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Mainely Tipping Points 33: GO WILD!

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Mainely Tipping Points 33

GO WILD!

 

Sandor Ellix Katz’s WILD FERMENTATION: THE FLAVOR, NUTRITION, AND CRAFT OF LIVE-CULTURE FOODS arrived last week.  I found myself dropping all other activities and reading it straight through. 

By noon the next day I had a ball of cloth-wrapped cheese hanging from a kitchen knob, dripping away the last of its whey. 

In two days’ time I had a quart mason jar filled with fermenting kale leaves, or Gundru, a Tibetan ferment.  (You can’t imagine how many kale leaves it takes to fill a quart jar once you’ve wilted them in the sun and pounded them so that they release their juices—the leaves of about eight kale plants.)  And now I’m eyeing the crocks over my stove, bought for decorative purposes mostly, and wondering what from the fall harvest I can ferment next. 

Katz, who is a charming writer, would say “lots of things.”  And, indeed, Katz discusses how to ferment vegetables, fruits, beans, dairy, grains and breads, beverages, wines, beers, and vinegars.  “Fermentation,” writes Katz, gives us many of our most basic staples, such as bread and cheese, and our most pleasurable treats, including chocolate, coffee, wine, and beer” (2).

Microscopic bacteria and fungi, or microflora, are, writes Katz, agents of transformation; they feast upon decaying matter and shift dynamic life forces from one creation to the next (2).  That’s why “fermented foods and drinks are quite literally alive with flavor and nutrition.  Their flavors tend to be strong and pronounced,” like “stinky aged cheeses, tangy sauerkraut, rich earthy miso [made traditionally, which can take several years], smooth sublime wines.  Human have always appreciated the distinctive flavors resulting from the transformative power of microscopic bacteria and fungi” (5).     

But, why should we home cooks ferment anything?  First, fermented foods we make for ourselves are guaranteed to be very rich in enzymes. 

You might recall me writing in earlier Tipping Points essays about Edward Howell’s theory on enzymes.  Howell, who died in 2000 at the age of 102, spent his life studying the role of enzymes in health and disease.  He posited that if one does not eat enzyme-rich foods, the body has both to use existing stored enzymes and to work harder to digest foods, all of which takes a toll.  Ron Schmid, in THE UNTOLD STORY OF MILK, notes Howell’s assessment that humans have lower levels of starch-digesting enzymes in their blood than other creatures and higher levels in their urine, which means their resident enzymes are being used up faster.  And, as Schmid notes, based on various studies, it’s clear that diets deficient in enzymes result in shortened life spans (101-105).  Certainly this assessment is a piece of the growing body of information pointing toward the health problems associated with starchy carbohydrate-heavy diets. 

Second, fermentation removes toxins from foods.  All grains, nuts, seeds, and tubers contain inhibitors (phytic acids) which block human absorption of nutrients.  These inhibitors are inactivated by traditional food preparation methods that involve soaking in acids, like whey or lemon juice, which begins a fermentation process, or by sprouting (101-105).  Few, if any, commercial foods have been properly prepared so as to inactivate nutrient inhibitors while, at the same time, preserving nutrients.  Thus, unless you are properly preparing these foods, your body isn’t getting all of the nutrients in these foods and is, to add insult to injury, struggling to digest them. 

Fermentation can remove toxins as powerful as cyanide from cassava, an enormous tuber used in tropical regions of the Americas and, now, in Africa and Asia.  Other toxins fermentation can eliminate or reduce include nitrites, prussic acid, oxalic acid, nitrosamines, and glucosides (7). 

Third, fermentation preserves food because it produces “alcohol, lactic acid, and acetic acid, all `bio-preservatives’ that retain nutrients and prevent spoilage.”  Hence, highly perishable foods, like vegetables, fruits, milk, fish, and meat, can be stored after harvest for consumption in leaner seasons.  Or, as Captain James Cook discovered during his eighteenth century explorations, preserved fermented sauerkraut prevented scurvy during long ocean voyages (5).      

“Microscopic bacteria and fungi,” writes Katz, “…are in every breath we take and every bite we eat.”  These microflora are “in a symbiotic relationship” with humans.  They “digest food into nutrients our bodies can absorb, protect us from potentially dangerous organisms, and teach our immune systems how to function” (2).  Most importantly, writes Katz, “we need to promote diversity among microbial cultures” in our bodies because “biodiversity is increasingly recognized as critical to the survival of larger-scale ecosystems” (11).        

Not all fermented foods are alive when you eat them.  Bread, for instance, must be cooked.  But, the most nutritious fermented foods, such as yogurt, are consumed alive (7).  Or, such as sauerkraut, which I make by the half-gallon and keep in our refrigerator as a ready “asset” to compliment a meal.  I used red cabbage for my current batch, and it is the loveliest deep ruby color.   

 Live yogurt and sauerkraut couldn’t be easier to make, and I have time-tested recipes for both in the recipe section of this blog.  I have not yet tried Katz’s recipe, but it has some really exciting suggested additions.  Plus, Katz’s sauerkraut lives in a crock in a cool place and does not require refrigeration.   

 Fourth and finally, fermenting is a political act, an act that stands in stark opposition to what Sally Fallon Morell of the Weston A. Price Foundation, who wrote the introduction to WILD FERMENTATION, describes as “the centralization and industrialization of our food supply.”  Real culture, writes Fallon, “begins at the farm, not in the opera house, and binds a people to a land and its artisans.”  Many commentators, notes Fallon, have said that America lacks culture.  But, “how can we be cultured when we eat only food that has been canned, pasteurized, and embalmed?” (xii).  Food artisans ferment food, and they are increasingly being regulated out of existence by the government in the name of “food safety”—which is nothing more than industry’s power in a so-called “free market” to eliminate all its competitors.    

Katz writes the following:  “Thinking about mass food production makes me sad and angry.  Chemical mono-crop agriculture.  Genetic engineering of the most basic food crops.  Ugly, inhumane factory animal breeding.  Ultra-processed foods full of preservative chemicals, industrial byproducts, and packaging.  Food production is just one realm among many in which ever more concentrated corporate units extract profits from the Earth and the mass of humanity” (163). 

 Katz encourages us to “draw inspiration from the action of bacteria and yeast, and make your life a transformative process.”  Wild fermentation, he writes “is the opposite of homogenization and uniformity, a small antidote you can undertake in your home, using the extremely localized populations of microbial cultures present there to produce your own unique fermented foods” (21).  

Take back your power, Katz urges, to “use your fermented goodies to nourish your family and friends and allies.  The life-affirming power of these basic foods contrasts sharply with the lifeless, industrially processed foods that fill supermarket shelves” (166).  Remember that “wild fermentation is a way of incorporating the wild into your body,” so that you become “one with the natural world” once more (12).       

Don’t wait, like I did, to get a copy of Katz’s WILD FERMENTATION.

GO WILD now!  

Turkey Tracks: An Asset: Easy, Enzyme-Rich Sauerkraut

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Turkey Tracks:  November 23, 2010

An  Asset:  Easy, Enzyme-Rich Sauerkraut

 

I like to have what I think of as “assets” in my kitchen.  If I have a bone broth, for instance, I have the makings of a soup lunch or dinner.  Salt-preserved lemons topped off with olive oil provide a tasty addition to everything from mashed potatoes to salad dressings to drizzles for baked fish.   Apple chutney is great alongside meat or inside an omelet and keeps for a long time.   I keep piima whole cream which operates like crème fraiche or sour cream and which can be used in tea or coffee to add a different kind of zing.  (Piima is a Finnish cultured milk product that is chock full of enzymes.)  Leftovers can be turned around in new ways for easy meals.  And, lacto-fermented vegetables keep for months in the refrigerator and add zip and enzymes to your plate, especially in the winter when local salad greens are scarce in Maine.  

Sally Fallon and Dr. Mary Enig, in Nourishing Traditions, write that the lactobacilli in fermented vegetables enhances digestion and promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout the intestine.  And, lacto-fermented vegetables have antibiotic and anticarciogenic substances.  Plus, eating enzyme-rich food takes pressure off your body to process what you eat.  My favorite lacto-fermented vegetable is sauerkraut.  I put about ¼ cup of sauerkraut on almost every plate we eat in the winter.  People used to lacto-ferment vegetables to preserve them before canning technology arrived.   

Not long ago I dropped the old half-gallon sauerkraut container, and it broke into a million pieces all over the kitchen floor.  It was full of fairly newly made sauerkraut.  So, after I cleaned up the mess, I set about making some more, and in the three days it took to make, we missed having this “asset” around quite a lot.

Here’s a picture of the two new half-gallon containers: 

 

I used a red cabbage and part of a green cabbage.  In a few days, the red cabbage will turn the new sauerkraut a rosy pink.  See?  It will get darker along the way, and it will keep for months, if we don’t eat it first.  That’s beet kvass on the right, another enzyme-rich, healthy product.

 

Here’s the recipe from Nourishing Traditions:

1 medium cabbage, cored and shredded.  I use the slicer on a food processor.

I Tablespoon caraway seeds

1 Tablespoon sea salt

4 Tablespoons *whey (or use 1 additional Tablespoon of salt).

 *Whey is the clear liquid that can be drained from good yogurt.  Most commercial yogurt now is so full of pectin and seaweed that it will not drain whey.  So, be aware that what you’re paying for isn’t a full-milk product, but a product adulterated with fillers—so the producer makes more money.

 I far prefer the whey to additional salt.  You can drain yogurt by putting a paper towel or two, or a coffee filter, into a colander and setting it over a bowl.  Put yogurt into the paper-covered well of the colander and set it over a deeper bowl.  You can put a plate over it if you like.  The whey drains off, leaving you with a delicious spreadable cheese you can flavor with herbs or drizzle with honey.  Don’t worry; this mixture won’t go bad at room temperature.

 I mix the sauerkraut ingredients in a big bowl and pound it a little with something a bit heavy:  a mallet, the handle end of a big spoon, or a mortar grinder.  When the cabbage starts to release its liquid, pack the cabbage into a clean Mason jar, making sure you leave about an inch of free space.  Keep the mixture at room temperature for about three days, turning it upside down to distribute the liquid once or twice a day.  (Don’t leave it upside down—just mix it up.)  You can eat it most anytime, but it’s best after about three days.  Refrigerate it and ENJOY!

Written by louisaenright

December 12, 2010 at 7:16 pm

Tipping Points 8: Drinking Real Milk

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(You may want to read my essays in order.)

April 26, 2010

Tipping Points 8

Drinking Real Milk

 

I started drinking real milk as an act of faith four years ago.  I can still remember how shocked I was that anyone would risk drinking real milk when my neighbor casually said how lucky she felt to have been able to buy real milk locally for her children.  I did not try it right away.  I asked other friends if they drank “real milk,” began to read labels, and began to notice how much of our milk is now ultrapasteurized.  I will confess that I am now addicted to raw milk. 

I recently traveled to Norfolk, Virginia, which is a wasteland for the kind of quality food we enjoy in Maine.  The best I could do for milk was organic whole milk that was homogenized and ultrapasteurized.  To my surprise it tasted bitter, as does milk that has been allowed to boil.  And, it had none of the silky smoothness or the energy, the feeling of life held in a living product, that I experience with real milk. 

Ron Schmid, in THE UNTOLD STORY OF MILK (2009), notes that “milk in general—both pasteurized and raw—is a particularly safe food.”  In 1997, “milk and milk products accounted for only two tenths of one percent of all reported cases of food-borne illness.”  However, when an outbreak occurs, it “usually involves many individuals” (274). 

But, does commercial milk supports human health?  Schmid argues that commercial milk is a compromised product that can and does produce allergic reactions and chronic illness. 

Schmid discusses two competing paradigms which emerged in France in the 1860s:  Louis Pasteur’s germ theory, or the belief that germs cause illness, and Claude Bernard’s milieu interieur theory, or the belief that “illnesses are caused by a failure of the immune system to adequately cope with infectious agents” (43).  Robert Koch’s discovery and isolation of the organisms causing tuberculosis and cholera (1880s) gave Pasteur’s germ theory broad acceptance.  But, Schmid notes, this “mechanistic understanding of disease banished the individual’s power to prevent it and placed the mandate to cure squarely in the hands of the medical professionals” who became allies with the drug companies, since the belief arose also that disease germs could only be “overwhelmed and eliminated” by drugs (46-47). 

Yet, Schmid notes, “ample evidence existed to support Bernard’s alternative theory” of the strong immune system (47).  And recent studies by the Institute for Genomic Research (2008) demonstrate that a healthy human body carries about six pounds of beneficial bacteria which perform myriad tasks, to include creating conditions where pathogens cannot take hold (48). 

Dr. J.E. Crewe, a Mayo Foundation founder, practiced milk cures in the 1920s and 1930s.  White blood (real milk), fed exclusiverly to patients, built up resistance and produced results that Dr. Crewe claimed were so “ `uniformly excellent that one’s conception of disease and its alleviation is necessarily changed’ “ (83).  

Dr. Francis M. Pottenger’s studies on hundreds of cats over 10 years showed that those fed raw milk “thrived with virtually no illness” and produced “generation after generation of healthy cats” (92).  Cats fed pasteurized milk; evaporated milk; or condensed, sweetened milk became diseased and were “eventually unable to reproduce.”  These cats, writes Schmid, were “highly susceptible to infectious and chronic illness and exhibited degenerative skeletal changes” (92).

Dr. Edward Howell, who died in 2000 at 102 years, was considered by many nutritionists to be “the world’s leading expert on enzymes” (10).  Dr. Howell believed enzymes facilitate “ `every chemical reaction that occurs in our body’ “ (10).  He believed that one is born with “ `a certain enzyme potential,’ “ and if we use up our supply of enzyme activity too quickly, we die.  Thus, eating enzyme rich foods, among them real milk, helps our body preserve its enzyme potential, while eating refined foods uses up our enzyme potential.

Dr. Weston Price, a dentist, traveled the world in the 1930s to study healthy people.  The archive he left gives invaluable testimony about the foods healthy people ate.  Dr. Price demonstrated through biochemical analysis that native diets of healthy people were “rich in nutrients poorly supplied in modern diets” (139).  Included in the list of foods commonly used by some of the healthy people Dr. Price studied are whole milk, cheese, and butter from grass-fed animals (141). 

Numerous qualified observers in the early 1900s reported that cancer, diabetes, tuberculosis, and dental caries did not exist among Eskimos who ate a nutrient-dense, high protein, high-fat diet rich in fermented foods and kelp (110-115).  Nomadic peoples, some of whom exist today, consumed meat; meat fat; organs; and whole, real milk from healthy pasture-fed animals and fermented and foraged foods (112). 

Enzymes process human food.  When we eat, food initially rests in the upper part of our stomachs for thirty to forty-five minutes where the enzymes in the food itself begin digestion.  When the lower stomach opens, the body has to secrete enzymes and acids to process food.  Thus, people eating enzyme-rich foods stress the body less (104-105). 

Milk contains eight identifiable enzymes which facilitate the utilization and digestion of milk.  Fermenting milk enhances these enzymes.  Two of these enzymes destoy pathogens.  Indeed, Schmid notes, lactoferrin was approved by the FDA in 2004 “for use as an anti-microbial spray to combat virulent E. coli contamination in the meat industry” (107).  Pasteurization destroys these enzymes and most of the vitamins C, B6, and B12  and changes the “physical and chemical state of calcium and other minerals that affect absorption” (108). 

Homogenization “crushes milk by forcing it under high pressure and temperature through holes in a die” (250).  People used to judge the quality of their milk by the layer of cream on the top of the glass bottle (250, 262).  The campaign to break down consumer resistence to homogenization took thirty years, but by the 1950s the milk industry “succeeded in convincing Americans to accept a product designed solely for the profit and convenience of manufacturers and distributors” (251). 

After pasteurization and homogenization, milk can be “transported over long distances and stored for a long time” (250).  And, ultrapasterized milk does not require refrigeration if stored in an airtight container.        

Inside a milk factory, all milk is combined and then “separated in centrifuges into fat, protein and various other solids and liquids.”  Then milk is reconstituted at standarized levels for whole, lowfat, and nonfat milk (240).  Homogenization permitted the industry to standardize the cream levels to 3 ½ percent from the 4 to 8 percent butterfat levels of pasture-fed cows.  The skimmed cream makes profitable products for the industry, like ice cream (262), where, as reading labels shows, the cream is further stretched with additives. 

However, Schmid writes, “when fat is removed, it is replaced with protein-and-vitamin-rich skimmed milk powder or concentrate.”  But, drying milk both produces nitrates, “which are potent carcinogens,” and causes “oxidation of the cholesterol in milk.”  Oxidized cholesterol initiates “the process of injury and pathological plaque build-up in the arteries.”  Finally, “the body needs vitamin A to assimilate protein,” so when we “consume foods rich in protein without the supporting fats,” the body “draws on the vitamin A stored in the liver”—a depletion which begins “ushering in a host of diseases.”  Adding calcium and synthetic vitamins to milk, Schmid writes, is “unlikely to benefit consumers…since synthetic versions are poorly absorbed and may often have toxic effects” (217).  Nonfat dried milk is not listed on the label since the FDA allows this practice as an industry standard (240-242).   

So, cooking milk, fracturing its chemical components, and adding additives changes real milk drastically.  Certainly the industrial process is introducing new and dangerous pathogens into milk. 

Schmid cautions that anyone who has undergone chemotherapy should not drink raw milk as it is a living food.  But, he notes also statistics from a 2003 USDA/FDA/CDC paper showing that “deli meats are ten times more likely to cause illness than raw milk” and that pasteurized milk is twenty-nine times more likely (320). 

Here in Maine, we are so lucky.  We can buy delicious, nutrient-dense raw milk from local farmers in our local markets.  My children can and do buy real milk in South Carolina, too.  Those of you who live elsewhere can go to the Real Milk website, www.realmilk.com, to locate real milk sources. 

So, go ahead, refuse to let the milk industry and the government scare you.  Buy local real milk!