Fermentation has been enjoying a renaissance over the last few years thanks to some great press regarding the importance of including probiotic-rich foods in our diets. Many of us are more than convinced of the benefits and have made sauerkraut and kombucha at home, mastering these basic fermenting skills. And, while I love these probiotic staples and will continue to make them, I admit, I am ready to try new and creative fermentation recipes.
Like most moms, I am pretty busy. Okay, that’s a huge understatement. Homeschooling our crew, taking care of our home and hobby farm, and helping my husband with our family business keeps me running at full speed most of the time. With that said, it’s one of my priorities to feed my family homemade nutritious meals as often as I can. I’m convinced that it’s better for my family and for our budget. So, carving out a little time to add probiotic-rich condiments and beverages to our menus just makes sense, but reality demands that they be simple and fast to make. For a little investment of my time, I know that once these items are made and in the fridge, they will act as convenience foods for future meals. With a variety of fermented foods at my fingertips, a simple meal quickly becomes interesting and exotic!
Are Fermented Foods Safe to Eat?
In case you’re concerned about your ferment being safe to eat, let me put your mind at ease. It’s very easy to tell if a batch has gone bad. If bad bacteria have won the battle against the friendly, it will smell, and likely look, like rotten food. Mold may be evident and it might look dark and mushy—the smell alone would render you unable to eat it. This is very rare however. According to Fred Breidt a microbiologist with the USDA —“properly fermented vegetables are actually safer than raw vegetables, which might have been exposed to pathogens like E. coli on the farm…With fermented products there is no safety concern. I can flat-out say that. The reason is the lactic acid bacteria that carry out the fermentation are the world’s best killer of other bacteria,”—San Francisco Gate, June 2009.
In addition to moving beyond the basics, I have also wanted to encourage the more, ahem, picky eaters in the family to eat fermented foods. Between a couple food sensitivities and constantly changing palettes, my guys can be a bit tricky to fill with healthy foods, let alone probiotic-rich foods. So, with those goals and challenges in mind, I challenged myself to try three new recipes that were fun and new, enticing to choosy children, simple to make, and—oh, yeah—didn’t require me running to the store to find quirky ingredients, or worse, plan ahead (yeah, right!) and order supplies online. After looking through some books* and spending some time checking out ideas on Pinterest, I had an idea where I wanted to start. I chose three kid-friendly favorites to try: fermented ketchup, probiotic soda, and fermented salsa. All three would be tempting to kids (and husbands) and all three were definitely different than the sauerkraut and kombucha I had been making routinely. Now for the other two requirements—they had to be simple and made with easily accessible ingredients.
After lots of research, I developed three recipes to try. These are all made with healthy, easy-to-find ingredients, don’t include any difficult techniques, and turned out great. Here is what I came up with:
Kid-Friendly Fermented Ketchup Recipe
- 1 12 oz. can tomato paste (use jarred if you are concerned about BPA)
- 1/4 cup water (you may need slightly more to achieve desired consistency)
- 2 Tbsp. whey (just strain the liquid from plain whole milk yogurt)
- 2 Tbsp. maple syrup
- 1/4 cup raw apple cider vinegar (regular apple cider vinegar will do if that’s what you have)
- 1 tsp. mustard powder
- 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp. cloves
- 1 tsp. good quality salt (like Real Salt or sea salt)
Stir all ingredients together until it’s smooth and is the consistency you prefer. Give it a taste (use only a clean spoon—don’t introduce any unwanted bacteria). The rule of thumb for fermented foods is, if it tastes good fresh, it will taste even better fermented. Now is the time to make any adjustments you want to spice-wise. When you’re satisfied, transfer to a jar, cover, and let sit at room temperature for a couple of days. Transfer it to the fridge and use on anything you’d like. Try it on homemade, hand-cut fries for an inexpensive and delicious side dish. This should last three to six months in your refrigerator.
Fruity Probiotic Soda Recipe
The first step is to make a ginger bug. If this is new to you, don’t panic. It’s incredibly easy. A ginger bug is just a starter culture of water, ginger, and sugar that captures good bacteria and wild yeasts from the environment as it ferments. It’s then used to add probiotics and fizz to fermenting beverages.
Ginger Bug Recipe
- 3 Tbsp. grated ginger (the fresher the better) plus 2 heaping tsp
- 3 Tbsp. sugar (the unrefined kind is fine—the bacteria and yeast are eating it, not you), plus 2 heaping teaspoons.
- 1-1/2 cups water
Combine ingredients in a canning jar, stirring until the sugar is dissolved, and screw on a lid. Set your bug in a warm spot to ferment (the top of the fridge is a good spot—avoid direct sunlight). Then, on day two, add a heaping teaspoon of grated ginger and a heaping teaspoon of sugar. Do the same thing on day three. On day four, your ginger bug should be ready to use. Look for fizz—that means it’s ready! Also, if you want to keep your ginger bug going, leave some in the jar and keep feeding it. You can pop it in the fridge when it’s not in use.
To make the probiotic soda, combine the following in a canning jar:
1/4 cup ginger bug
1-1/2 cups good quality fruit juice of choice (apple cider would be fun in the fall, and I’ve heard orange is really good).
Place the jar in your warm spot to ferment for a day to a day-and-a-half. When it fizzes, it’s ready. Store in the fridge—these are great cold! Also, they’ll keep a long, long time in the refrigerator, but the flavor will be best if consumed in the first three or four weeks.
Good Fermented Salsa Recipe
- 4 large tomatoes, chopped
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 jalapeño peppers (seeded if you don’t want as much heat)
- 1/2 to 1 cup cilantro, chopped (cilantro is very cleansing and can even help remove heavy metals from the body—use lots if you like it!)
- 1 clove garlic, chopped finely
- 2 limes, juiced
- 1/2 tsp. cumin
- 2 Tbsp. sea salt
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup whey
Thoroughly combine all ingredients using a spoon if you like pico de gallo, or a blender or food processor if you’d like a more homogenized product. Then pour into a canning jar, screw on a lid, and place on your counter for two or three days (without opening the lid) until effervescent bubbles are evident. Then it’s ready! Transfer to fridge for use. This salsa should be good for about three months in the refrigerator. Try it on quesadillas, chips, or baked potatoes for easy frugal meals.
I hope I’ve given you some new, tempting and easy ideas for adding new probiotic foods to your family’s diet. Happy fermenting!
I highly recommend two books: Fermented Vegetables: Creative Recipes for Fermenting 64 Vegetables and Herbs in Krauts, Kimchis, Brined Pickles, Chutneys, Relishes and Pastes by Kristen K. Shockey and Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. The latter is especially good if you’re new to fermenting, as well as for understanding why you should.
Courtney Wagner is a wife and homeschool mom of four kids (two of whom have graduated). She loves to read, write, garden, hike, travel, and hang out at their ranch in the beautiful mountains just outside Yosemite National Park.