Lactic Foods

Probiotics are a term that has been thrown round for a number of years now with numerous drinks, capsules and tablets on the market now as a result. Some of these products are great, as improving your gut health can have a positive effect on many aspects of your health. Including your digestion and immune system. If these two things alone were the only positives from improving your gut health, the flow on effect from them is still huge. Your whole body will function far better, you will look more vibrant, have more energy (which all of us runners could do with) and you will most likely live longer too.

If you read last weeks post on what the Hadza of Tanzania do for this, it may be a bit extreme for us Westerners who have grown a bit soft since the caveman days. But the good news is, we don’t have to eat raw stomachs or colons from a freshly killed animal, nor do we have to down overpriced commercially made supplements. You can actually make your own probiotics in your kitchen quite easily. All it takes is a couple of raw ingredients, some careful preparation and a bit of time to let the cultures grow and you will have your very own probiotics on hand whenever you want them.

Lacto fermented foods are full of these beneficial bacteria that our bodies and digestive system love, but they weren’t invented just for this purpose. Really when you think of it, fresh food was not available, nor should it be, all year round. Different plants have their seasons and will generally only grow in a short time frame through the year. So our clever ancestors invented a way to store these foods without them going rancid. They used lactic acid (which produces lacto bacilli)to preserve them. Hence the name, lacto fermentation.

The most common one we have probably all heard of is a German product called Sauerkraut. This is probably one of the easiest things to make and is basically fermented cabbage. All you do, is get a couple of heads of cabbage (about 2kg), cored and shredded. In a large mixing bowl, add the cabbage and a couple of tablespoons of salt (sea salt ideally). Next squeeze the cabbage in an attempt to press the salt into it and break up the fibers of the cabbage. You can even use a mallet like you would use to tenderize some meat. Once completely limp and softened, pack it tightly in a large jar until roughly two thirds full (it will expand). You may need to press it down with something so the juice rises above the cabbage. Fill the jar to the top with any left over juice (add salty water if needed), some whey (see below for recipe) and store at room temperature (ideally 20-22 degrees) with a loosely fitted lid for about 1 month.

Any scum or mould that appears on top can be spooned off easily and disposed of. Once ready, you can fasten the lid fully and store in the fridge for 6-12 months of desired. Mine usually doesn’t last that long! Just make sure that any of the cabbage stays below the juice in the jar. Lacto fermentation relies on an air free environment (anaerobic) and also prevents any bad bacteria growth. You will soon know if the process hasn’t worked as your nose will tell you.

Commercial products are to be avoided as they tend to be pasteurized, killing off all the lacto bacilli which makes it pointless. Just about any vegetable and many fruits can be fermented, so get creative!

To make your own whey, get some natural yoghurt and place in cheesecloth, tied at the top and hang over a bowl and leave overnight (not in the fridge). The whey will drip through and in the morning, the bowl will be full of whey (you can squeeze any excess out of the cloth) and the cloth will be full of cream cheese! The whey will keep in the fridge for up to 6 months.

Let me know how you go with this,

Run Well

Chris O’Driscoll


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