fermentation

Kombucha is a bit of an enigma in the health world. It seems every health-minded group appreciates the benefits of this fermented, effervescent, and probiotic drink – from Vegans to Paleos alike. One unfortunate side effect of being a kombucha drinker is that if enjoyed regularly, you could basically end up completely broke; bottles range from $3 to $5 each at most grocery stores. Luckily, making it at home is fun, economical, and takes only a little foresight.

Kombucha is a fermented black tea drink, originating somewhere in Northern China or Central Asia at least 2,000 years ago. It reached Russia sometime in the 19th century, and quickly gained popularity as a health drink; at one point, most Soviet-era homes were growing their own kombucha culture. It spread to Europe and beyond through Russia. The Russians have several names for the drink, the most popular being чайный гриб (“tea mushroom”) and медуза (“medusa”, their word for jellyfish). The drink is made by fermenting a batch of sweet tea with a culture known as SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast), which eats the caffeine and sugar, leaving you with a sour, slightly vinegary drink that’s not unlike apple cider vinegar.

The drink has some notable links to health, especially in regards to cancer. Author Alexander Soltzhenitsyn claims it cured his stomach cancer while imprisoned in a Soviet gulag. Ronald Reagan purportedly treated his colon cancer by drinking kombucha daily in the 1980s. While proven results have varied, it goes without saying that the fermented, probiotic profile of the drink carries benefits. In this age of antibiotics and antibacterial products, it’s good to see helpful bugs making a bit of a comeback.

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Takuan is a Japanese dish of fermented daikon radish. It is a form of Tsukemono (Japanese pickled veggies), which are served as side dishes or snacks, and are even part of the Japanese tea ceremony. Takuan in particular is often served at the end of meal to help digestion. The name “Takuan” is often attributed to Takuan Soho, a 17th century Zen Buddhist figure and the creative basis for the character Dakuan from the anime film Ninja Scroll. Korean cuisine has a similar pickled daikon radish dish, called Danmuji (단무지).

The daikon radish itself made its way to Japan from China about 2,000 years ago. Today, more land in Japan is used to grow daikon than any other vegetable. Takuan sold in many stores today is dyed yellow with food coloring; I was able to get a similar color by using a tiny bit of turmeric while pickling the radishes.

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NOTE: An updated version of this recipe appears in my cookbook, The Ancestral Table.

Kabees El Lift is a popular Lebanese dish, often served as a lighter side to heavy meat dishes. The dish sports a vibrant pink color, which is made by adding beets to the turnips as they ferment. Fermented foods are great for adding natural probiotics into your diet. And, as Paul Jaminet points out, there is evidence of fermented foods like kimchi helping against autoimmune diseases and allergies. Plus they’re tasty.

I’m not sure how long this dish has been around, but I do know that turnips have been around for a long, long time; the Romans talked about them, and some of their original names were in Greek, which suggests they were eaten in Ancient Greece. Beets have been around just as long, although early forms were only the beet greens, and the bulbous root was developed/cultivated later.

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