Anaerobic Fermentation: Our GAPS Missing Piece
Those of you who have been following my blog for a while will know that my family has been on GAPS since November of 2009. Lyme disease and some other issues have certainly complicated our situation but still healing has not come like we had expected. You may recall my post from this past spring about taking my youngest to an enzyme therapist. (Read it here Enzyme Therapy.) She had been suffering with a daily stomach ache for months at that point in time. While I could often help it with essential oils or other approaches it kept coming back daily. Since it was gut issues for her that led us to GAPS in the first place I was very concerned that we were coming full circle and ending up back where we started. That didn’t feel good.
I was very relieved that the enzyme therapy helped her and while I did not want to continue lots of supplements long term it was very nice that food stopped hurting her as long as she took her enzymes. That gave me some space to figure things out. In the meantime a friend contacted me. She had read my post about enzyme therapy and she wanted me to know that there is a natural way to increase the enzymes in foods and improve digestion. Anaerobic fermentation. Well, I argued, this daughter did not tolerate fermented foods at all. They caused painful rashes where they touched her skin and did not make any difference in these stomach aches we had been dealing with. I knew that fermented foods were supposed to improve digestion and I kept trying to give them to her (and she ate them willingly) but to see the red painful rashes on her face and arms wherever the juice got onto her was more than I could bear. It seemed wrong to feed her ferments and wrong to take them away. Enzyme pills seemed to be a safer approach. However, I was intrigued. My friend pointed out that I hadn’t been making anaerobic ferments and that how you ferment does make a big difference, but still I was skeptical. I began to look into it. This past spring there were a lot of posts in the blogsphere arguing for and against anaerobic fermentation.
Once I was convinced that anaerobic was important then I had to learn what exactly made a ferment anaerobic. There are quite a few systems out there that claim to work in creating an anaerobic environment for fermenting. I looked at as many as I could find and asked questions of various people to decide what I should do. In the end I decided that I have spent a lot of money on supplements, Dr’s and special foods over the years. Why was I unwilling to invest in a proven way to make these fermented foods for my family? I looked at both of the options that I had determined would work. The Pickl-it jar and the Harsch Crock (German Style crock). I considered some cheaper options with plastic lids and there was enough of a question about their effectiveness that I didn’t want to waste my time, perhaps saving a few pennies now only to regret it and have to upgrade later. Looking into the Harsch Crock revealed one big drawback. It can get moldy and then you often have to throw it out. My basement tends to get mold in it. I didn’t want to invest in an expensive crock only to have to discard it after a batch or two of kraut. Pickl-it jars are all glass so even if it gets mold I can replace the non-glass parts for very little money and eliminate the mold. That just sounded like a better investment to me. Plus they are much more reasonably priced. One jar is much less expensive than a juicer or a dehydrator or even most crock pots. Hardly a cost prohibitive investment for our health.
Once my decision was made I lost no time in ordering some Pickl-it jars. Unfortunately for me I was a part of a trend of lots of people buying Pickl-it jars and shipping took a couple of weeks. Even so, when my Pickl-it jars arrived I still really didn’t know what to do with them. My approach to fermenting needed some fine tuning to be sure and I began reading on the Pickl-it Site. Luckily there are quite a few bloggers converting their recipes to make them appropriate for use in a Pickl-it so there are new ideas all the time.
The first ferment I started was water kefir. That proved to be easy and the method I settled on can be found here. Water Kefir Primary and Secondary Ferments. Right away I began to notice an improvement in my daughters digestion. As long as she had some water kefir with a meal she could skip her enzymes with that meal. Yahoo!!! That was a great discovery! Water kefir is way cheaper to make and more pleasant to consume than those enzyme pills. We even took our water kefir on vacation with us this summer because I knew we needed it’s magic to keep her gut happy.
I was enthusiastic to begin fermenting vegetables in my jars. I made a batch of sauerkraut right away but since sauerkraut takes 10-12 weeks to cure I did not get to try that one for a while. I got a bumper crop of green onions from my CSA so I decided to try fermenting them (pictured below). Aren’t they pretty? I also made some bread and butter pickles and some dill pickles early on. These were fantastic! And the best thing? NO RASH!!!!! My 4 year old could eat them and not a hint of redness appeared on her face or hands. When she ate Bubbies dill pickles or sauerkraut red welts would come up in those same places. WOW!!! Something was really different about these foods! And her gut was improving even more! Her poop improved! Her stomach aches lessened and were occasional instead of daily.
In early August we opened up our first batch of kraut (and I was immediately kicking myself for not having more going yet). This stuff was a whole new level. The improvements in everyones digestion was apparent, and the kraut was delicious! We devoured a liter the first week (I only made 3 L of it) and I had to slow us down or we would run out far too quickly. My home made mason jar kraut has always been tan and mushy unless we consumed it right away (and it caused rashes on my daughter no matter how young or old it was). We just didn’t care for the flavor of it and ate it out of duty, not desire. In fact in the fall of 2011 I made 3 big jars of sauerkraut. I had heard that longer cure times are better and so I let it cure for a month on the shelf. I remember watching the cabbage turn brown from the top down in the jar and I thought that this meant that the fermentation was happening and I got so excited! Oh how foolish I was. It took us all winter to eat half of that mushy kraut once I finally opened it. We just did not like it at all. I purchased Bubbies Kraut since we liked the flavor so much better yet it still caused those rashes on my daughter. Well this anaerobic, 10 week kraut, that I made in the pick-it jar caused no rashes at all. And it was green and crunchy! We greedily gobbled it up and my kids cried when I wouldn’t let them eat all that they desired.
Now here we are about 4 months after I began to ferment in the Pickl-it jars. My daughter still needs an enzyme pill for meals that do not contain ferments. I am hopeful that over time her digestion will improve so much that she can eat the occasional meal without enzymes or ferments when necessary. Her poop is looking better than ever. Her tummy isn’t as bloated as it once was. (She even brought this up the other day). Those rashes on her hands? Those were a reaction to the histamines in foods that are not properly fermented. My ferments properly made in the Pickl-it do not have histamines in them so those rashes are a thing of the past.
I’m getting more and more excited about preserving my foods using the Pickl-it jars. I currently have 3 kinds of cucumber pickles, kraut, green onions, watermelon rind pickles, turnips, garlic, ginger, carrot, sugar (water kefir) and yogurt in various stages of fermentation from just started today to finished and in cold storage while we eat it. I still have a lot to learn about fermenting but my daughters improved health is a huge incentive to continue on this path and learn more and more. My own health has also improved a ton in this time frame. I can’t say what has been caused by my cavitation surgery and what was caused by changing how we fermented our foods and I don’t really want to sort that out. I can say for sure that my gut is happier when I too am consuming ferments with each meal and I have no intention of going back to the way we were.
Have you tried anaerobic fermentation in a Pickl-it Jar or a German Style Crock? Have you noticed any improvments to your health from these foods? I would love to hear about it in the comments.
Shared on GNOWFGLINS Simple Lives Thursday #114
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Thank You! –PattyLA