One of the best and most loved ways to get a good dose of belly-loving probiotics is through homemade lacto-fermented vegetables, like cucumbers (aka pickles). I’ll be the first to admit that the word “lacto-fermented” just doesn’t sound appetizing, but if you’ve ever eaten homemade sauerkraut, yogurt, kimchi or kombucha, you’ve eaten lacto-fermented foods.
The world of processed foods has really changed the landscape of fermentation. Back in the day, store-bought sauerkraut and pickles were actually fermented. Today, they’re soaked in vinegar. Not quite the same. In fact, the amount of probiotics in these types of processed foods is virtually non-existent.
Changes to fermented foods don’t just alter how they taste, but the process throws off the our body’s ecosystem as well. When it comes to health, our immune system exists primarily in our gut. In a healthy body, billions of friendly bacteria live inside our belly. These bacteria help to offset the effect bad bacteria can have on our overall wellness. If we’re not constantly recharging our body with friendly bacteria, the bad bacteria can quickly take over, leading to symptoms including: gas, bloating, chronic fatigue syndrome, constipation and nutrient deficiencies. One of the quickest and most delicious ways to get probiotics into your body is by making your own fermented foods.
I love to lacto-ferment vegetables for a number of reasons:
- It’s easy. You really don’t need to measure anything and you don’t need any special equipment.
- It’s inexpensive. All you really need is the vegetable you’d like to ferment, filtered water, salt and a canning jar. That’s it.
- It’s incredibly healthy. Within a couple of days, your jars of pickles, or whatever vegetable you wish to ferment, will be loaded with an increasing number of naturally occurring probiotics.
If you’re interested in making homemade pickles, here is what you need:
- 10 pickling cucumbers (I got lucky and found organic cucumbers)
- 3 leaves of kale or cabbage
- Any herbs or spices you’d like to use (see below)
- 4 cups of filtered water
- Approximately 4 tablespoons of salt
- 3 16-oz mason jars
Step 1 – Sterilize
Thoroughly clean and sterilize your mason jars. You don’t want any bad bacteria competing for a breeding ground in your batch of pickles. To do this, simply fill a stock pot with about 1 inch of water, place the jars inside (lids and all), cover the stock pot and bring to a boil for 10 minutes.
Step 2 – Prepare
While the jars are getting sterilized, dissolve salt into the water and cut your cucumbers. I like mine cut in “hamburger slices.” Get out any herbs or spices you’d like to use. I decided to make traditional dill pickles, so I simply used fresh dill. You could also use peppercorns, cloves or garlic.
Step 3 – Stuff Your Jars
Now is the fun part. Fill your jars full of the sliced cucumbers and anything else you’d like to add. Really try to get as many cucumbers into the jar as possible. You don’t want a lot of excess space. Now take your salt water and fill the jars, leaving about 1/2 inch of space to the top. Take the leave of cabbage or kale and tuck it over the top of the vegetables, pressing the leaves just below water level, if possible. Close the jar tightly. Place on your counter (unrefrigerated) and leave for 2 to 9 days.
*Note: The leaves can be discarded after the pickling process is over. They really just act like a seal to ensure the cucumber stay submerged (keeping them in an anaerobic environment). If the leaves are exposed to any air, you might end up with a little mold on top. This is perfectly normal. The rest of the pickles are A-ok.
Step 4 – Enjoy
The longer the jars are left on your counter, the greater the amount of probiotics they’ll yield. Keep in mind, they’ll usually be a little tangier, too. I like fermenting, so I keep mine out for anywhere between 7 to 9 days. After they’re fermented, store them in your refrigerator for up to 4 months.
Traci is a nationally-recognized health and fitness coach, and the current coach working with Steve Harvey’s Bridal Bootcamp. Traci has also been featured on Dr. Oz, The TODAY Show, in SHAPE, SELF and local news programs. Her specialty is weight loss through clean eating and interval-style training. Traci is available for private coaching and corporate consulting. To contact Traci, please email [email protected]