WILD KITCHEN — Want a Healthy Body and Mind? Eat Your Prebiotics

September 5, 2018

By Nicole Schanen

In my June column, I wrote about the importance of eating fermented foods to establish a healthy gut microbiome. Scientists are now beginning to understand that the beneficial bacteria living within our digestive systems are crucial players in supporting our physical and emotional health.

Most of us know about probiotics. We can get them from store-bought supplements, as well as from fermented foods such as yogurt, kombucha, sauerkraut, chocolate, and local favorites cheese and beer. Consuming these foods is essential to introducing beneficial bacteria to our bodies, but we also have to keep them there.

How do we do that? We feed them. That’s where prebiotics come in.

A prebiotic is an edible but indigestible soluble fiber that stimulates the growth and activity in our guts of beneficial bacteria like Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli. 

An important prebiotic is inulin, a complex sugar, found in many plant foods, especially onions, leeks, garlic, asparagus, jicama, Jerusalem artichokes, chicory root, and burdock root.

A second key prebiotic is pectin. Pectin is a viscous soluble fiber — we often think of it is as the gelling agent used in jellies and jams. Fruits contain the highest levels of pectin, and applesauce is a rich source of pectin that is easily available to our good gut bugs.

For this month’s column, I’m including two prebiotic-rich recipes that also include ingredients that are currently in season – homemade applesauce and fermented sour dill pickles. As an added bonus, the pickles contain both prebiotics and probiotics.

Homemade Applesauce

Ingredients

8 apples (I use a naturally sweet variety like Gala so I don’t need to add sugar)

1/2 cup water

Juice from 1 lemon

Optional: 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Optional 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

Procedure

1. Peel apples. Cut into quarters and core apples. Cut into smaller pieces.

2. Combine apples, lemon juice, and water in saucepan. Heat to a boil. Reduce heat to low. Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring and mashing occasionally until apples are tender throughout.

3. Once tender, mash apples to the desired consistency. Add cinnamon and nutmeg if desired.

Applesauce will keep up to 5 days in the refrigerator or 2 months in the freezer. If freezing, double spices as they lose some flavor during the freezing process.

 

Fermented Dill Pickles

Equipment

1-quart jar or ceramic crock

Ingredients

1 pound unwaxed pickling cucumbers

1½ tablespoons sea salt or pickling salt (Choose salt with no additives like iodine or anti-caking agents)

2 cups filtered, unchlorinated water

Dill, you can use fresh or dried leaves, or dill seed

5 -10 garlic cloves, peeled and slightly crushed

1 small handful fresh grape, cherry, horseradish, or oak leaves, rinsed to clean. (The tannins in the leaves preserve the pickles’ crunch. I use oak leaves because they’re free and readily available.)

½ tablespoon whole black peppercorns

Optional add-ins: mustard seed, celery seed, chili peppers, red pepper flakes. Research other pickling spice mixes and experiment

Procedure

1. Rinse the cucumbers and carefully remove ¼ inch of the blossom end. If they aren’t fresh from the vine that day, you can refresh them by soaking them in ice water for a couple of hours.

2. Add dill, garlic, leaves, peppercorns, and whatever other spices you’re using, to the bottom of the jar or crock.

3. Add the cucumbers, packing them tightly so they are more likely to stay submerged once you add the brine. I like to turn the jar on its side, and pack the cucumbers in so that they are vertical when the jar is upright.

4. Prepare the brine by adding 1 ½tablespoons salt to 2 cups water. Stir until the salt is completely dissolved in the water. Pour the brine into the jar or crock.

It is very important that the cucumbers are completely submerged beneath the brine, as this keeps mold from forming. If the brine does not cover the cucumbers, you can make more at a ratio of¾ tablespoon salt to 1 cup of water.

5. If the cucumbers are still floating, you can add something heavy to hold them down, like a plate, smaller jar filled with water, or clean rock in a plastic zipper-style freezer bag. You could also cut the lid of a plastic container to slightly larger than the circumference of the jar or crock and push that down over the cucumbers to keep them submerged. I use a German-style sauerkraut crock that comes with weights. It works beautifully for fermenting pickles.

6. If using a jar, cover loosely with the lid, or cover with a towel held in place with rubberbands. The idea is to keep dust and flies out, while allowing the fermentation gases to escape.

7. Place the jar or crock on your countertop and allow to ferment until they change color from bright green to a dull olive green, then taste them every few days. If in a glass container, place in an area free of direct sunlight.

Check after 5 to 7 days. The fermentation timeframe depends a lot on the temperature of the room. The longer the pickles ferment, the more sour they will become. When they reach the level of sourness that you prefer, transfer them to a glass or ceramic container and store them in the refrigerator.

(Note: there may be a white-colored film on your pickles. This is not mold, so long as they’ve remained submerged in the brine, of course. This is the inulin from the garlic. It’s a good thing!)

Nicole Schanen is a Wisconsin native and lifelong resident of the Southeastern Wisconsin. She enjoys cooking, reading, caring for the herbs in her garden, and experimenting with different fermented foods. Nicole can be reached by email: schanenn@gmail.com.

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