on all of these at once because they’re so interrelated, but if there’s a burning question you have about one of the subtopics I listed above, please let me know that you’d like me to prioritize that one. It’s my goal to give you as much information as I can to motivate you to take action on behalf of your own health — and your own quality of life. 

For a sneak peek and general overview of some of the topics into which I’m going to deeply dive, check out Your Single Most Important Health Advice – Heal Your Gut. At the bottom of that post, you’ll find some simple tips to get you started in the process of healing your gut. Pick one to try next week, and I’ll be sure to give you good reason to stick with it over the course of this series.

GIVEAWAY!! Garden of Life Raw Meal [Product Review]

GOL-RawMealChoc

I’m so excited to be doing my first official product review and giveaway with Garden of Life! I met some Garden of Life reps at this year’s BlogHer conference in San Jose, and I learned about their very generous product review program. In exchange for a little PR from bloggers, Garden of Life shares full-sized samples with the writers AND the readers! I’m stoked to be giving this stuff away to you! Stay tuned, because a few more giveaways are in the works!

Background: My Past Life in Retail

Before I launch into this review, I wanted to share that I used to pedal these products (and many others) as the Supplement Buyer and Specialist at Whole Foods Market back on the East Coast. In that role, I was in charge of choosing what went on the shelves and how they were displayed. Part of my responsibility in selling all the products in the Whole Body department was to actually know what I was talking about when customers asked me questions. We were lucky to have vendors from so many supplement companies come and tell us about their products and why it might be beneficial to include them in a healthy lifestyle plan. In truth, these little vendor sessions are the reason I’m doing what I’m doing today. I was inspired.

All this is to say that I have learned about and tried a number of Garden of Life products over the years, and I understand where they sit in comparison to competitors on the shelves of natural food stores. I recognize that these products are not cheap, and I assure you that there’s a reason for that. Garden of Life offers high quality, organic, sprouted (when possible) whole food dietary supplements. They emphasize improved bioavailability of all the ingredients in their products and push for the biggest “bang for the buck” whenever possible, cramming in as many phytonutrients and boosters as they can.

Food vs Supplements

I’ll be the first to say that I’m more of a “food eater” than a “powder mixer” or “pill-popper,” so when Garden of Life offered these product reviews to me, I was hesitant. I hope that knowing I rarely take supplements will actually bolster your opinion of the products I review — if I’m going to bother reviewing them, it’s because I think they’re worth using. Take that for what it’s worth. 🙂

garden of life raw meal

When you have a look at the ingredients panel of most Garden of Life products, you’ll likely notice things that aren’t included in your typical bottle of vitamins or vat of protein powder. You’ll see sprouted grains, beans, and seeds, sea vegetables, green powders and juices, enzymes and probiotics. Basically, you’ll see things that you might buy in the bulk section of your grocery store condensed into supplement form. I like that. I think that supplements like these can play two potential roles in a person’s life.

  1. Training Wheels: If you’re just starting out on a new healthy lifestyle plan and need to on-ramp, so to speak, supplementing could be a good idea. They can help you bridge the gap between your old way of life and your slowly improving lifestyle.
  2. Next-level Booster: If you’re feeling like you’ve made all the changes you can make and are doing the very best you can with your diet and lifestyle but still feel like you need a boost (whether it’s a boost for fat loss, energy, muscle gain, digestive support, immune support, etc), then taking a few supplements could do the trick here as well. 

Typical Protein Powders

There are 2 main reasons  I don’t tend to use protein powders all that much.

  1. Flavor
  2. Quality

Flavor

I don’t like to advocate that people force themselves to stomach nasty products in the name of health. I believe that enjoying what you’re eating and doing is an integral part of being healthy, and I choose to live that way. Most protein powders taste chalky or chemical-y, or just gross to me, so I don’t use them. I do have a few favorites (check out my online store to see some of them), and I’ve just added a new favorite to the list with this Raw Meal product.

Quality

Supplements are just like food when it comes to quality, in that where and how the ingredients are sourced will impact how your body responds to them.

  • Organic ingredients in supplements are superior to conventional ones for the same reason organic foods are superior.
  • If you’re dairy-intolerant, whey won’t work for you.
  • If you have digestive or hormonal challenges, you probably shouldn’t be consuming massive amounts of soy.
  • If you’re trying to avoid GMOs, then you probably shouldn’t be consuming whey or soy, because chances are those cows were fed GMO corn and the vast majority of soy grown in this country is of the GMO variety.
  • How thoroughly these ingredients are processed makes a a great deal of difference in how they affect your system (just like with processed foods). 
  • Protein isolates (the most common ingredient in most protein powders) are taken out of the context of their whole food constituents and can sometimes create digestive upset or put stress on the liver and kidneys.

Raw Meal

Garden of Life Raw Meal

click picture to enlarge

This product contains zero whey, zero soy, and zero protein isolate. Rather, the proteins are sourced from sprouted grains, beans, and seeds. Also included are enzymes and probiotics to support the digestive process along the way. This product really is a “meal” in that regard, and I love that about it. I chose to review the chocolate one so that I wouldn’t be tempted to turn it into the base of a smoothie, my typical use for protein powders.

As for flavor, my review is a little more nuanced. If I’m going to use a protein powder, I literally NEVER mix it exclusively with water. Every time I’ve tasted a protein powder mixed with water, I’ve found it completely disgusting. This is just me, but it’s an absolutely across-the-board truth for me, even with my very favorite protein powder of all time. Because I was doing this review however, I decided to try it a few different ways, including the way the product indicates — with water. Gross. I wasn’t surprised. 

Then I tried it with unsweetened plain almond milk, and it made a world of difference. I could drink it like that for sure!

My final addition was 1/2 a banana (with a “meal” serving.Use 1/4 a banana for the “snack” serving). This was delicious! Granted, adding a bit of banana does add some sugar and calories to your drink, but a chocolate banana version of this Raw Meal was absolutely the way to go.

Delicious!

And it was thick and creamy too, which can sometimes feel more filling than a thin, liquidy drink. If you think it’s too thick with the banana, add a bit more almond milk or maybe even a little water to thin it out some.  

I drank a “snack” serving of the Raw Meal this morning, had a muffin around 10 am, and wasn’t hungry for lunch until about 1pm. I’d say that’s a pretty good fill and would imagine that a full “meal” serving would keep me full well-past 10am. 

So there you have it folks. My first Garden of Life product review! What’d you think?

Do you want to try Raw Meal for yourself?

As I said at the beginning of this post, I am giving away some Raw Meal to my readers, and I couldn’t be more excited about it! You could be one of the 5 lucky winners of a FREE full-sized jar of Raw Meal! Simply enter to win with this awesome little raffle tool below! The more entries you have, the better your chances of winning!

If you win, I’ll contact you directly to find out where to ship your winnings!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

What’s So Great About Kombucha? (Recipe)

kombucha recipe

By now I’m sure you’ve seen the wonderful bottled kombucha beverages lined up in the refrigerators at your local health foods store. The most popular and reputable brand (in my opinion) is G.T.’s SYNERGY. They have all kinds of flavors: strawberry, blueberry, cranberry, mango, citrus, ginger, etc. You can also get them with chia seeds or with green juice; you name it, they probably make it. They’re great. I love them!

The catch is that they cost almost $4 a pop, and for a good long while I was drinking about 3 bottles a week. When I realized how much money I was spending on the stuff I knew I had to find a more affordable way to feed my habit.

Don’t get me wrong, kombucha is not an indulgence; it’s a health food. It’s a REAL health food, not a “health food.” It’s not the type of “health food” that makes nutritional claims on the front of the package and loads in hidden sugars and commercial oils behind your back. It’s extremely beneficial with tons to offer you in the way of digestive and immune function.

Over the years I’ve known a few folks who make their own kombucha, but it always seemed like too much work. When I realized the $$ I was spending and that two good friends had starters I could get for free, I decided I might as well try it. Turns out that it’s a breeze to make, and I’m excited to share the recipe for my kombucha concoctions with you today!

First Things First: What IS Kombucha?

kombucha recipeKombucha is simply a fermented tea. With the help of a SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast), strongly brewed tea and sugar are transformed into this healing, nourishing beverage over the course of a 7 to 12 day fermentation process. The customized flavoring comes in a second short (2-3 day) ferment, where you can add in fruits, juices, herbs, and spices to make the drink your own, but we’ll get into that in a minute.

Kombucha originated in Asia and spread to Russia and Germany in the early 1900’s and is touted as a cure-all in many folk medicine traditions. While I’m not going to claim that it’s a “cure-all,” I will say that it has a rich variety of probiotics and enzymes that aid in digestion and help strengthen the immune system. As you know from my post on the importance of gut health, I believe that healing your gut is the answer to a wide range of health problems, so you can draw your own conclusions about what kombucha might do for your body and mind. 

OK, it’s Good for Me. What Else?

kombucha recipe

image sourced through Creative Commons author: Uporabnik:Gap

It’s DELICIOUS! Some people are grossed out by their first encounter with kombucha because it has a slightly vinegary aroma when you open the bottle. I was hesitant at first too, but now I’m totally addicted! Once you get past your preconception that kombucha is a hippy-dippy weirdo vinegar drink, you’ll realize that this sweet, fizzy beverage is an absolutely perfect replacement for all those sugary drinks!

Why Kombucha > Soda

      1. It has between 2 and 10 grams of sugar per serving (10g on the high side with some SYNERGY flavors like mango, and I think it’s because they actually add some non-fermented juice into at the end) instead of the 40 to 50g in a can of soda or the toxic fake sugar in a diet one. Even fruit juice can’t compete
      2. It is naturally sweet and fizzy for those of us who need some carbonation in our lives and hate mineral water
      3. It is actively nourishing and healing rather than actively destructive to our health
      4. It contributes to gut health rather than gut dysbiosis.
      5. It comes in all kinds of delicious fruit flavors, and if you make your own, the possibilities are endless!

Alright, I’m Convinced. Let’s See that Kombucha Recipe 

Materials:

    •  1 SCOBY
    • 1 tea pot or regular pot for boiling water
    • 1 large glass storage jar (size can vary based on how much you want to make — I use a large cookie jar I found at TJ Maxx), large rubber bands (like 2 or 3)
    • paper towels
    • plain black tea (preferably organic)
    • unbleached cane sugar (preferably organic)
    • Jars/bottles

kombucha recipe

 

1. Finding a SCOBY (kombucha starter)

Finding a starter might be the most challenging part of the process. You can get one from a friend or order one from a reputable source online, but if you’re willing to TRULY start from scratch, you can also grown your own from the little blob you sometimes find at the bottom of a store-bought kombucha beverage. Here’s a great resource for instructions on how to mature that little blob into your very own adult “mother” SCOBY.

2. Brew the tea

Start out using plain, unflavored black or green tea (I mostly use black). You can either use loose or tea bags, but I think the bags are simpler and easier to clean up. Brew a strong, full pot with 6 to 8 tea bags and let it steep for 10 minutes or so. Transfer into the clean glass storage jar. Depending how big you want your batch to be, consider brewing another pot with the same tea bags and add that to the jar as well. 

3. Add the sugar

While the tea is still hot, stir in 2 cups of sugar (yes, it’s a lot, but don’t worry— your SCOBY will eat it) and let it completely dissolve into the tea.

4. Add the SCOBY and cover

Once your sweetened tea has reached room temperature, add in the SCOBY. Using 3 or 4 paper towels, cover the mouth of the jar and secure them in place with the rubber bands. This step is important. You don’t want to seal off the jar, because the SCOBY needs to breathe, but you want a pretty tight barrier to prevent any intruders. I’ve heard horror stories of folks who’ve used cheese cloth, allowing tiny flies to come lay eggs on their SCOBY. When it was time to ferment, they found maggots. GROSS!

5. Store and wait

Find a nice dark place for your tea that doesn’t get too cold. I use a kitchen cabinet. The warmer the room, the more quickly the SCOBY will eat the sugar, which is why I gave that range of 7-12 days. Make sure you make note of the day you start your ferment and when you should check it. That way you don’t forget about it and get a nice bucket of vinegar. I was lucky enough to find a jar with a tiny chalk board right on it. Love it! Feel free to check it at 7 days if you like your house particularly warm. If you’ve ever tasted kombucha, you’ll know when it’s ready. If you let it go too long, you’ve made yourself some kombucha vinegar. When it’s time to bottle your ‘buch, leave about 2 cups in with your SCOBY so it doesn’t go hungry between batches. At that point, you can either start your next one or wait up to a couple of weeks to start the next one, still storing it in the cabinet.

And how about those flavors? 

To flavor your kombucha, you want to do a much shorter second ferment (2-3 days). I’ll tell you the way I do it with the amount I make (just shy of a gallon), which requires jars AND bottles, but you can do it however it makes sense to you. I find this way the easiest and the easiest to clean up.

Materials:

    •  6 clean jars with air tight lids (I use these exact jars – affiliate link)
    • 6 clean bottles (I use empty SYNERGY bottles, which are 16 oz (480 mL)
    • Your favorite flavoring ingredients: fruit, ginger, herbs, honey
    • Raisins
    • Small mesh strainer of some kind
    • Something with which to label the bottles (I use yellow tape and a Sharpie)

kombucha recipe

 

1. Start with your flavors — THIS IS MY FAVORITE PART! (besides drinking it)

Line up your jars and add in whatever flavor strikes your fancy. This is fun, because you can make as many flavors as you have jars and ingredients. Here are my favorites (assume about 1/2 cup for the fruit — fresh or frozen both work great — and about 1/2 a lemon’s worth of juice; one sprig of an herb is enough for the flavor)

    • strawberry2014-09-20 15.24.38
    • strawberry lime (tastes like a margarita!)
    • strawberry mint lime
    • strawberry basil
    • blueberry
    • blackberry
    • raspberry
    • any combination of the above berries
    • pineapple
    • pineapple sage
    • nectarine/peach
    • nectarine/peach basil
    • ginger, lemon, and 1 tbs honey
    • rosemary lemon and 1 tbs honey
    • green apple honey basil

2. Add in the secret fizz

I don’t know why this works, but if you throw 2 or 3 raisins into your second ferment, it helps the drinks get fizzier. This step is entirely optional. 

3. Pour, seal, store

Fill each jar with your fermented tea leaving about 1 inch of space at the top for gas. Seal the jars tightly and store them back in that dark place for 2 to 3 more days.

4. Bottle it

Transfer the flavored drinks into your clean bottles using a mesh strainer to keep all the solids out. Compost your solids and seal the bottles. Now it’s time to put them in the fridge until you’re ready to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

SCOBYbabyt

**Special Note: After doing this a few times, you’ll notice that your SCOBY is growing. It’s actually reproducing, and you’ll be able to see the various layers right there in your jar. You can either share those with friends interested in brewing their own ‘buch or you can add them to your compost for gardening. I have cut mine up and put them straight into the dirt in addition to blending them up and mixing them in. 

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