“Microbes maketh man,” proclaimed Dr. Rob Knight, professor at the University of California, San Diego and director of the Microbiome Initiative that, among other things, explores the connections between the human microbiome and health. Dr. Knight’s keynote was among the highlights of the annual San Diego Fermentation Festival held at Coastal Roots Farm in Encinitas, California, this past February.
“You might think, well, we're human because of our DNA,” Dr. Knight continued. “But it turns out that each of us has about 20,000 human genes, depending on what you count exactly, but as many as two million to 20 million microbial genes. So whichever way we look at it, we're vastly outnumbered by our microbial symbionts.” And a growing body of evidence is finding that fermented foods are packed with many of the microbes that hang out in our gut that we need for good health.
Besides a lineup of speakers, the San Diego Fermentation Festival included a tent dedicated to helping people learn about and prepare their own canning jar of fermented sauerkraut, plus fermented beverages to try – like the amazing mead from Golden Coast Mead – in the Ambrosia Garden, plus numerous nonprofits or businesses dedicated to the art of fermentation, sharing samples to taste.
“Kombucha and other fermented foods deliver living organisms and nutrients in bio-available form that the body can recognize and instantly utilize,” explains Hannah Crum, founder of Kombucha Kamp and co-author of The Big Book of Kombucha. Kombucha Kamp was one of the many exhibitors at the event.
“For most people, consuming the wide range of fermented options will contribute to diversity in the microbiome, improve digestion, boost immunity and generally support a healthy lifestyle.”
Below, find her recipe for the popular fermented tea called kombucha; you’ll need to secure a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) “starting culture” to make the recipe.
“People want to feel good, and they're realizing how food can be medicine,” says Austin Durant, co-founder of the Fermenters Club and organizer of the San Diego Fermentation Festival.
“Folks who have been captive to the standard American diet are seeing the consequences of that, [like the] explosion of western diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, and are waking up to realize how beneficial fermented foods are to their health.”
“I think people want to take control back of their diets,” Austin adds. He has another Fermentation Festival scheduled in Portland, Oregon, for September 10, 2016. The 2nd-annual Oregon Fermentation Festival will have a similar format, be held outdoors on the 150-acre Kruger’s Farm on Sauvie Island, with a Makers Marketplace, educational demos and workshops, and the Ambrosia Garden, featuring local and regional fermented beverages.
“Most people fear they're going to ‘poison their whole family,’” observes Austin, regarding why many people are reluctant to get started with fermented foods. “The truth is, vegetable fermentation is extremely safe and simple to do. Some incorrectly believe botulism is a risk, but because of the high acid quality of fermented foods as well as the populations of beneficial bacteria, a pathogenic microbe like botulism doesn't stand a chance.”
Filling in the information gap is exactly what the Fermenters Club’s Fermentation Festivals in San Diego and Oregon are all about. And others are popping up around the country, too, like the Fermentation Festival: A Live Culture Convergence held every year in Wisconsin and the Farm to Fermentation Festival in Sonoma County, California.
“Finally, everyone seems to yearn for a link to their past, to their ancestors,” notes Austin. “Fermentation was a necessity back in the days before refrigeration and global food supply chains. There are people who have known about fermentation for years but never made a fuss and others who are brand new and curious. Kombucha, kimchi, pickles and sauerkraut are enjoying a renaissance.”
With many Americans increasingly familiar with many of the other popular fermented foods and beverages like cheese, wine, breads, mead, beer, yogurt and chocolate, a transition to a diet filled with more live culture foods is a natural step to get our gut, and the microbes living there, in a healthier balance.
Courtesy of Kombucha Kamp
Yield: 1 gallon
Scale up or down depending on the size of your vessel.
• 1 cup sugar
• 4-6 bags tea – for loose leaf, 1 bag of tea = 1 tsp
• Kombucha Starter Culture (SCOBY)
• 1 cup starter liquid
• purified/bottled water
• tea kettle
• brewing vessel
• cloth cover
• rubber band
1. Boil 4 cups of water.
2. Add hot water and tea bags to pot or brewing vessel.
3. Steep 5-7 minutes, then remove tea bags.
4. Add sugar and stir to dissolve.
5. Fill vessel most of the way with purified water, leaving just 1-2 inches from the top for breathing room with purified cold water.
6. Add SCOBY and starter liquid.
7. Cover with cloth cover and secure with the rubber band.
8. Say a prayer, send good vibes, commune with your culture (optional but recommended).
9. Set in a warm location out of direct sunlight (unless vessel is opaque).
Do not disturb for 7 days.
After 7 days, or when you are ready to taste your kombucha tea, gently insert a straw beneath the SCOBY and take a sip. If too tart, then reduce your brewing cycle next time. If too sweet, allow to brew for a few more days. Continue to taste every day or so until you reach your optimum flavor preference. Your own Kombucha Tea Recipe may vary.
Decant & flavor (optional).
Drink as desired! Start off with 4-8oz on an empty stomach in the morning, then with meals to help with digestion or as your body tells you it would like some more! Drink plenty of water as it is a natural detoxifyer and you want to flush the newly released toxins out.
John D. Ivanko, with his wife, Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun. Both are regular speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. As a writer and photographer, Ivanko contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, millions of ladybugs and a 10 kW Bergey wind turbine. Read all of John's Mother Earth News posts here.
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