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Fermented Foods are Totally In Right Now


Looking for a new DIY fix for your bellyaches? Maybe fermented foods are what your body needs. No, you can't leave your food out for three weeks and call it good. Here's what you need to know.

What Are Fermented Foods?

Fermentation is an energy-releasing process in which sugar is converted to acids, gases or alcohol in an oxygen-free environment. For example, if you leave cabbage in a bowl of water and salt for a few weeks (see below for more details) you get probiotic rich, (fermented) sauerkraut.

How Do They Affect Your Health?

According to Julie Metos, PhD, RD, chairperson in the Division of Nutrition at the University of Utah, fermented foods may have an impact on your health. Here are some specific examples of the proposed health benefits of fermented foods:


Fermented foods help your body produce probiotics, which balance your stomach acids, reduce inflammation, as well as assist with digestion and important digestive processes. Probiotics also boost the production of neurotransmitters — most commonly serotonin and acetylcholine. Acetylcholine facilitates nerve impulses in your digestive system (think bowel movements).


Serotonin is a major neurotransmitter which probiotics help your body produce. It heavily affects your mood, as a major contributor to positive feelings and happiness. In fact, your gut contains five times as many neurons as your brain.

Weight Loss

Having a good balance of gut bacteria and enzymes allows your body to absorb more nutrients from the foods you eat, and may reduce cravings.


Eighty percent of your immune system is located in your gut. Probiotics assist with the development of the mucosal immune system, located in your digestive system. The mucosal immune system protects against infection, antigens, microorganisms and other foreign materials.

What Is the Alcohol Content of Fermented Foods?

It's hard to know the exact alcohol content of homemade fermented foods, but here are some things to know:

  • If it becomes carbonated in the fermentation process — it probably contains a higher level of alcohol.
  • Majority of homemade fermented foods (with the exception of alcoholic beverages) contain such small amounts of alcohol that effects couldn't even be measured.

How Much Do I Have to Eat to Really Impact My Health?

Metos also highlights that fermented foods are just one part of a healthy diet.

"A large part of the effectiveness of fermented foods depends on dose, the state of the digestive tract and how much people are eating," Metos said. "Fermented foods are just one part of a healthy eating pattern, but they aren't a cure-all for prevention or treatment of disease."

Well, there you have it. Not convinced? Try it at home!

Homemade Sauerkraut

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 20 minutes

Yield: 1 gallon

Serving Size: 1/2 cup

A simple recipe to make traditional, lacto-fermented, homemade sauerkraut using only cabbage, salt and time


2 medium cabbage heads (about 4 to 5 total pounds, cored and finely shredded)

2 tablespoons sea salt


  1. Toss cabbage and salt together in a large mixing bowl and begin to squeeze the cabbage and salt together with your hands, kneading it thoroughly to break up the cellular structure of the shredded cabbage.
  2. When the cabbage has become limp and releases its juice, transfer it to a sauerkraut crock or vegetable fermenter. Pack the salted cabbage into the crock or fermenter as tightly as you can, eliminating air bubbles. A kraut pounder is particularly helpful in packing the cabbage tight within the crock.
  3. Continue packing the cabbage into the container until the cabbage is completely submerged by liquid. Cover loosely and allow it to sit at room temperature, undisturbed, for at least 1 month and up to 6 months, testing the sauerkraut every few days until it is done to your liking. Transfer to the refrigerator or other cold storage where it should keep for at least 6 months and up to 1 year.


If scum appears floating in the brine of your homemade sauerkraut, simply spoon it off. You wont be able to remove it all, but spoon of what you can and don't worry about it. The real key to preparing homemade sauerkraut, and any fermented food, is that the solid materials rest below the liquid.

Fermentation is an anaerobic process and to expose your ferments to air increases the likelihood that they'll become contaminated by stray microbes, yeasts and molds which is why crocks designed specifically for fermentation can help to eliminate the risk of microbial contamination and increase the reliability and consistency of your ferments.

Recipe from