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Top Fermented and Pickled Summer Foods to Make at Home

Global Food Preservation Techniques May Improve Gut Health


Kimchi for summer.  ©JeongGuHyeok/Wikimedia (CC0 1.0)
Kimchi for summer. ©JeongGuHyeok/Wikimedia (CC0 1.0)

Summer is perfect for complementing meals with refreshing, healthful foods and drinks. One could do no better than to choose from the plethora of pickled and fermented foods that have long graced global tables.

Traditional food fermentation processes, such as pickling and souring, offer a host of benefits. They preserve food, add nutrients, and aid in “pre-digestion” to make nutrients more bioavailable.

The healthy benefits go far beyond nutrition. A 2021 study published in Cell, found that vegetable brine drinks, kombucha tea, and foods such as yogurt, kefir, fermented cottage cheese, kimchi, and other fermented vegetables, increased overall microbe diversity, and likely involved remodeling the microbiota of the study participants.

The researchers also noted that enhanced quantity and quality of gut microbes fight inflammation, which is a precursor to chronic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, Type 2 diabetes, and chronic stress. Other studies agree that fermented foods remove allergens, antinutritional compounds (such as lectins and protease inhibitors), and toxins (such as bacterial toxins).


Cultures around the world developed fermentation techniques as a practical method to prevent food spoilage and make use of food resources. Fermentation usually involves the spontaneous activities of natural microbes present in the food or introduced from previous fermentations. Its use has always been important for food security in warm climates, where preservation of fresh milk, fruits, and vegetables is challenging.


Vietnam—Fermentation can be done in small jars or large crocks.  ©Quang Nguyen Vinh/Pexels
Vietnam—Fermentation can be done in small jars or large crocks. ©Quang Nguyen Vinh/Pexels
A homemade yogurt incubator.  ©Anna Frodesiak/Wikimedia (CC0 1.0)
A homemade yogurt incubator. ©Anna Frodesiak/Wikimedia (CC0 1.0)

Anyone can give fermentation a try with ordinary kitchen tools—a knife, cutting board, mixing bowl, and a jar. If new to fermenting, it is recommended to follow a recipe. Sandor Ellix Katz, author of The Art of Fermentation, advises, “Certain ferments, such as yogurt or tempeh, require specific temperature ranges.” 

As for pickled foods, such as veggies, they are only considered fermented if they are made with fermented vinegar, such as raw apple cider vinegar that still has the “mother culture” in it.


But pickled vegetables preserved with unfermented vinegar still have clout in the health category as they are still raw and therefore retain the antioxidants that are often lost when cooked.

Here is a look at some cherished global fermented and pickled foods, along with healthful recipes and tips.


Sour On With These Recipes!

Many foods are fermented as part of their harvest and production process. Beer, cheese, cider, chocolate, coffee, miso, olives, pickles, salami, bread, soy sauce, tempeh, natto, and wine are examples.


Japan—Fermenting veggies in rice bran.  ©Doug Knuth/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Japan—Fermenting veggies in rice bran. ©Doug Knuth/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Beer is produced with fermentation, but the yeast is removed or killed off from the alcohol, whereas natto is fermented but still has the bacteria in it. When purchasing these foods, try to find local producers for the most environmentally friendly (less transportation involved) and freshest options.


Farmers markets are ideal venues to meet makers and learn if their products might be available at stores year-round. In the case of region-specific items, such as chocolate or coffee, look for fair-trade organic options.

If new to fermenting, it is recommended to follow a recipe.

Finished product—tsukemono    ©Mimissu/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Finished product—tsukemono ©Mimissu/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is a staple garnish at summer cookouts. Using green cabbage to make this simple fermented dish results in traditional white sauerkraut. Amp up the fun by using red cabbage to produce a wild, fuchsia-colored side dish that is as good to look at as it is to eat. Try Pink Sauerkraut created by Chef Eduardo Garcia.


Pink sauerkraut.   ©edwina_mc/Pixabay. Public Domain
Pink sauerkraut. ©edwina_mc/Pixabay. Public Domain

Nutritionist Sharon Glasgow points out that making fermented vegetables is easy. “The most important thing is to use the highest quality ingredients. When available, use organic fruit or vegetables. If the vegetables are deficit in nutrients, the fermentation is likely not to work. Use pure water, not chemical laden, and use sea salt when available.”


For a scrumptious garnish, try Glasgow’s recipe for Pickled Radish:

  • 1 bunch of radishes

  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

  • 2 tablespoons whey (if unavailable, use 1 additional teaspoon salt)

  • Take greens off, wash, and grate radishes. Place grated radishes into pint size mason jar. Pound down the radishes, then pour other ingredients on top. Pound again. The top of the radish mixture should be at least 1 inch below the top of the jar. Cover tightly and keep at room temperature for 3 days before storing in refrigerator.


Fruit chutney is perfect for those who aren’t familiar with the sourness of fermented foods.

A variety of chutneys.  ©Charles Haynes/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
A variety of chutneys. ©Charles Haynes/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Fruit chutney

Fruit chutney is perfect for those who aren’t familiar with the sourness of fermented foods. Naomi, a mother of four in Slovakia, writes in her blog, Almost Bananas, “I am not exaggerating when I assert that if you want to start eating fermented foods and have a hard time starting, this fermented spiced apple chutney is the one to start with. Because of the apples, raisins, and spices, it’s still quite sweet by the time it’s ready to eat.” She says her recipe can use apples past their prime and is delicious by itself or as a topping for yogurt, pancakes, crepes, or in place of jam.


Vegetable chutney

Vegetable chutney can be mild or hot. This super-hot and spicy Cilantro Chutney from TurmericMeCrazy.com is incredibly simple to make. Use a small amount to spice up a meal or use it as a dipping sauce.


Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

  • 1 pinch salt

  • 1 cup cilantro

  • 3 serrano peppers

Instructions:

  • Chop off stems of the serrano peppers and add to blender.

  • Add the remaining ingredients and blend until all chunks are gone.

  • Store the chutney in the fridge for up to a week.


Mint lassi, a yogurt-based drink.  ©Nitin Badhwar/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Mint lassi, a yogurt-based drink. ©Nitin Badhwar/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Lassi

Lassi is a yogurt drink that originated in India and can be made either sweet or salty with a variety of fruits and herbs. Dassana’s Veg Recipes shares three varieties of lassi that are easy to whip up and enjoy as an invigorating summer drink any time of day.


Kimchi

Kimchi is a Korean fermented vegetable in fish sauce that is usually eaten as a side dish to rice. But there are many ways to incorporate this healthful food into omelets, pizza, ramen, burgers, and more. Check out 23 Kimchi Recipes to Fire Up Your Meals.

This Water Kimchi by Korean Bapsang, a Korean mom’s home cooking website, has a clear broth and thinly sliced radish squares and other vegetables. In the world of kimchi, this one is unique because it is vegan.


Fufu with soup.  ©daSupremo/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Fufu with soup. ©daSupremo/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Fufu

Fufu is a traditional West African staple that is a soft and stretchy finger food eaten with soups or stews. Traditionally made with cassava, fufu is now also made with other pounded vegetables (amala, corn, green plantains, yam, semolina, etc.), mixed with water, and formed into balls. It has a pleasantly light sour flavor and is called a swallow food because it’s not intended to be chewed! Diners pinch off a small piece, mold it into a small ball with an indentation, scoop up some soup, and swallow.


Green Tomato and Lemongrass Pickles, from Andrea Nguyen’s The Banh Mi Handbook and posted on Viet World Kitchen, are a novel snack for summer days. With garlic, red pepper flakes, serrano chile, and turmeric, these pickles truly tantalize the tastebuds.


Note that, for food safety reasons, the ratio of vinegar to water for pickling vegetables should not be adjusted from a recipe; however, the spices can be modified to suit one’s liking. For more spice, try cayenne, hot sauce, allspice, or cloves. Get salty with soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce. Sweeten up with a bit of sugar or agave syrup. Remember, the flavors intensify over time, so season lightly.


Tofu Pickles may be the epitome of fermentation and pickling. Dubu-jangajji shares her beautiful recipe with meal suggestions on her site, Maangchi. She writes that it is a “sweet salty tangy brine” that “makes the intrinsically tasteless tofu very delicious.”


Many people go beyond cucumbers for pickling delicacies: asparagus spears, beets, carrots, green beans, banana peppers, and cauliflower are all suitable pickling vegetables.


Because fermented foods have such a high probiotic content and many are also fiber-rich, some people may experience an initial increase in gas or bloating. It’s a good idea to start with a couple of tablespoons at a time, allowing the body to adjust (and it will) to the greater diversity in the gut’s microbiome. Enhance snacks and meals with exciting new flavors and improve quality of life with the health benefits of an improved microbiota.

 

*Julie Peterson is a freelance journalist based in the Midwest region of the US who has written hundreds of articles on natural approaches to health, environmental issues, and sustainable living.


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