fermentation

What is Leaky Gut Syndrome?

After taking a break from writing regularly in the Journal and focusing on my workshops, I am committed to begin writing again this spring and summer.

First off I'd like to start with an article about LGS, or Leaky Gut Syndrome, which I often mention in my workshops as a dangerous consequence of a weak stomach lining. This is of course discussed in relation to fermented foods, which as you will see below are powerful allies in keeping your stomach lining strong and healthy.
 

What is LGS?

Although sometimes labelled as a “hypothetic condition”, leaky gut syndrome (LGS) is a well documented health condition where the lining of the gut is damaged to the extent that harmful substances and undigested food particles are able to pass through this otherwise protective barrier of microvilli and into the bloodstream or lymphatic system.
A digestive issue to this extent means that the body cannot properly assimilate nutrient and nutrient deficiency symptoms are common.

Making sauerkraut from inexpensive ingredients such as red cabbage is a wonderful and flavoursome way to protect the gut

Making sauerkraut from inexpensive ingredients such as red cabbage is a wonderful and flavoursome way to protect the gut


Causes

LGS is caused by a combination of several things. Stress is one co-factor, as cortisol can build up in the gut in times of chronic stress and cause inflammation which often leads to leaky gut.

Diet is another factor. A diet of mainly processed food and no probiotics while living in a modern, sterilised environment will lead to a poor gut flora over time. Some studies even show that emotional wellbeing and gut flora is linked (Kimberly Wilson's Food & Psychology podcast is excellent listening).
If harmful bacteria get to dominate in the GI tract this will over time cause inflammation which leads to LGS.
Taking antibiotics also contributes to a poor gut flora as antibiotics kill both good and bad bacteria –  it takes over 2 years for the body to regain it’s normal bacterial flora after a course of antibiotics. 

A Standard American Diet or similar can also lead to leaky gut: processed foods, rancid vegetable oils, sodas, over-consumption of protein, pathogens and antibiotics in meat, high carbohydrate diets and FODMAPS all clog up the digestive system and promote inflammation.

Long and/or excessive use of pharmaceuticals such as ibuprofen and paracetamol, oral contraceptives, steroids etc. irritate the gut and can cause inflammation.
Similarly BPA, environmental toxins and pesticides all cause stress to the gut. 

Gluten can lead to leaky gut as it causes the gut to release zonuline, a molecule that can break apart the junctions of the intestinal lining. 

Other inflammatory-promoting foods such as dairy, sugar and especially alcohol can also cause irritation and inflammation of the gut and lead to LGS.

GMO consumption has also been linked to the development of leaky gut and since GMOs have become a part of processed foods incidence of leaky gut has soared. This may be one of the reasons why this condition is less acknowledged than it could be.

 

Symptoms

The symptoms of LGS that are directly linked to the digestion are: heartburn, gas, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (all previously mentioned symptoms arising at intervals, i.e. a very irregular digestion, constitute IBS), discomfort in the small intestine: discomfort is felt more central in the abdomen and on the front around the bellybutton, as the large intestine is located in the perimeter and leaky gut is a problem of the small intestine. 

However, as the digestive system affect the entire body and as the bloodstream is directly affected, common LGS symptoms don’t necessarily straight away seem to link to digestion.
Cognitive disfunction such as brain fog and memory issues, itchy skin, fatigue, sore joints, allergies (including seasonal allergies such as pollen allergy), immune dysfunction and insomnia are also symptoms of LGS.
As the immune system is fighting overtime, sufferers of LGS have lowered immune function and may get sick more easily.
Because of the challenges to the immune function diseases such as autoimmune diseases, diabetes, Crohn’s disease, thyroid dysfunction and even cancer can occur long term.
Mineral deficiencies in zinc, iron and magnesium are common as well as vitamin B12 deficiency.

Milk or coconut kefir – another delicious way to help protect and heal the GI lining

Milk or coconut kefir – another delicious way to help protect and heal the GI lining



Testing

Getting tested for LGS can be difficult as it is not a “real condition” according to some medical societies and because each person may have different levels of permeability and display different symptoms. However there are many indicators of intestinal permeability which one can test for.

The most common test is the mannitol/lactulose test, also known as the urine test, the sugar test, the permeability test. Mannitol and lactulose are sugars which the patient drinks as a liquid. After 6 hours a urine sample is taken to determine which one(s) were better absorbed. If both sugars are elevated in the urine it signifies leaky gut as lactulose is a large sugar usually not passed with urine.
If only mannitol absorption is low it points in the direction of difficulty absorbing small molecules.

A stool test is another common way to test for LGS as the bacteria present in the stool and also the IGA levels can give leads about the digestive function. However many photogenic bacteria and microbials don’t always end up in the stool so this test is used mainly as an indicator.

An IGA test of the blood can also be done to determine LGS.
IGA is an immunoglobulin (antibody) of the blood and very high levels of IGA points in the direction of LGS as the body is on very high alert due to the immune system being thrown off kilter because of the leaky gut. As 60% of the immune system resides inn the small intestine there is really no wonder as to why this happens.

 

Treatment

There are natural ways of healing a leaky gut and these are lifestyle and diet related, but there is no One Diet as different things work for different people.
However limiting the amount of stress on the body – stresses that include not enough sleep, alcohol, toxins, difficult to digest foods, inflammatory promoting foods, strong negative emotions, strong physical experiences and late nights – is essential for all.

  • Psychological stress is, as previously mentioned, a major contributor to leaky gut due to the high levels of cortisol in the body. Reducing this kind of stress in everyday life is very important for overall health and quality of life. Taking the time to meditate, taking proper breaks during meal times and getting enough sleep are things that alleviates stress and a raised level of cortisol.
  • Eating slowly and chewing one’s food properly into a liquid limits the pressure put on an already stressed digestive system.
  • Eliminating irritating and inflammatory foods from the diet is important. Sugar, gluten, alcohol, cigarettes and in some cases caffeine and dairy must be let go of completely for a period of time and can then be slowly and moderately reintroduced into the diet.
    Harder to digest foods such as pulses, nuts and grains should be soaked/germinated with an acidic medium before cooking in order to reduce their phytic acid content and increase their digestibility. A balanced, healthy diet rich in vegetables is important.

Specific foods and nutrients can be added to speed up recovery. 

  • The amino acid L-glutamine is an anti-inflammatory amino acid that supports the intestinal lining and can be added as a supplement. 
  • Probiotics have the ability to support the digestive system and treat digestive disorders while supporting nutrient assimilation and should be included in the diet in all forms. 
    Probiotics and fermented foods are shown to help strengthen the gut lining and the probiotic bacteria help taking the pressure off the gastrointestinal lining having to defend the body all by itself. If dairy products aren’t causing an adverse reaction raw, organic dairy products particularly from goat’s milk can be beneficial.
    Probiotics are most powerful in food form and have an alkalising effect on the body despite their sour flavour, but if they are difficult to digest one may start with probiotic supplements. Milk kefir and water kefir are good, gentle introductions to probiotic foods that are easy to digest.
  • A home made high quality bone broth contains high levels of l-glutamine as well as gelatine and these nutrients helps the gut lining heal. Bone broth is not a complete protein but acts as a protein sparer, helping the body more fully utilise other complete proteins that are taken in and can therefore aid in nutrient assimilation. The amino acids proline and glycine are also present in bone broth. Proline is a precursor to collagen, famous for tightening the skin. Collagen tightens the “inside skin” as well as preventing wrinkles and so helps tightening the junctions in the gut.
    Broth made of high quality bones, heads and feet coming from organic, naturally fed and unstressed animals contain many important minerals that can be especially lacking in a sufferer of LGS. Minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium and phosphorus are found in bone broth and these support organ and tissue health to help the body heal.
  • Zinc is especially important for healing the gut lining and maintain healthy HCL levels. Zinc is found naturally in pulses such as lentils, quinoa and oats as well as seeds such as poppy, sesame, pumpkin and sunflower and can also be taken as a supplement.
  • Sea weeds are extremely mineral rich and are great to include in the diet to supplement lost minerals.
  • Aloe vera gel in smoothies or juices helps balance an over-active immune system and soothes the digestive system. Being anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal as well as being a plant source of B12 it is a much needed ally in healing a leaky gut.
  • Coconut anything helps to soothe the digestive system. Coconut oil, meat, milk and water are rich in nutrients, supports the immune system and provide healthy fats. Coconut is anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory.
  • MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) is an organic compound containing biologically active sulfur. It is anti-inflammatory and has the ability to help rebuild the lining of the digestive tract. Sulfur plays an important role in collagen formation.
  • Speaking of healthy fats, omega 3 fatty acids are important to include in the diet for their anti-inflammatory and digestion promoting properties. Supplementing with a good quality omega 3 supplement as well as using plant sources of omega 3. 
  • Soaked and sprouted flax seeds are great for intestinal health as the fibre in the flax seeds help grow beneficial bacteria in the gut. The fibre in combination with a very high omega 3 content makes soaked flax an excellent aid for LGS.
  • Anti-fungal natural supplements to kick parasites, yeast infections and fungals will also alleviate leaky gut symptoms. Oregano oil, olive leaf oil, tea tree oil, grapefruit seed extract, garlic oil, echinacea extract and caprylic acid supplements are all powerful yet completely natural anti-fungal supplements that have no side effects. Rotate the supplements to ensure that they are always effective. 
  • Turmeric is a superb anti-inflammatory that one can take daily.
  • Slippery Elm is a great help as a tea if suffering from symptoms of nausea, gassiness, IBS symptoms, etc.
  • Helichrysum italicum essential oil is one of the strongest anti-inflammatories and White Willow bark as a tea can relieve inflammation as well. Marjoram and Peppermint essential oils massaged on the forehead help with headaches and mental fogginess symptoms

Finally, some particular foods that often promote an adverse reaction in sufferers of leaky gut syndrome are chocolate, spicy foods, peanuts, tomatoes, hot peppers, any carbonated beverages, citrus drinks, black tea and coffee, eggs, dairy and salt.
If suffering from leaky gut syndrome, assess how you feel when eating these foods and work from there.

 

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SOURCES:

Eric Brakker, aka “Candida Crusher” and his youtube channel

naturalhealth365.com

glutenfreesociety.com 

myleakygutsyndrome.com

Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon

wellnessmama.com 

draxe.com 

 

Deliciously elder

For two years I have been living in the lush and green borough of Fulham without even noticing the abundance of elderflowers around me, but this year I decided to make the most of it. It is incredible how these beautiful flowers appear suddenly all around me, just to disappear as quickly in just a few weeks.

This is why it is important to use the seasonal produce while it is avaliable. Eating seasonal foods is something I am very passionate about. It makes sense ecologically as we by eating this way don’t force Mother Earth to grow things she would not normally be able to grow out of season.
If there are for example asparagus at the grocery store in November, they have a huge carbon footprint as they most likely come from another continent. They will also have been treated with chemicals so as to appear fresh looking when they arrive in Europe after weeks on the road.
Eating seasonal also makes sense from a chef’s standpoint – it’s fun and challenging.

Nature is ingeniously clever by providing us with exactly what we need for the seasons.
During the cold months we have starch-heavy carbohydrates in the form of root vegetables alongside plenty of vegetables that make excellent stocks for soups and stews, while in the summer we find lighter vegetables perfect for hot weather such as summer squashes, peas and light root vegetables.

I was prompted by one of my favourite chefs Yotam Ottolenghi in the last weekend’s The Guardian to go out and look for elderflowers and I found a big bush in my local park.
I jumped the fence separating me from my fragrant prey and after five minutes I happily cycled home with a basket-full of little white treasures.

I made both pickled elderflower (I love the idea of using this in a root vegetable mash or as an addition to salads!) and elderflower cordial more or less following the recipes in the article, both of which I will attach at the end of this post.
As I use unrefined, mineral rich cane sugar (rapadura) instead of white caster sugar my cordial comes out slightly murky, but this is a small price to pay to avoid refined sugar.

However I had been a little too enthusiastic in my foraging and I still had lots of flowers left! So I decided to experiment by making elderflower water kefir. And hit the jackpot.

Elderflower kefir brewing

Elderflower kefir brewing

Water kefir, as I have mentioned before, is a wonderful probiotic drink and a great alternative to regular kefir and kombucha as it is both dairy and caffeine free.
If you feed the tibicos-grains minerals as you brew, you will end up with a mineral rich drink full of good bacteria that can contribute to better digestion, lowering of “bad” LDL cholesterol, clearer skin, a more robust immune system and it can reduce the risk of infections and inflammation in the body.

Water kefir carbonates naturally as it ferments and this is a perfect compliment to the elderflower: you end up with a fizzy, sweet-and-sour drink that is perfect for summery barbecues.

Kefir grains doing their thing

Kefir grains doing their thing

Whatever elderflower idea that tickles you, at least be quick about it! These flowers are in bloom right now and when they are gone in just a couple of weeks you won't get the chance until next year.


Elderflower pickle
 

18 elderflower heads
200 ml red-wine vinegar
1 tbsp sugar (I use rapadura)
1/4 tsp salt
10 black peppercorns

Rinse the elderflowers gently and press into a 325 ml jam jar. Pour over the vinegar, add the sugar, salt and peppercorns. Seal the jar and put it in a large sauce pan filled with cold water. On a high heat, bring to the boil then turn down and leave to simmer for 7 minutes. Remove the jar from the pan and set aside somewhere cool and dark for at least 3 weeks before using.

Sealing the elderflower pickle

Sealing the elderflower pickle

Elderflower and rose cordial (makes 700 ml)

12 elderflower heads
Shaved skin of 2 small lemons
1 small rose from your garden (or someone else’s garden – just don’t say I told you!)
500 ml water
200 g rapadura (note: the original recipe contains a lot more sugar, but I found this was plenty)
125 ml lemon juice

Rinse the elderflowers and peel the petals off the rose, discarding the hard centre. Put the elderflowers in a large bowl along with the lemon skin and rose petals. Pour over boiling water and press down the florets, making sure they are submerged. Cover and leave to infuse for 36 hours. Strain the infusion into a medium saucepan, pressing the lemon peel, flowers and rose petals with the back of a spoon before discarding them.
Add the sugar and lemon juice to the infusion, turn the heat on high and cook for 3-4 minutes while stirring until the sugar has dissolved and the liquid is starting to simmer. Leave to cool and pour into a glass bottle. Serve 3 tablespoons of cordial per 200 ml of water.
The cordial will keep in the fridge for 1 month.

Elderflower cordial hanging out with Buddah and the beetroots

Elderflower cordial hanging out with Buddah and the beetroots

Elderflower water kefir (makes 1 litre)

24 elderflower heads
900 ml boiling water
70 g rapadura
Half a lemon/1 lime, sliced into boats Egg shells (optional – this will further mineralise the drink)
1 tbsp of dried unsulphured fruit – I used apricots
1 large tbsp tibicos grains
(Take care to use only non-metal utensils when making water kefir as the tibicos grains are not partial to metal)

Rinse the elderflowers and put them in a large bowl.
Pour in the hot water and press down the florets, making sure they are submerged. Cover and leave to infuse for 36 hours.
Strain the infusion into a medium saucepan, pressing the flowers with the back of a spoon before discarding them. Add the sugar to the infusion, turn the heat on high and cook for 3-4 minutes while stirring until the sugar has dissolved and the liquid is starting to simmer.
Leave to cool.
Meanwhile, clean a 1 litre wide mouth jar and rinse it thoroughly as to get rid of any soap leftovers. In it goes the lemon/lime, egg shells if using, and dried fruit and tibicos grains.
When the sweet elderflower liquid is at room temperature or below, pour it into the jar, cover with a muslin cloth or tea towel, secure with a rubber band and leave to ferment for 24-36 hours.

Soak it!

Soak it!

In this warm English summer weather I check mine after 24 hours by smelling and tasting it. Does it taste too sweet? Then it’s not done. What is too sweet? It depends on what you prefer, but it shouldn’t taste sugary anymore. I left mine for 28 hours to get the perfect sweet/sour balance.

Once the brew is done, strain the liquid into a glass bottle, discarding the fruit, lemon peel and egg shells. You may keep the tibicos in a little bit of sugared water in the fridge until next use.
Leave the brew to carbonate in the glass bottle for 8-10 hours. As always, but particularly in the summer temperatures, please beware of exploding bottles! The carbonation may happen very quickly in this weather and this can make the bottle explode – believe me, it happens!
After a few hours you can “burp” the bottle and see how carbonated it is and gauge it from there – it may not need any more time on the counter.
Keep in the fridge and enjoy cold.

Fizzy elderflower kefir

Fizzy elderflower kefir

The flavourful space between fresh and rotten

“Microorganisms frighten us: aren’t these germs responsible for deadly scourges (tuberculosis, plague, cholera, typhoid)? Aren’t they responsible for serious food contamination? Down with the one-celled organisms, we say! Long live disinfection! Germicides, fungicides, antibiotics, antiseptics, sterilisation, freezing – we lack no weapons in the war against germs. Medicine, agriculture and the food industry make use of them all. We should consider not to kill microorganisms but rather make them our friends and allies.”

Claude Aubert
Kombucha and water kefir brewing in my kitchen

Kombucha and water kefir brewing in my kitchen

Fermentation is the oldest known way of preserving food. The earliest mention of fermentation as a means of food preservation dates back to 7000-6600 BCE in Jiahu, China.  Fermented foods are present in all world diets: In Europe one finds sauerkraut, beer, wine, cheese, meats and pickled cucumbers; in Russia and eastern Europe there are a vast variety of pickled vegetables like peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms; in Japan, Korea and China one is served pickled vegetables or kimchi with nearly every dish as well as pickled eggs, soy sauce and tempeh; in America relishes such as cucumber and corn relish are common; in India we find chutneys and sour milk; in Africa, fermented millet porridge and cereal beers.

Fermentation occurs in yeast, bacteria and lactic acid fermentation and different forms of fermentation require different environments. Yeast cells love being around air as long as sugars are available for consumption whereas the traditional pickling method of using salt brine calls for an anaerobic environment.

Fermented foods go under another name: probiotic foods. Probiotics, or “good bacteria”, grow on and in the food during the fermentation process and they are great for the body in a host of different ways. The word probiotic even means “for life”!

There are too many benefits of probiotics to explore in depth without writing a small book, but here is a brief outline of the health benefits of probiotics and a simplified explanation of the science behind it: One thing probiotics do is to aid digestion as the probiotic foods add to the bacteria flora in the gut and intestine, helping the stomach break down foods properly and reinforcing the stomach lining so that the body can extract and utilise the properties of foods more easily, for instance by liberating antioxidants from the food.
Probiotics are also shown to lower cholesterol: the liver uses cholesterol to make bile, but as probiotics break up bile salts this decreases their reabsorption in the gut.
Studies show that the probiotic bacteria lactobacillus reuteri helps kill the bacteria that causes tooth decay.
Probiotics help balance the bacterial flora in the vagina and thus reduces the risk of infections.
Probiotic foods promote better skin, less acne and redness as they reduce the overall risk of inflammation in the body.
Whether you're constipated or suffer from diarrhoea, probiotics can help for both. Good bacteria can help your body fight the "bad" bacteria causing your diarrhoea, while the probiotic strain bifidobacterium lactis BB-12 converts prebiotic fibres into short chain fatty acids which lubricate your gut and stimulate bowel movement.
A healthy gut flora will also produce substances such as spermine, putrescine and spermidine that kill free radicals and give your immune system a boost. A healthy gut flora has the ability to bind and remove harmful heavy metals and toxins from the body, again lessening the chances of generating free radicals.

I absolutely love fermented foods and I would like to share with you my four methods of home fermentation that I personally know and love – brine pickling, kombucha, fermentation using tibicos and fermentation using whey – how they create probiotics and the pros and cons of these methods.

Brine pickled garlic, golden beets, tomatoes and cucumbers

Brine pickled garlic, golden beets, tomatoes and cucumbers

Brine

The fermentation process in brine pickling begins when vegetables are submerged in salt brine. The bacteria on the vegetables, mostly lactobacillus, thrive in this environment and they grow while suppressing the growth of other bacteria that would normally spoil the food. The “good” bacteria, as we can call them, eat the sugar in the vegetable and produce lactic acid, carbon dioxide and alcohol: this process is called lactic acid fermentation. The vegetable is still left with all its fibres and vitamins – it actually gets a vitamin boost!
One can also add vinegar into the mix as the combination of high salt and acid content really kills off any unwanted bacterial growth and thus allows for very long storage time, even at room temperature. However, a lot of vinegar will kill both good and bad bacteria and inhibit the fermentation process so the best option is to partially or completely omit the vinegar and instead keep the pickles in cool storage.
Note that vegetables pickled using a lot of vinegar are not fermented and thus contain no probiotics. If longer storage time is preferred, vinegar can be added once the fermentation process is complete.
There are some concerns about the relatively high salt content in brine fermented vinegars, although draining the brine and washing the vegetables before eating will reduce the sodium content. Salt quantity plays a role in how sweet/sour and crisp the vegetables will be and it is a lot of fun to experiment with different salt ratios.
Because of the long fermentation time many people are afraid of health hazards and that bad bacteria somehow will sneak their way into the food. I have come across recipes that claim it an absolute necessity to sterilise the jars and utensils and afterwards boil the full pickle jar to create a vacuum inside the jar. Anaerobic jars with air locks such as “Pickl-It”s have also had a surge in popularity. The argument is that mason jars are not completely air tight and therefore one cannot avoid contamination on some level. This is probably true, but from my experience brine pickling and any other food fermentation is safe as long as one has clean hands, clean vegetables, clean utensils and rinse the fermentation jar with very hot water before use. If the lid is properly sealed with rubber like a mason jar, the jar contains a minimal amount of oxygen and doesn’t have to be boiled to create an anaerobic environment nor should it need a special airlock device.
My thinking is that pickling has been done for a very long time and things were a lot less clean and “techie”  back then.
If you like your vegetables crunchy then brine fermentation is definitely the way to go. It takes a few weeks (4-6) for brined vegetables to ferment properly, so this is not the quick method for home pickling.

Kombucha SCOBYs

Kombucha SCOBYs

Kombucha

Kombucha is a fermented brew made from tea and sugar using a symbiotic 'colony' of bacteria and yeast (a so-called SCOBY) and an aerobic environment for it to interact with.
The SCOBY is a disc shaped “mushroom” (note that it is not an actual fungi) that is created when tea and sugared water are left to ferment. Bacteria and microorganisms present will feed on the ingredients and form a biofilm together. Two of these bacteria are unique to the brew: gluconacetobacter kombuchae, which feeds on the nitrogen in the tea to produce acids and build the SCOBY, and zygosaccharomyces kombuchaensis which is a yeast strain that produces alcohol, carbonation and helps build the SCOBY.
Microbial SCOBY cultures vary with the environment in which is it grown and thus the components of the final brew will also vary from place to place. Other variables include the longevity of the brewing process and organisms present in the water used.
There are some standard components left in every kombucha brew: acids such as acetic acid (vinegar), lactic acid, carbon dioxide, alcohol (under 0.5%), caffeine, bacteria, yeasts and some residual sugar.
The sugar content of kombucha is one of the many controversies in relation to the brew and on this topic as well as many other topics related to kombucha I have found a lot of contradicting research.
The scientific fact is that during the first fermentation stage the yeasts use the minerals from the tea to create enzymes that separate the sugar in the brew into fructose and glucose. After about one week of fermentation (the speed of the process is, as always, dependant on the temperature of the room) the sugars are still present in this state, but easier to digest. After about two weeks the SCOBY has begun to feed off the sugars and the sugar content is lowered while acid is created and the SCOBY is growing.
The longer the brew time, the less sweet and more acidic the brew. Some research claims that the sugar content is way too high for a brew claiming health benefits unless you brew the tea for a minimum of 30 days, other research claims that after approx two weeks of fermentation one is left with sugar content per litre equal to that in a piece of fruit.
Personally, I leave the kombucha for about two weeks, give or take. At this time the brew is slightly sweet and slightly acidic, just perfect for me. I use good quality unrefined rapadura or coconut sugar so if there is a little bit of sugar left in my brew, I don’t mind too much (if you are curious about sugars, see my post on it here). Besides, if there are no sugars left there is nothing for the yeast to “play with” during the second fermentation (bottling of the kombucha without the SCOBY and alternately with flavourings) and the drink won’t carbonate and get as fizzy as I would like.
Because of the variety of bacteria and yeasts present in the brew, kombucha boasts health benefits too numerous to list here. In essence, take the listing of health benefits I made on probiotics and add to it.
However, there is no “scientific proof” of the health benefits of kombucha and there have been done no clinical trials on the subject as far as I can see.
The proven facts on health benefits: in a number of studies on rats, kombucha decreased the negative effects of liver harming agents in the same way as paracetamol. The beneficial yeasts present in the brew will normally protect the body from harmful yeasts such as candida albicans. The drink also contains active enzymes.
More speculative claims are that kombucha can aid detoxification through its main bioactive saccharolactone, but this has never been “proven” due to the lack of testing on humans. Because tea is naturally antioxidant rich so is the kombucha, but research again differs on whether or not there is more or less antioxidants present after fermentation. Some research claims to prove a boost of B vitamins and amino acids as well as antioxidants in a finished brew.
Personally, I have a lot of faith in the health properties of kombucha – and it’s also delicious! It is a healthy way to get a pick-me-up which is not coffee, it is refreshing and one can add all kinds of health boosting herbs and spices.
Since I started brewing and drinking kombucha, my overall immune system has been better and so has my digestion. The drink has been brewed and used as medicine for hundreds of years and who am I to dismiss age old wisdom? I give kombucha to all my friends and I encourage them to brew their own. It’s fun, delicious and most likely really good for you.

Water kefir, kombucha and milk kefir fermenting in my kitchen

Water kefir, kombucha and milk kefir fermenting in my kitchen

Tibicos

Tibicos, perhaps better known as water kefir grains or sugar kefir grains, are a symbiotic culture of yeasts and bacteria just like a kombucha SCOBY, but because of the difference in bacteria and yeasts present the tibicos look and work differently from the kombucha SCOBY.
The grains, which are mostly composed of insoluble polysaccharides (complex sugars), are about 5 mm big, they are many and they feed off lemon slices, sugared water and the sugars in dried fruit. Similarly to the kombucha SCOBY kefir grains produce lactic and ascetic acids, alcohol and carbon dioxide by feeding off sugars and breaking them down into sucrose and fructose. The tibicos make the nutrients in the dried fruits more accessible and digestible and as with the vegetables used for brine pickling the dried fruits used to make water kefir get a vitamin boost. These vitamins are present in the finished brew.
Again similarly to a kombucha SCOBY there are no tibicos cultures that are exactly the same because the bacteria and yeast composition will vary with the environment. Water kefir grains also contain various alkaline minerals and need to be fed minerals to stay healthy. This is where the lemon and lemon peel comes in, as the peel is high in calcium. One can also use egg shells to give the drink a mineral boost.
Because of the vast variety of yeasts and bacteria present in the tibicos, their health properties are many and varied. Similarly to the health claims related to kombucha there is much scepticism surrounding the health benefits of water kefir.
Studies on the health benefits of kefir have from what I can find mostly been done with milk kefir and not water kefir and the health claims of milk kefir are well documented. As water kefir is an acidic brew one should be careful about having too much of it and as with all fermented foods the bacteria will not be suitable for everyone.
Water kefir is rich in probiotics from the fermentation process, vitamins from the fruit present, minerals, enzymes and supposedly also antioxidants and amino acids. As with kombucha there are disagreements about the remaining sugar content and whether or not it is healthy, however 48 hour old water kefir, if unflavoured, tends to be a more sour and thus less sugary drink than a two week old kombucha.
One can also use fruit juice or coconut water instead of sugared water to make water kefir and get a finished brew with less added sugar and a very interesting flavour. There is so much fun to be had experimenting with water kefir flavours!
Brewing water kefir at home can be a little bit risky as the fermentation and accompanying carbonation happens very quickly, especially if there is a rise in room temperature. This can make jars and bottles explode! After my first and very scary explosion I am now taking precautions by keeping the jars and bottles in a bag during the fermentation so that if they were to explode I won’t be at risk of getting a shard of glass in my eye.
Water kefir is a great option if you want to ferment something quickly as the process only takes 24-48 hours. It is a wonderful probiotic caffeine and dairy free drink alternative to kombucha and milk kefir.

Whey fermented kimchi and sauerkraut

Whey fermented kimchi and sauerkraut

Whey

Whey is one of the main proteins found in diary and it is very easy to extract at home from yoghurt, kefir or unpasteurised milk – many of the benefits of whey are destroyed by pasteurisation. It has a lactose content of about 5%, minerals, vitamins and milk proteins.
Whey also has a number of health benefits in addition to being probiotic! It contains all the essential amino acids with about 98 % bioavailability, it provides amino acid precursors to the antioxidant glutathione that among other things aids lymphocyte function, regulates other antioxidants and detoxifies at cellular level. Low glutathione levels have been linked to cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Whey contains lactoferrin which protects the body from viruses.
The quality of the whey varies with production and the best whey comes from goat’s or cow’s milk from animals that feed on lush, green grass grown on organic soil.
One does not necessarily have to ferment with whey in order to introduce it to one’s diet. A glass of whey mixed with water after a heavy meal will aid digestion and whey can also be used in smoothies, on porridge, in dressings etc.
Whey is rich in lactic acid and lactic acid-producing bacteria and when added to vegetables whey kick-starts the lactic-acid fermentation that would otherwise take weeks to begin in brine picking. Whey also lowers the PH in the jar so that it very quickly becomes uninhabitable for bad bacteria. Whey fermentation works best and most safely in an anaerobic environment.
One of the beautiful things about whey fermentation is that it is quick and incredibly versatile. You can ferment basically anything using only a little whey and 1-3 days of room temperature.
One can make for example berry drinks, sauerkraut, kimchi, beetroot kvass, ginger beer, turmeric tonic, chutneys, coconut yogurt, mayonnaise, ketchup and ferment any fruits and vegetables. Whey fermentation leaves the veggies with less crunch than brine picking does so some vegetables, like for instance cucumbers, are better pickled in salt than whey.
There are some arguments that milk bacteria only like milk and so whey should not be used for vegetables. Milk introduces external bacteria to the vegetables while salt pickling or just a completely anaerobic environment achieved by using airlock-jars only kickstart the fermentation process using bacteria already found on the vegetables.
These are facts that are impossible to disagree with, however personally I haven't experienced any problems after consuming a lot of whey fermented vegetables and drinks over the past year. The whey I use is made from raw milk that I buy from an organic farm with pasture fed cattle, so I get more bacterial diversity from my whey than one would get from making whey from commercially produced yoghurt or from buying a whey starter culture.
I for my part love the versatility of whey picking as the whey leaves the finished product with little flavour where salt could ruin it. It is also a very quick way to make impromptu probiotic foods.

There is a reason that fermented foods are, and have been for a very long time, present in diets all over the world and home fermentation is a fun and easy way to bring these foods into your diet.
Brine pickling is for the patient home fermenter, but if one has the time it is a brilliant way to utilise the soil’s bacteria to act on the vegetable. Use brine for making pickles with extra crunch and otherwise where salt would not compromise the flavour.
As long as the good kind of sugar is used, I say brew your kombucha for as short or long a while it needs for flavour. One can get used to the acidic flavour and leave it to brew longer after a while of drinking.
Water kefir is the most versatile and the quickest way to create flavourful probiotic drinks. The key to a healthier brew is to use good sugar, unsulfured organic fruit and remember to feed the tibicos minerals using slices of lemon or egg shells.
Despite the arguments against using milk bacteria to ferment vegetables I still love whey fermentation for its versatility and swiftness. Make sure to buy the best raw milk accessible to get the highest quality whey for your fermentation and your body.
Finally, a note on milk kefir: I am in the early stages of my exploration of this wonderful probiotic resource and as I don't consume much dairy it is a slow process. This post will be updated with milk kefir once I gain some more experience!

The health benefits of probiotic foods with live enzymes and amino acids are indisputable, but health claims aside, using fermentation to enhance flavours is a fun way to eat a less processed and more varied vegetable and fruit diet.
Kombucha and water kefir are healthier alternatives to any store bought soda pop and the options for playing with flavour combinations are seemingly endless. The “magic” of lactic acid fermentation is a creative way to get closer to your food and making your own pickles gives you the option to customise crunch and flavour to suit your own palette.

 

Thank you to Adrian Fisk who took most of the photographs for this post.