Yeah, I think I have a winner.

I'm totally in love with my new kitchen pet.

Okay, so I haven’t established a routine with my new kefir yet, but I’m having a lot of fun playing around and trying new things. I already learned that a second fermentation on the counter will result in curds and whey, but that was awesome because it made it easier to strain and tomorrow we will have a cream cheese fruit dip with apples for a great snack :). I’m loving how flexible this is, that I can pretty much make any dairy product with it (I’m going to get an ice-cream maker for it before Summer comes), and there’s such a wide range of smoothie flavors to play around with.

I have a neighbor who was born in the Ukraine, he’s pretty much American but his family still talks longingly of rye kvass and kefir, I’ve had to learn to pronounce it “kee-fear” even though my local health food store calls it “kee-fur” or he gets all angry stalwart Ukrainian on me.

I liked making sauerkraut, but after two batches of it I was so sick of it that I couldn’t bring myself to eat it anymore. It seems that may be an occasional treat, I really would like to try it on a burger. If I get a jar to make a smaller batch in that will refrigerate, that might be best. The ginger bug for sodas is out of my budget for something to keep up each day, though I do find that it’s so easy to start up that I can enjoy it occasionally. I hated dilly carrots, and I’ll find out soon about pickled onions.

Kvass burger.

I did like the beet kvass though. So, that might end up being a regular thing, especially since the pulp was great in meatloaf patties. It looks like my kvass routine will end with juicing the veggies after fermentation and using the pulp in meatloaf, crackers, and breads. With some tweaking, I hope to bring the red meat part of my patties to as low as possible while still including it in our diet for variety. I’ll share when I do figure out, but it might be a couple of months as my kvass factory won’t be nearly as full blown as my kefir factory. For now I’ll tell you that above was about half pulp (beets, carrots, and ginger), half meat, with one egg and a handful of quick oats (because I had no stale sourdough but I would have preferred that).

Anyway, so as far as probiotics go, it looks like I’ll be focusing on kefir with the occasional kvass and even more occasional experiment with a new vegetable pickle. Also my grains need a name. It’s something I’m chewing on.

By the way, check this out. Remember those tiny plants I posted pictures of on my birthday just a couple of weeks ago?

Gettin' my spring in my step.

Growing right along. Next to them is a bit of mint and dill, cuttings from some rather wilted herbs at the store that may not root well (being so far past their prime) but hopefully one or two will make it. I bet the mint does, that stuff is seriously hardy. I’ll tell you more about this little window some other time. Right now I need to go wail and whine and lament that my ink pen is throwing a tantrum when I want to draw.

Yay, it’s mah birthday. I’m buyin’ myself kefir :).

My birthday is always a special day for me. Although I don’t actually care about the birthday part of it. I care about the groundhog part of it. Mostly because asking a groundhog if spring is coming reminds me of the other day it is.

It’s Imbolc, a Pagan holiday that celebrates the coming of spring, the time of year that we honor that cows begin lactating and seedlings germinate. I like playing with my houseplants, I like foraging, I like warmer weather and longer days, I like spring being near and the season of hope and joy and youth that it represents, love, frolicking, all that. So, it’s one of my favorite holidays. Sure, the actual spring solstice is nice too, but Imbolc means its soon to be here, and I love having something to look forward to :). Festival meals usually include dairy and sprouts.

This means two things for me:

1) Time to plant my seeds, and I get to do it in a way to honor my religion! Oh. Dang. This year I already planted my seeds, because they had to be in the refrigerator for a month, and I wanted them in the ground by April (after I let them get started here). Usually I don’t have seeds, but I can at least propagate my houseplants. This year I’ve already planted some ginger root already and some dandelion roots to grow those as houseplants (we’ll see how that goes), so that part all came early this year. So far the dandelions are growing like weeds ;). I only planted them a couple of days ago. I planted the ginger about a month ago.


Spring is settin' forth to spring

2) In my area, the dandelions are starting to become visible out on the lawns as well. Foraging season begins :). No blooms yet, but I’ve already added the greens to some soup (obviously where I got the roots for planting). This year I’m gonna ferment the flowers too, maybe not the traditional dandelion wine way, but in a ginger bug soda. I also have a small sample of the roots pickling, so I get to try those in a couple of weeks. More foraging is peeking out, chickweed and henbit are both very prolific in my apartments and I’m starting to see signs of them. Since I didn’t get to forage (here at least) last year because I thought they were spraying, I will really enjoy the fact that they actually aren’t, and all because of my weird ass.

Anyway, this year I’m going to celebrate the dairy part as well (the purchase of it anyway). My son and I are lactose intolerant, but I can eat cheese and yogurt. So I risked drinking a quart of kefir to see what would happen, and since I didn’t explode that widens my possibilities some.

After much deliberation (between yogurt, kefir, and kombucha), I shall add kefir to my kitchen pets. There’s going to be so many things I can make now.  Dips and cream cheese will pair well with Bob’s children. Sourdough Bob has given me more flatbreads lately, and crackers (kind of tired of bread for a bit). I’ve been thinking about trying pitas, or returning to pretzels. All of those (and bread itself) will go great with dips and spreads made from my kefir :). It will be nice to have dairy in the house that won’t um, make my home less hospitable to company.

Bonus, my super picky kid loved the kefir. He actually doesn’t remember reacting to milk and keeps “correcting” me saying he’s not lactose intolerant, he just hates milk. He is though, and I’m looking forward to us both being able to consume more calcium and b12 on a regular basis.

Only I get to buy the kefir culture with my birthday money from Grandma (thanks Grandma!) which means I won’t have it in my hands for a bit. Sigh. The planting came early and the dairy comes late. I’ll be at a loss for what to do today. Well, I might splurge on more store-bought kefir, and put some sprouts in with dinner. I wish I knew some Pagans to go run around in the damp grass all barefoot with. Oh well.

How have my kitchen experiments been going you ask? So far, still experiments. I think I’ve made some serious progress with how to handle my ginger bug (I’ve had a problem with too much sweetness, fermenting too fast or too slowly, how to handle spent wort, stuff like that). Still working on that too though, but I’ll let you know more soon I’m sure. Anne-Marie of The Zero-Waste Chef pointed me at an Alton Brown recipe for candied ginger for my wort, and that turned out fantastic. In a few weeks I should know more of what I’m doing here, so I’ll let my tiny corner of the world know about it then.


Candied ginger from ginger left over from making ginger ale. Waste not!

Remember the kvass?

Pretty just never really lasts, does it?

I really did enjoy those pretty stars for a day or two, but I hoped I’d end up with a pink monochromatic watercolor with little light stars on a dark beet background. You can’t even see the stars! Anyway, most of the recipes I saw said a day or two for kvass, so after about three or four days I still wasn’t getting a hint of tang or bubbles. I juiced it and it was way too salty, and very inactive. So, I went ahead and put it back in the jug, minus the fiber from the veggies, and watched it for a week. Nothing, really.

I tossed a pinch of Bob the sourdough king in there (poured out a cup of kvass, whisked him in, and added it back to the mix) and the next day it was really active. The day after that it was very pleasantly tangy (made me smile with delight at the tang) but still way too salty. Next time I’ll try 1% brine instead of 2%. Also, the recipes said a day or two, but then I ran across other recipes that had a much longer time frame. So, I’ll still play with this one for a bit and see how it goes. I might even do stars to make me happy for a couple of days :).

Or flowers. I totally wasted some money on vegetable cutters back when I did bento, and I hardly used them because I had to get a wide enough carrot to use the cutters on, and all that slicing into rounds and punching out flowers wasn’t worth the effort. I was hoping that if i put flowers in my son’s soup, he might eat the carrots. He didn’t. We’re still working on getting beta-carotene into him, though he does like the purée in soup.

Anyway, I ran across a YouTube video that made the pretty carrots so much easier. Check her out at about 1:03. The rest of the video is cool too :).

By the way, the pulp from the juice after I ran the kvass through the juicer? Excellent in sourdough crackers. The crackers weren’t quite perfect in texture just yet, but the flavor was great and I see a lot of potential here.

Oh, and one more thing about fermentation that I’ve learned: I hate Rejuvelac. No matter how I flavor it. That is all.

Rotten Rotters, and Blogging Blogger Reading About Rotten Rot

Well, reading and blogging about fermentation anyway. I don’t know if you noticed, but I’m slowly getting information pages, more graphics, and some book reviews on that navigation bar above my banner. Right now I’m happiest about the fact that I did my first interview. A tiny little mini-interview, but an interview all the same.

This still being a brand-spanking new hobby blog with only a handful of traffic, I didn’t want to bother him overly much, but my review of The Art of Fermentation includes a snippet from the voice actor Sean Crisden. I became curious about what kind of effect the experience of performing the book had upon him, and he was kind enough to reply. This encourages me, I might start trying to do interviews more often.

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, the fermentation thing is doing it’s bubbly, tasty, tangy thing. I’ve been playing around and learning quite a bit.

I’ve learned that I don’t like dosas. This is a sad thing for me to say, our diet is lentil and rice based pretty much. I would have liked to have found a new way to prepare them, and it’s very seldom that I say I don’t like something.

I learned that I love fresh cabbages and beets. This was a shock. I thought I disliked them. Turns out that I just don’t like canned beets, or my grandma’s overcooked cabbage (don’t worry, she can’t figure out the internet past Facebook, my secret’s safe here). If I hadn’t been playing around with kraut and kvass, I never would have realized how tasty they are.

I also learned that I don’t just like raw cabbage, I like love lust sauerkraut. I knew I liked it, but naturally fermented… well I’m going to need more things to make it in. What I thought would last a month lasted only a little more than a week. My first batch was in a gallon jar with a smaller jar inside of it holding down a trimmed plastic coffee can lid. Normally I hate plastic. I do what I can to avoid it, but I’m not above reusing it if it’s already in my home. I’ll do anything I can to avoid throwing it away. My hatred has a lot more to do with the environment than health (but I definitely won’t reuse plastics labeled #1).

Which is why I shocked myself when I bought my new toy.

Japanese pickling box for kimchi, here with sauerkraut to be.

In my defense, as a reusable object it’s built to last and at least isn’t disposable. BPA, lead, and DEHP free, comes in several sizes, and the inner lid keeps your vegges under the brine perfectly. So I caved and bought plastic to ferment in.


Kimchi pickling box in action

I mean, look at that. That’s kraut with grated carrots, I just salted and mixed it up, then put it in the box. After a few minutes, I pressed down on the inner lid and the brine came up with no massaging. I closed the airhole on the lid and now it’s in an anaerobic environment that is doing a lot better job of keeping vegges down below the brine than my hand cut lid did.

Now here’s the deal, my jar setup that I had ended up with kraut that was kind of rubbery and squeaky to eat. I massaged it a lot to get the brine out, I’m hoping that with less massaging and this box, and a thinner cut, I’ll end up with a better texture. Personally the taste more than made up for the texture for me, but I know I need to fix that before I try serving it to anyone else, or to get any chance at all of getting it into my son’s belly where I want it.

I’ve heard that pushing the veges under the brine is anaerobic, but a true anaerobic environment will get a better texture. So, I’m giving it a shot. I’m on a limited budget (in fact I had to give up coffee for the month to afford this) and this was a less expensive option than some of the airlock lids. I’ll compare the result of this batch to my jar experience and decide from that if I will invest in more of these boxes or look at other options. No matter what, this was a lot easier to get everything under the brine. Seems easy to reach in and taste as well, and easy to store compared to a jar with an airlock on it, I can stack these.

I’ll see though. If the result isn’t that much better than my jar setup, that won’t justify expense and environmental costs in my eyes. It would have to be something I know I’d be thrilled with my whole life if I’m going to buy another. I won’t regret this one though, I’m happy with it I just don’t know if I want to keep buying more.

In the meantime, my jar is going to make some pretty little beet kvass for me :).


Star kvass with beets, beet greens, carrots, and ginger

I put the beet greens in with my kvass, because this woman did, and she looks like she’s having fun. Possibly way too much fun. Anyway, she seemed to enjoy her results and I didn’t have to figure out what to do with the greens. Also, carrot stars because now my counter is all pretty. It makes me smile when I walk by. That’s ginger on top of the carrots, leftover from ginger ale making below.

I admit, I’m also curious. I’ve seen pics by bloggers with pretty little pickle jars, but not too many of the finished product get posted. I know pickles get cloudy and full of sediment, things change color and the whole jar looks like a vegetable graveyard full of pickle zombies. I kind of want to see what happens to this. I’m envisioning a monochromatic landscape, with lighter stars, looking like a watercolor where they only had a tube of magenta.

In a couple of days I’ll probably run the vegges through the juicer, I’ve been wondering what I’ll do with the pulp. I might throw some marinara in it and call it pasta sauce. I guess I’ll taste it and see.

Speaking of my juicer, it turns out that carrot and apple juice tastes very nice when a ginger bug is added to it. Even my son liked it and he hates carrots (I’m so hoping he’ll like the kvass). That pulp went into pancake batter and it was yummy.

Oh yes, my ginger bug jug has a new toy as well.

Hard ginger ale to be.

Now I can make the adult-only version of ginger ale with more confidence. This jug has some honey in it, but it’s otherwise only ginger with no other flavors. I’ve discovered that if I simmer my ginger root twice when making wort for ginger ale, what’s left is still worth dehydrating and saving with some decrease in spice but still worth powdering to flavor things. Or maybe keeping fresh in the refrigerator and adding to certain meals or soups (or that star kvass next to it).

This is very good news for me, as it means I use less ginger in my ginger ale and I manage to have something left over to cook and bake with, ginger is rather costly to me and I’d like it to last as long as possible.

What do you do with your leftovers? Like here I’m looking at what to do with kvass juicer pulp and spent ginger. I’ve heard of using beets from kvass in soup, but I’d love to hear more suggestions. If you have a recipe that’s suited toward using up all of the vegetable in various stages in any kind of ferment, avoiding waste or maximizing nutrition, do share.

Ginger Bug Soda: Ginger Cherry Apple Cider

Wow, what a whirlwind of a holiday. I ended up going on an unplanned road trip for nearly a week, one of those “pack now” things, and I managed to grab my toothbrush but didn’t have time to even contemplate what to do with my kitchen pets. Thankfully though, I only came home to a very hungry sourdough and only lost some sprouts.

My ginger bug was fine, it was actually still bubbling though it hadn’t been fed in almost a week. I had some ginger cream soda (ginger ale with a vanilla pod thrown in) in the refrigerator that I was worried might explode, but that turned out to be okay as well. I was going to post about my cherry ginger cider last week, but I left my computer. Had a lot of fun on the trip though.

Also, sweetie gave me Wild Fermentation as an eBook and Art of Fermentation as an audio book :). Audio books are great when you do chores, during kitchen time, or when you don’t have a car and an errand can take from two to five hours. Right, ginger bug soda now.

A recipe for Cherry Ginger Cider, an all-natural soda that I just love. Ginger bug sodas are a great introduction to probiotic foods and wild fermentation. This is a way to make sodas with decreased sugar and artificial additives, plus you get to customize your drink to your personal taste preferences. Ginger is also a great remedy for digestive complaints and nausea, and it stimulates circulation for warming the hands and feet during winter. From Dryad In The Elm at

If you don’t know what a ginger bug is, it’s basically a starter like sourdough, only for drinks instead of bread. You can use it to make your own lightly carbonated sodas without all the artificial additives and you control the sugar content. In fact, you can make a health tonic for it, as right away you are including ingredients with medicinal value. Ginger root itself has a number of healthy properties, and the lactobacteria within the root offer probiotic benefits. Even if you don’t care about probiotics and additives in your food, just the fun of mixing up your own flavors is worth it. I dare you to find a ginger cherry apple cider (with allspice) on the supermarket isle. Not gonna happen.

There are many potential soda ingredients that could work together as far as flavor is concerned while giving your body whatever therapeutic boost you might need. Just think of all the fruits and vegetables that are praised for their nutritional and therapeutic value: cranberries, blueberries, carrots, lemons, there are a ton of possibilities here. I have indeed added carrot juice to one batch of my soda hoping to increase my son’s vitamin A… Well that didn’t work for him but maybe you’ll like it. I loved it.

How to Make a Ginger Bug

It’s super easy. You get a jar and put in equal parts (I use 1/8 cup, many people use 1 or 2 tablespoons) of fresh ginger root, sugar, and water. Stir it up, cover the jar with something that can breathe (a loose lid or a cloth with a rubber band) and feed it this same amount every day. Don’t use a tight lid, the build up of carbon dioxide needs to escape so you don’t have a small and sticky explosion. In a few days, your ginger bug will start to bubble. If you want to take a break from feeding it, a ginger bug in your refrigerator only needs to be fed once a week.

I run my ginger root through a food processor and keep a processed root in my refrigerator, taking out a bit of it each day. That way I don’t have to cut it up each time. I’ve seen people use thinly sliced root, but when I was using a knife still I preferred to mince it as small as I could, exposing as much surface of the root as possible. Use organic; conventional ginger root may have been irradiated to increase shelf life, and the yeasts and bacteria naturally found in the root will have been damaged. Yes, I confirmed myself that I got better results with an organic root than a conventional root.

The sugar can be refined, but I use unrefined sugar. Brown sugar can also be used, just don’t use an artificial sweetener. The sugar feeds the yeast and lactobacteria in the root, so low-calorie sugar substitutes will not work. After my trip though, I’m starting to wonder if perhaps I might be able to use half a measure of sugar, since the bug was still going after so long and my sodas have been a little too sweet for my taste. I’ll play with that and get back to you on how it works. I’ve heard you can’t use honey because of antibacterial properties, but I’ve also heard that once it is diluted with water honey will work just fine (we can see this in mead). I’ve yet to try that, it’s on my “see what happens if I…” list.

For water I use filtered water. Tap water has chlorine in it which may interfere with bacterial growth. It might be possible to still ferment in it, but you may get decreased results. I’d also like to try different waters, to find out for myself if the minerals in my filtered tap water will benefit or damage my bug when compared to pure distilled water, or if spring water might be worth the cost. I do know this though: measure out your water every day. I read some recipes that had a set amount of water where you only measured out ginger and sugar every day, but I did not get results that were as good as measuring out the water along with the ginger and sugar. Besides, it would be harder to calculate how much sugar was in your mixture, by the time my bug was bubbly I ended up with something way too sweet and for some reason my bug wasn’t getting as bubbly as it does when I measure out the water as well. I think the mix got too thick and syrupy for the bug to bubble properly. Measuring the water daily means your bug is consistent in its flavor and thickness.

How to Make Soda From a Ginger Bug

When your ginger bug is nice and bubbly and you have about a cup or two of it (I’d use two cups in a gallon), simply strain the ginger out and add the liquid to whatever juice you would like to turn into a soda. If you are using juice from a store, make sure that it does not contain anything but fruit juice and water. It can be pasteurized, and doesn’t have to be organic (though that is preferred), but should not contain any additives or preservatives. Just fruit juice and water. Glass is the best container, if you use plastic go for a milk jug with a number 2 on the bottom and not the clear plastic with a number 1, number 1 plastic is not intended to be reused and is the plastic that leeches chemicals that may potentially mess with your hormones. A milk jug with a cap that screws on well will make the pressurizing step less dangerous (no explosion) and will be more air tight than with a cap that snaps on. Plastic is evil though. It makes baby dolphins cry.

You will likely need to remove some juice to make room for the bug, so pour out a glass and drink it. Funnel the ginger bug into the juice, cover lightly with a cloth or a loose lid, and wait a few days. Soon it should be bubbly. If you wish, you can then cap it tightly so the pressure builds and the soda is more carbonated. Careful, if the pressure builds up too much it may explode. This may be a good time to use that milk jug, you can squeeze it to see how the pressure is doing. If you’d rather use glass, you may wish to put it in a safe container. I had mine in a stock pot with a paper bag placed over it in the refrigerator when I was on vacation. You can “burp” it daily to release some of the pressure to prevent explosion. Best case scenario for a larger batch of soda: bottle the soda in reusable glass bottles and store in a cooler (that will contain explosions). Keep one plastic bottle, you can squeeze it to test how it is pressurizing and assume the glass bottle sodas will be comparable.

If you leave your soda on the counter longer, you will end up with something mildly alcoholic. Technically the soda is alcoholic as well, but in such small amounts that it’s comparable to many shelved fruit juices at the store, something so miniscule that it isn’t even required to be mentioned by the FDA. If you want to encourage alcohol growth, just leave it out on the counter until the bubbles start to decrease a little, indicating that either the alcohol is raising to a high enough level to start to kill the yeast, or that the sugar levels are decreasing (or both). Wild yeasts don’t tend to make a highly alcoholic beverage, they die off when the brew is about beer strength. This is a bonus for me personally (not looking for my daily healthy soda to make me all woozy), and even better it doesn’t need stuff like an airlock or sanitized equipment.

So, back to the recipe for this particular soda. Once upon a time, I had just filtered out my ginger bug and added it to a gallon of organic apple cider. I wondered what to do with the leftover ginger in my hand and had just decided to make tea with it when someone came by and gave me a giant bag of dried cherries. I quickly chopped about two cups of them up just a tad and threw them into my saucepan along with the ginger tea I had just made. I also decided to throw in about a tablespoon of ground allspice and 1/2 a cup of sugar (to offset the heat from the ginger being even more extracted than the simple bug).

A recipe for Cherry Ginger Cider, an all-natural soda that I just love. Ginger bug sodas are a great introduction to probiotic foods and wild fermentation. This is a way to make sodas with decreased sugar and artificial additives, plus you get to customize your drink to your personal taste preferences. Ginger is also a great remedy for digestive complaints and nausea, and it stimulates circulation for warming the hands and feet during winter. From Dryad In The Elm at

Then I simmered it, covered, about half an hour on medium low. I believe the boozemakers call this a mash, and the resulting filtered liquid is a wort. So I strained the mash through some cheesecloth and simmered the wort uncovered to condense it (making a syrup) and let it cool before adding it to my jug of cider with the ginger bug in it already.  Finally I covered it with an old clean tee-shirt scrap and a rubber band, let sit a few days and then:

A recipe for Cherry Ginger Cider, an all-natural soda that I just love. Ginger bug sodas are a great introduction to probiotic foods and wild fermentation. This is a way to make sodas with decreased sugar and artificial additives, plus you get to customize your drink to your personal taste preferences. Ginger is also a great remedy for digestive complaints and nausea, and it stimulates circulation for warming the hands and feet during winter. From Dryad In The Elm at

A wonderfully spicy and sweet gently bubbly treat. Of the sodas I’ve made so far, this is my favorite, and not just because of the flavor. It’s also because of the leftovers.

When I was done, I still had a handful of ginger root to wonder what to do with, only now there were also some cherries in it. Thankfully, inspiration struck and it was magnificent. I can’t quite yet compost in my apartment (worms are on my wish list) and while I could cook with my leftovers (cherry gingerbread muffins sounded tempting) I thought of something better.

A recipe for Cherry Ginger Cider, an all-natural soda that I just love. Ginger bug sodas are a great introduction to probiotic foods and wild fermentation. This is a way to make sodas with decreased sugar and artificial additives, plus you get to customize your drink to your personal taste preferences. Ginger is also a great remedy for digestive complaints and nausea, and it stimulates circulation for warming the hands and feet during winter. From Dryad In The Elm at

Yay food dehydrator! See, I’ve started a rejuvelac habit as well. It tends to be my breakfast, or the last thing I eat for the day (still haven’t decided which habit to keep). When I finish the drink, I just eat the sprouted grain (so far I’ve only tried wheat and rye). While I don’t mind the flavor, I don’t exactly look forward to it either. But if I powder things I strain in my ginger bug sodas, and add perhaps a tablespoon of flax seed (I’ve heard flax is more beneficial if not cooked) I can add this to the rejuvelac. I still get some sludge at the bottom that I spoon out to eat, and I’m sure I’ll come up with a smoothie type recipe soon, but for now this is working quite well :).

Next time I wish to add fruits to my ginger bug sodas, I’ll likely add the cooled mash to the jug for at least a couple of days so the probiotics can colonize the mash. Alternately, I might skip the mash part and just add all fruit ingredients to the ginger bug itself. Then when I strain out my flavorings, they will also be infused with probiotic bacteria. I can put my dehydrator on the lowest temp (which is 95°F, not higher than body temperature so safe for probiotics) and my rejuvelac flavor powder will contain even more beneficial goodness. If I manage to get into the homemade yogurt thing and use that as a smoothie base, I’ll have an even more diverse set of microbes and probiotic strains to my breakfast.  That’s a work in progress though, and something I’m still thinking through. In the meantime, I’ve managed to figure out a great way to use instead of waste my leftovers from the ginger bug.

Update: It turns out that throwing a vanilla pod into your bug, or your fermenting soda (or both), works out very nice indeed for a Ginger Cherry Cream Cider. Also, I’m out of dried cherries and they don’t carry them at my local store. Sigh.

Related Posts:

Probiotics: Now I get to have fun watching it all rot.

Fun stuff of interest by other people:

I’ve been collecting other people’s fermentation posts on my Pinterest. There’s lots of ginger bug stuff scattered throughout, including several soda recipes.

A Life Unprocessed shares the tidbit that ginger that has been frozen does not produce bubbly ginger bugs, and you probably shouldn’t use ginger that has been peeled. That’s good to know.

Holistic Squid shares a strawberry soda that I’m so going to try when they come back into season.

Sustainable Eats has a great article on different flavorings and methods from steeping to syrups.

Probiotics: Now I get to have fun watching it all rot, but is it just for fun or medicine?

Ginger bug

There is a really good chance that if you are reading this blog, you’ve already heard of naturally fermented foods. Especially since at this point, most of my traffic is likely to either come from real food and sustainable lifestyle blogs I follow, people on Pinterest interested in the same subjects, or my sweetly supportive boyfriend. But, like any good blogger I must of course put my own words on the subject out there. Except that there are so many words to be said, and I’m not quite sure yet what I fully think.

So my ginger bug that I started because of Fermentation for Beginners seems to have caused quite a stir on me.  While my bug started its first few bubbles, I dived into the internet and strangled it for all the info it was worth, blew up a new board on Pinterest (man that thing seems to be growing way faster than all my other boards) and checked out Sandor Katz‘s books from the library (The Art of Fermentation and Wild Fermentation).

Only I’ve been so busy stalking the fantastically fabulous Wild Fermentation Facebook group and various blogs around the world that I haven’t even had time to catch up with myself, settle down, and read my library books. I was going to write about a ginger bug, but now I’m starting Rejuvelac, sauerkraut, and apple cider vinegar as well. Also, I’ve been reading so much online that when I went back to browse Fermentation for Beginners, I noticed that there are some things said that (in theory) I’m not sure I agree with or I seem to be telling myself that I know better methods. I still think it’s a good book, but I’d say it probably shouldn’t be the only fermentation book in my library. I’m really looking forward to cracking open these library books, for sure.

What got me in so deep is that this new culinary adventure may also have the medicinal benefit of probiotics, the friendly bacteria that can actually do your body some good. So far I know that some pros are claims of improved digestion, especially for people who suffer from chronic conditions related to digestion and intestinal disturbances, or inflammation in general including joint pain. There may be a possible weight loss benefit for some people. There is the added benefit that beneficial bacteria and microbes may help the immune system, decreasing our reliance on antibiotics and allowing our immunities to develop naturally (thus not providing bacteria the chance to mutate a resistance to antibiotics). There also seems to be benefit to some psychological conditions, including anxiety, depression, and autism or Asperger’s syndrome.

Now, my son has frequent stomach upset and we both have anxiety issues. In addition, I have chronic joint pain that doctors have seen inflammation with but have not been able to pinpoint the cause of (and I got tired of being a pincushion so gave up trying to figure it out). So, this certainly gets my interest up.

I spoke with my son’s doctor and she said that while it may help his stomach issues, the research supporting probiotics decreasing anxiety or depression is weak (though it does exist). She mentioned that she has seen several clients through the years experiment with different diets to help disorders such as anxiety, autism, Asperger’s, and ADHD. She said there was only a minimal impact on symptoms and therapeutic intervention was still required. (Secretly I thought that even a small benefit is a cool side effect when you’re only doing this to make neat new sodas and tangy foods.)

Yet, some not so shady sources seem to contradict what she has seen in her personal practice. It does seem that Harvard is getting behind some of the claims. So that seems reputable. I also noticed that the results of one study were labeled “inconclusive” because parents of kids with autism were refusing to take their kids off of probiotics once the symptoms alleviated to see if the children reverted to pre-probiotic behaviors. I don’t blame them. If I had a kid with autism and they improved on a treatment, I think I’d be more likely to flip my doctor the bird than take my kid off those wonderful meds.

I know there are plenty of people who feel better after making their own probiotic drinks and foods, but that could be the result of removing harmful additives, especially if they were soda junkies before. It could also be a placebo effect, but I don’t care. I love the placebo effect, it’s like medicine without harmful side effects. That’s actually pretty neat. Unless you are a pessimist, then you get the nocebo effect, and you only experience the negative side effects. No, I’m serious, that’s a thing. Google is right over there, go look it up if you don’t believe me.

More convincing are the reports from people who found themselves in a lot of intestinal discomfort following a large amount of antibiotics, and then they experienced relief with probiotic foods. However, in such a case it appears that you may need a doctor’s help recommending the right probiotic medicine to use. I’ve run across several articles that discuss how one strain of prescription probiotics may benefit a certain disorder or reaction to antibiotics, but other strains are effective on other disorders. This may explain why some studies have not shown support while others have; perhaps the incorrect strain was used in the testing. In home fermentation, perhaps one food might not help while another will.

In looking at both research and stories of personal experiences, it seems like they vague results are likely because there are a number of causes of any of these disorders. There’s a lot of discussion about mice and probiotics, but we aren’t mice and our lives, environment, and diets are more complicated than the average laboratory mice. We have more chance of running into other underlying causes of certain behaviors, disorders, or diseases.

I know that boosts to digestion are said to help as much as any medicine might, as it allows our bodies to absorb more nutrients and those nutrients can help to strengthen systems that flush out more toxins. We can increase overall energy and  possibly decrease emotional stress, especially if the overall diet improves along with digestion.

Actually, for a long time I’ve been a believer that efficient digestion and assimilation of nutrients can help a lot of disorders. If you aren’t absorbing and utilizing your nutrients correctly, your body will lack what it needs to function. A boost in digestion means you are absorbing more nutrition from the same amount of food (and your body is using less resources and energy to get the added nutrition).

A lot of minerals and vitamins may impact metabolism, conversion of nutrients into cellular tissue, and even production of neurochemicals such as serotonin and melatonin. One nutrient or chemical out of whack can produce a chain reaction. If we aren’t producing melatonin correctly, we aren’t sleeping well, and therefore everything from memory and learning, our ability to control our emotions and react to stress, to our ability for our body to heal and repair itself during deep sleep will be damaged.

Also, if we are off in one nutrient, we are likely to be off in more than one, causing multiple systems to be stressed out from multiple causes. Digestion isn’t the only factor by far. There are also genetics, lifestyle habits, and environmental factors that could be affecting our health and well being (as well as other underlying issues).

It could be that by improving digestion we provide a little more benefit and support to these systems, and in some cases that could help. I can see how obesity could be potentially helped in some cases. If you are driven to overeat due to the body trying to make up for a lack of nutrients then improving digestion might help you. If that isn’t the cause of your obesity, it might not.

If your body is sending you stress signals (resulting in anxiety) to indicate the presence of a toxin, perhaps clearing your gut of yeast or detrimental microbes and replacing them with healthy probiotics will decrease your symptoms. If that’s not what is causing your anxiety, it might not.

What works for one person is not guaranteed to work for another because a wide range of diseases and disorders display the same symptoms. Headaches for example. They can be caused by insomnia, hormonal fluctuations, dehydration, aftermath or side effects of drugs (recreational or prescribed), eyestrain, stress, and so on. If your headache is due to a lack of sleep, a glass of water won’t help.

I’ve also seen information that says how the probiotics are delivered matters; they need something durable to survive through the gut. Critics of probiotics say that the bacteria will die in the stomach acids, while fans say that even then the probiotic foods will make the intestine set up a more beneficial environment (the probiotic as prebiotic argument). True, if a probiotic food has bacteria that die in the stomach acids it may still set up prebiotic conditions in the intestines to allow favorable bacteria to grow, but it also seems of benefit to try to make sure that some of the beneficial bacteria actually get there to colonize the favorable conditions.

What I’ve read so far has me thinking that complex carbohydrates may be better than the simple sugars in soda making (blackstrap molasses instead of refined sugar), and maybe yogurt or fermented cream cheese spreads on bread might benefit from the digestion-slowing gluten and complex carbs in whole grains. In other words, if a food containing probiotics is more difficult to break down in the stomach, it might be able to deliver the actual probiotic strains to the gut instead of simply making the gut less friendly to evil little microbes and malicious yeast.

There may also be a problem with people’s personal stories regarding these benefits. Most of the time when I’ve read personal accounts, the people are fed up with doctors (like with me and my joints) and they make broad, sweeping changes to their lifestyle. In these cases, it’s hard to say for sure if it’s all of the changes working together, if it’s only one or two of them, or if it’s one thing buried in the giant list of changes. For instance, if you cut several foods out of your diet at the same time, what if it was only one or two foods that were the cause of your particular issue and the other changes were unnecessary restrictions? I can also see how such stories aren’t going to persuade the medical field too quickly (they’re real strict about changing only one variable at a time and rigorously sticking to the scientific method).

In the meantime, whether or not they fulfill all of their health claims, these fermentation methods do provide us with homemade soft drinks (and other foods) that are healthier than commercial counterparts. We can decrease sugar, use organic ingredients, supplement with medicinal or nutritious ingredients, and experiment with interesting flavors. We can also cut out preservatives, artificial flavoring, and artificial color. This all sounds good to me.

Now I think I’m done thinking about it. I want to go read and just play in the kitchen rather than watch people get into snark fests in the comment sections on newspapers for towns I don’t even live in.

How is my ginger bug doing anyway, you ask? Well, I’m not sure. It seems pretty sluggish, but it is making some bubbles. I did put it into some apple juice, but the result was too sweet and it took way too long to build up pressure. The result wasn’t very fizzy either. I think this week I’ll start changing my feeding method and see how that works out. I was using a method where I had a jar filled with water that I put a tablespoon each of sugar and ginger each day (seemed easier than what was in my book and worked for someone else) but this means the ginger bug goes from being too thin to being too syrupy. I’m going to go back to measuring out my water as well and see if I get better results.

So far my first Rejuvelac was just awful (I think I got some bad microbes in it), but my apple cider vinegar seems to be coming along just fine. That’s the one in the middle of my first pic, my apples are starting to sink so it will be ready to strain soon. I made some sauerkraut too, it’s only a few days old but very active. I’ll post about each of these soon :).

Now I’m going to share some interesting pages I found, mostly because if I’ve missed something fascinating, I’d love for you to cue me in. In the meantime, I’m going to pull away from the internet and get to reading these library books while my new kitchen pets bubble away.

Food Renegade seems pretty happy and enthusiastic with probiotics.

Harvard also seems optimistic about probiotics, especially when it concerns intestinal health. It would be hard for someone to criticize them as a source (unless they’re an ultra snob).

WebMD has some suggestions on which probiotic strains may help certain particular intestinal difficulties.

This CNN article also describes how different strains may alleviate different disorders.

Here’s another pro-probiotic news article.

This How Stuff Works article discusses things of interest for a balanced viewpoint and a nice list of links at the end.

There’s been some evidence that if you are genetically prone to arthritis, gut bacteria may be involved in rheumatoid arthritis.

Actually, I think this study seems to be pretty soundly demonstrating that efficient digestion may decrease obesity (if poor digestion is a factor in the cause in the first place). At least, it may help your obese pet mice.

Some more messing with mice guts demonstrated a rise or decrease in anxiety symptoms in mice.

Here’s a brief summary of several studies, actually I wish the author went into more detail but it is an easy read.

This article tells of how probiotics may decrease symptoms of autism or Asperger’s in some people, as well as discusses more psychological benefits to probiotics.

This page on an autism site naturally discusses autism, but also other disorders that probiotics might help (and in a balanced and honest way).

I’ve heard that some kids with autism are put on the GFCF diet, but what I think is seriously interesting is that this page mentions that there are differences between what intestinal disturbances children with autism display in one decade versus another. This seems to imply that we still have not uncovered the full range of environmental causes that may be contributing to the disorder (which I already knew but there’s a big pointing “what happened in this timeframe?” finger). I also like how that page is honest about the fact that treating the intestines does not help all children with autism. But if you or a loved one have autism, this seems like a great place to find help and support.

The Wild Fermentation group on Facebook has a great page about fermentation myths and facts. That’s a good group full of some pretty levelheaded people. Also some pretty and levelheaded people.