Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
10 Dec

The Definitive Guide to Fermented Foods

Life in the Paleolithic wasn’t a pristine, sterile existence. There were no fun-sized hand sanitizers or pasteurized eggs. Meat didn’t come shrink-wrapped, and it wasn’t stored in sub-40 degree temperature to prevent spoilage. I’ve never seen evidence of vegetable cleaning liquid containers at prehistoric dig sites, nor have any tiny tubes of antibiotic ointment been discovered among the arrowheads, flint shards, and stone spears. In fact, for the better part of human history, man was entirely ignorant of the existence of microorganisms, let alone the crucial role they played in our everyday lives. The Roman scholar Marcus Terentius Varro, in his 1st century BC book “On Agriculture,” wrote of “certain creatures which cannot be seen by the eyes, which float in the air and enter the body through the mouth and nose and there cause serious diseases,” but he was just guessing (the Romans used a pseudo-soap to occasionally remove sweat and visible grime, but not for any supposed anti-microbial effects). It wasn’t until the 17th century that microorganisms were even discovered, and it took another couple hundred years for us to realize that the little guys could cause disease and that boiling or sufficiently heating a substance could kill or mitigate the worst of them.

Like always, though, we went a bit overboard. Deaths from easily preventable infectious diseases plummeted, and it became an all-out war on the sub-visual world. Germs, bacteria, microorganisms – they were all out to get us, and totally eradicating them from our daily lives became paramount for optimum health. Nowadays, everything is pasteurized – food producers are proud to mention it, kinda like the “low-fat” label – and everything that might touch a bodily orifice – hand, utensil, small child – is doused in anti-bacterial soap followed by regular applications of hand sanitizer. If it’s a general truth that people fear the unknown, I can’t think of a more salient example than our irrational, seemingly innate fear of these tiny organisms we cannot see.

Now, I won’t argue that given the current state of our food system, paying attention to cleanliness isn’t important. It is. I wouldn’t feel comfortable drinking raw dairy products made from grain-fed cattle wading through rivers of their own toxic feces, and I’d be wary of eating a blood rare steak produced from the same cows in a filthy, heavily impacted slaughterhouse staffed exclusively by underpaid, overworked personnel. With our current industrial agricultural standards, I can only imagine the incidences of e. coli and other food-borne illnesses would skyrocket if they weren’t pasteurizing and irradiating everything.

I’m just saying that a little microorganism might be beneficial. And if you consider the environment in which we humans did the bulk of our evolving and adapting, perhaps a bit of bacteria (food borne and otherwise) in the body is a vital component of healthy living. I mean, if we accept the premise that the circumstances of our early evolution can inform current practices, dietary and otherwise, doesn’t that mean getting dirty and eating beneficial bacteria is part of that? I think it does.

Enter fermented foods.

People have been eating bacteria ridden foods for hundreds of thousands of years. Grok certainly happened across rotting fruit or an old carcass from time to time, and even his fresh meat and vegetation weren’t scrubbed clean, pasteurized, or irradiated. Life was “impure,” even dirty by our standards, and there were infectious diseases – but at least we were somewhat equipped to deal with them because of the seamless integration of bacteria and other microorganisms into our lives. So, while Grok may not have been actively fermenting foods (though he did employ unconventional meat storage methods that probably presaged fermentation), he was consuming plenty of bacteria on a regular basis.

In most post-agricultural peoples, some form of fermented food is a standardized component of the traditional diet. The earliest sign of wine dates from about 8000 years ago, in Georgia (Caucasus, not the state north of Florida), and there’s evidence that people were fermenting drinks in Babylon circa 5000 BC, Egypt circa 3150 BC, Mexico circa 2000 BC, and Sudan circa 1500 BC. Fermented, leavened bread was produced in Ancient Egypt, and milk was fermented in early Babylon as well. Roman soldiers often subsisted on long-fermented sourdough bread, which survived long treks well (imagine conquering the known world on a diet of bread – fermentation must be pretty effective stuff). The Inuit traditionally wrap whole seabird carcasses in seal pelts and bury them underground to ferment for months; rotting fish is another feature of their traditional diet. Fermented dairy is a major aspect of the traditional Masai diet, as is clotted steer’s blood.

The list goes on and on: East and Southeast Asia with natto (fermented soy), kimchi (fermented cabbage), soy sauce, fermented fish sauce, fermented shrimp paste, to name just a few; Central Asia with kumis (fermented mare milk), kefir, and shubat (fermented camel milk); India and the Middle East with fermented pickles, various yogurts, torshi (mixed vegetables); Europe with sauerkraut, kefir, crème fraiche, and rakfisk (salted, fermented trout); the Americas with kombucha, standard pickling, and chocolate; the Pacific region with poi (fermented, mashed taro root) and something called kanga pirau, or rotten corn.

There’s gotta be something to it, right? Everyone’s doing it (or, at the very least, everyone used to do it)! Perhaps we should, too. The Standard American Diet is definitely missing fermented food – unless you count cheap beer and box wine, of course. Even when we do eat foods that are traditionally fermented, like sauerkraut or pickles, they’re usually bastardized versions produced quickly for mass consumption. Most sauerkraut you can buy in the store, for example, is flaccid and mealy, rather than crunchy and tangy as it should be. That’s because most commercial sauerkraut (and pickles, for that matter) is preserved in vinegar instead of the traditional (and naturally occurring) lactobacterial-salt slurry. Unless the producer adds bacteria, store bought sauerkraut is usually pasteurized and bereft of taste and nutrients. Instead, get or make the real stuff.

But wait. What, exactly, are the health benefits of eating fermented food? For one, (and this doesn’t apply to a PBer, but it still deserves mention) fermentation can render previously inedible or even dangerous foods edible and somewhat nutritious. The lectins, gluten, and phytates in grains, for example, can be greatly reduced by fermentation. I don’t advocate the consumption of bread, but if you’re going to treat yourself to any gluten grain-derived food, make real, long-fermented sourdough bread the one. The Romans managed to do okay on the stuff, but that’s only because meat was expensive and didn’t travel as well. Real sourdough is a good choice for guests who simply must have their bread, but don’t think fermentation makes it Primal approved.

Dairy is another beneficiary of fermentation. In fact, next to no dairy at all, I put fermented, raw, grass-fed dairy as the optimum form. The fermentation process breaks down the lactose, thus mitigating a potentially problematic sugar and decreasing the carb content (you can consider the official carb count of real yogurt cut in half; producers list the number of carbs present in the dairy before fermentation, and the fermentation process breaks down the lactose/sugar).

Before they’re turned into delicious, rich dark chocolate, cacao beans must first be fermented. This deepens the color and enriches the flavor, but most importantly it destroys the astringent tannins present in raw cacao. Tannins lend a bitter flavor, and some people have bad reactions to tannins. If you’re overly sensitive to red wine and get headaches when you drink it, tannin sensitivity may be responsible. The best dark chocolate is the product of long-fermented cacao beans with most of the tannins removed.

Even soy becomes somewhat tolerable with proper fermentation. Natto, a Japanese form of fermented soybeans, is high in Vitamin K2 (MK-7), which is vital for bone, cardiovascular, and dental health. Again, I’m not advocating soy consumption, but rather highlighting the ability of fermentation to transform an undesirable food into one with some undoubtedly redeeming qualities.

Speaking of K2, fermentation also makes it available in a few, more Primal foods. Aged raw milk cheese has ample amounts of K2 (MK-4 form), as do grass fed liver and raw butter. It all comes down to internal fermentation: the cow eats the K1 rich greens, the gut fermentation produces the K2, and we get the K2 by consuming the liver or certain high fat dairy products made from the cow’s milk. I suppose we could probably get a bit from the half-digested stomach contents of a pastured cow, but I’d rather just stick with sauerkraut for my fermented veggie fix.

Even if you aren’t looking for ways to mitigate the damage from Neolithic food like dairy, grains, or soy, fermented foods confer other benefits. For one, fermented foods introduce helpful probiotics to our guts. There are tons of possible benefits to adding probiotics (whether by supplement or by fermented foods like dairy) to your body, including protection from colon cancer, relief from lactose intolerance and rotavirus diarrhea, reduction in children’s cavities (more vindication for Weston Price), and prevention of reoccurrences of inflammatory bowel disease. The vitamins (like K2) in fermented foods like kefir become more plentiful or more concentrated (either by breaking down the food or by virtue of the bacteria outputting more nutrients), and more bioavailable. Also, the improved digestion that accompanies a healthier gut means more nutrients, vitamins, and minerals are absorbed (and if you’re eating a usually phytate-rich food, the fermentation can really break down the mineral-binding phytates), thus allowing even better absorption.

I suspect that the benefits of fermented food aren’t stemming from some magical property inherent to fermented food, but rather the simple fact that introducing beneficial bacteria into our bodies restores the balance of intestinal flora that used to be standard in people who ate traditional, whole foods Primal diets and exposed themselves to bacteria on a regular basis. Fermented foods merely address a severe deficit in the modern gut; they don’t introduce anything new to human physiology. Despite our best attempts to recreate perfect Primal environments through diet and exercise, we still live in an increasingly sterile world. Introducing fermented foods into our diet can help normalize things and get our guts in good shape.

As for what types of fermented foods are best, I’d stick with mostly Primal stuff to be safe. Sauerkraut is great, and if you can tolerate dairy, go for full-fat Greek style yogurt (high in saturated fat and protein, low in carbs) or strain your own yogurt (much of the sugars are in the liquid whey). Kefir is another possibility, as are aged cheeses. You could even make a batch of traditional Roman fermented fish sauce: salted, liquefied sardine and anchovies fermented with herbs and spices in the hot sun for months at a time. Kombucha makes for a great refreshing drink; just make sure you watch the sugar content.

People have been eating fermented foods for thousands of years willingly, and even longer accidentally. The evidence shows there’s definitely something to it, and I think it can be a vital part of a healthy Primal Blueprint diet.

What about you? Any fermented favorites you’d like to pass along?

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Kimchi (red-spicy) (white-not spicy). It’s done with napa cabbage, bok choy, chinese mustard greens, dichon radish, etc… always try have some with my meals. If you make your own, the juice can be used as a starter for new batches.

    primalclubber wrote on December 10th, 2009
    • Go Kimchi Power!

      Christian Chun wrote on December 10th, 2009
    • I was in Korea recently and we went to a traditional folk village and saw how it used to be made. Quite interesting.
      Still, although I really want to like Kimchi, I find it far too hot (I only saw the red stuff). That hot pepper sauce they put on *everything* is lethal.

      Indiscreet wrote on December 11th, 2009
      • Does anyone have a good recipe(s) for making Kimchi at home?

        Phil-SC wrote on December 13th, 2009
        • This has been a crazy week for me… but if I can, I’ll try to get mine up.

          Grok wrote on December 15th, 2009
        • Get “Wild Fermentation” by Sandor Katz. He’s got every kind of fermentation recipe you could hope for, and more.

          Jeanmarie wrote on December 16th, 2009
      • There are many different kinds of kimchee. I am mixed; my mom is from Korea. I typically don’t care for the very hot kimchee. Try water kimchee–it’s very satisfying and has little if any spice so far as I can tell.

        Maria wrote on July 12th, 2013
  2. Maybe it’s just placebo but I swear drinking a bottle of Kombucha tea when I feel the onset of a cold has prevented it entirely.

    Meghan wrote on December 10th, 2009
    • I’ve enjoyed drinking Kombucha semi-regularly for the past year or so. There’s definitely something to it, and I know many people who swear by it.

      John Sifferman wrote on December 10th, 2009
      • I couldn’t agree with you more. I used to mow tons of cottage cheese, but since I realized that most dairy causes me to have sever sinusitis, I stopped eating it. To get my probiotics, I cultured some scoby from a bottle of raw kombucha and have 3 gallons on my counter working away. I bottle it and my wife and I drink a glass or two a day. I can’t tell you how different my digestion seems to be and I swear that this is the first year I’ve not had one bout with any sinus issues. I should be watching the sugar and the trace amount of carbs that end up in it, but making your own kombucha is effortless and so cheap. I use Chinese white tea, and raw sugars just to get enough fizz. Doing primal workouts takes care of the excess carbs it produces but for 16oz its like less than 4g of sugars. Plus what kid would not want to play with the scoby after a few months. Talk about a science project! I also hear you can eat it, but never tried it.

        Daniel Merk wrote on December 10th, 2009
        • PLEASE PLEASE tell me how i can make my own Kombuchea tea.

          I previously had a gel which is similar to the kombuchea gel but the great difference is:

          Kombuchea tea has to be purchased and gel duplication is difficult and takes many days.

          The simpler plant which I suspect was originally and very easily made with getting tea to ferment. The resulting gel would form a second gel within just a day or two simply by adding 1/2 to 1 cup of sugar.

          PLEASE, if you know how to produce both types of gel, let me know, many a poor person would be most grateful – i see this as a relief for poverty.

          thank you

          rashid abass wrote on June 23rd, 2011
        • I am SO HAPPY that kombucha is primal!!! It’s one of my favorite drinks (next to Apple Cider Vinegar and seltzer), and when I decided to go primal starting this month, I was sad to have to give it up. But oh joy! I can keep-on with my love for the fermented beverage 😉
          I usually drink GT’s brand because of the low sugar content….but the caffeine still gets me if I’m having it on an empty stomach (since suffering adrenal fatigue a few years ago, I’ve become super sensitive to caffeine). Does anyone know if it’s possible to make kombucha using herbal tea? And perhaps a low glycemic sweetener like coconut nectar? I heard that the scoby only grows on cane sugar and caffeine…but I’m hoping this source of information is wrong…so I can realize my dream :)

          Andrea Jane wrote on May 5th, 2012
        • Bailing on wheat fixed my sinuses.

          Kenny wrote on May 8th, 2012
        • I couldn’t agree more. I’ve loved Kombu for years but just started “brewing” my own. Wow, there’s really nothing to it. Black tea, quality sugar, and whatever 2nd fermentation fruits you like.
          I found some solid detail at Yum Universe here:

          another off her articles shows how to flavor on 2nd fermentation.
          Go do it. ANy beginner can as long as you can get your hands on a scoby, (but you can make one if you use the last inch of 3-4 bottles of your fave store bought kombucha. cheers & go get em! Nelson

          Clermont1 wrote on August 13th, 2014
        • hey! what is the “scoby” everybody keeps talking about?

          tcseacliff wrote on March 25th, 2015
        • Very cool, I’m going to try this sometime.

          John Sifferman wrote on December 11th, 2009
    • It’s not placebo. My Grandma brewed the stuff my whole life. It really does keep the cold/flu at bay and improves your immune system overall. My Grandma was a local Curandera (medicine woman). The whole town turned to her with any illness before ever going to a doctor. In fact everyone referred to her as the town doc.

      Tanya wrote on April 11th, 2011
    • It’s not placebo. My Grandma brewed the stuff my whole life. It really does keep the cold/flu at bay and improves your immune system overall. My Grandma was a local Curandera (medicine woman). The whole town turned to her with any illness before ever going to a doctor. In fact everyone referred to her as the town doc. She drank Kombucha (Te del Hongo, as she called it – it means fungus tea) just about every day and she was the healthiest person I ever knew.

      Tanya wrote on April 11th, 2011
  3. I heard that kefir is good for the casein intolerant too. Something about the casein being predigested by the fermentation and thus less more digestible to those who usually have trouble.

    Can anyone confirm this?

    Bob wrote on December 10th, 2009
    • Not sure about this, but the kefirs might be made using milk with a different casein A2. Goats, sheep and some cows have this type, but probably most of normal dairy products are coming from Casein A1 producing cows.

      I still consume raw dairy, but make an effort to make sure my sources are casein A2.

      Grok wrote on December 10th, 2009
    • Casein is the protein and lactose is the sugar. Kefir grains consume lactose (and in the case of pasteurized milk, beta-lactose because pasteurization converts lactose to beta-lactose). If kefir grains are allowed to stay in milk long enough, it’s possible that someone who is lactose intolerant can tolerate kefir.

      Zoe wrote on December 10th, 2009
      • I am perfectly fine having kefir. I was taken off dairy in the late 1970’s as a kid for being violently lactose intolerant.

        Mahalia wrote on March 23rd, 2014
    • Not the case, unfortunately. I have heard of coconut-based kefir but never seen it.

      Robert M. wrote on December 10th, 2009
      • There isn’t any lactose in dairy kefir or yogurt, but they do contain the milk protein, casein. So Delicious makes coconut milk kefir and yogurts that are completely dairy-free (no casein or lactose), and they’re quite tasty, too. The kefir has 10 live/active cultures, and I think the yogurt has 7 or 8.

        Lucinda wrote on December 11th, 2009
        • There may or may not be lactose left in dairy yogurt and kefir, it depends on how long the milk is cultured (and possibly other factors). A friend who did the GAPS diet said they culture yogurt for 24 hours to eat up all the lactose. I tried it and that seems to work for me. Recently I used Fage (Greek) yogurt as a starter, and whole milk with added cream, cultured for 24 hours. Worked great, still didn’t taste excessively sour, even after 24 hours. Also try for a variety of yogurt cultures and other cultures.

          Jeanmarie wrote on December 16th, 2009
      • Coconut milk kefir is quite tasty and lacks the drawbacks of animal-milk kefir.
        The only brand I know is by So Delicious and is sold at Whole Foods. My wife is very lactose intolerant and does okay with cow’s-milk kefir, but greatly prefers the coconut kind.

        Timothy wrote on February 2nd, 2010
    • Nah, raw (pastured) dairy is the best way to go if you want to avoid casein problems, methinks. I’ve seen anecdotes of casein-intolerant folks being able to digest the stuff just fine when it’s raw. Peter at Hyperlipid thinks the pasteurization process might alter the proteins, making them more difficult to digest. Also, some casein intolerance seems to be a secondary intolerance caused by gluten-induced intestinal damage. Unfortunately, a lot of people who decide to eliminate one or the other will do both, so it’s sometimes difficult to tell which is causing the damage (and to separate this from the effects of lactose).

      Icarus wrote on December 10th, 2009
      • “seems to be a secondary intolerance caused by gluten-induced intestinal damage”

        I believe this was the case with me.

        “Peter at Hyperlipid thinks the pasteurization process might alter the proteins”

        Me too. I also feel they may help cause autoimmune disorders in some.

        My brother a large pasteurized casein A1 consumer developed Type I diabetes later in life. I feel this happened from a leaky gut do to gluten damage, teamed with altered A1 proteins.

        Grok wrote on December 10th, 2009
      • I love raw milk but in my case at least the natural enzymes aren’t enough to make it digestible, it gives me serious gas. I’m turning the rest of the raw milk I bought the other day into yogurt instead.

        Jeanmarie wrote on December 16th, 2009
      • My farmer just worked with his dairy herd for a couple of years and weeded out the A1 types. Now, all our milk is A2A2. You have to deliberately breed for A2 type milk.

        Cynthia wrote on December 17th, 2015
    • Whey (from cheese, yogurt or kefir) would actually be easier for the casein intolerant.

      Kefir is a complex blend of Lactobacillus thermophilic and mesophilic microorganisms along with Heterofermentative Lactococcus &
      Leuconostoc, yeast and Acetic acid bacteria.
      Lb.casei, Lb.hefirgranum
      Lb. brevis, Lb. Kefir
      Lb.acidophilus Lb.rhamnosus
      Lactococcus lactis subsp.lactis
      Lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis
      biovar diacetylactis
      Leuconostoc mesenteroides
      Leuconostoc mesenteroides
      Saccharomyces sereviasiae
      Kluveromyces marxianus var.
      Marxianus Candida kefir
      Acetobacter aceti

      The rubbery “grains” used to reculture kefir are casein-based, but the grains growth does not account for the amount of protein in milk. Some of the organisms in the mix (I’ve seen longer lists) are capable of metabolizing protein.

      I’d stick with A2 if you can get it, and definitely culture your own instead of purchasing.

      Juan Moore wrote on November 7th, 2013
  4. Fermented foods taste so good, I’m addicted to cheese and chocolate.

    Here’s a link to an article writen by Paul Stamets, an american mycologist, about kombucha:

    Erika wrote on December 10th, 2009
    • I read the Stamets article awhile back. Scared me for about 2 minutes, then I went back to brewing my kombucha. Been doing it for years now, with one break of a year after a move. I love the stuff. My boyfriend isn’t as fond of the flavor but he finds it helps his digestion. I do a secondary fermentation (after pouring off from the scoby) with fruit juice for a change of flavor and he likes that better.

      Stamets’ book Mycellium Running is fantastic, life-changing. So I forgive him for the anti-kombucha article.

      Jeanmarie wrote on December 16th, 2009
    • u think u love chocolate? i probably consume half my country’s overall chocolate supply. . .oh and thanks 4 d link.

      cynthia wrote on June 16th, 2010
  5. If it’s fermented, I’ll eat it! I had loads of stomach issues before I started consuming fermented foods.

    On any given day, you’ll find many of your mentions above fermenting away in my lab (aka kitchen) :)

    Grok wrote on December 10th, 2009
  6. If you’re milk-intolerant or don’t wish to consume dairy in any form, water kefir is an excellent substitute for milk kefir. We use it regularly in our home. Fermented lemons are also very nice for immunity since they not only have loads of beneficial bacteria, but also represent an excellent source for ascorbic acid. (Fermented foods are my all-time favorite cooking subject!)

    Jenny @ Nourished Kitchen wrote on December 10th, 2009
    • jenny, how do you ferment lemons? this sounds cool. i’m surprised the acidity doesn’t kill bacteria.

      cenz wrote on December 10th, 2009
      • Via: Tibicos, aka water kefir grains, Japanese water crystals.

        Really good stuff!

        Grok wrote on December 10th, 2009
      • The beneficial bacteria seem to thrive in the fermented lemons. They get fizzy just like real pickles or sauerkraut. Of course if you let them go too long, the beneficial bacteria will die off (just as with kefir, kombucha etc).(<–my recipe)

        Jenny wrote on December 11th, 2009
        • Very cool. I have a new project :)

          Grok wrote on December 11th, 2009
        • Been meaning to try that recipe, Jenny. (I subscribe to your blog!) I did something similar with Sun Gold cherry tomatoes and it was terrific. They got fizzy and just popped in my mouth with terrific flavor and fizz.

          Jeanmarie wrote on December 16th, 2009
  7. I dunno what garum (the salty Roman fish sauce stuff) tastes like, but the Polynesian/Southeast Asian version of fermented fish sauce is absolutely delish and, surprisingly, not overwhelmingly fishy. (It is quite salty, though.) It is, not surprisingly, a great flavor enhancer for some of the blander white fish, like cod; I’m not a fan of such fish, but my mum prefers them to the oily fish, and it is a good way to get protein in her and break the monotony of pork sausage and poultry. (She’s not much of a beef/lamb/venison fan, unfortunately!)

    While Greek-style yogurt is high in butterfat (and therefore SFAs), most of the protein, in liquid whey form, is strained out along with the lactose. And I would disagree that highly fermented dairy is the best form of the stuff: clarified butter, which is concentrated milk fat with all water, lactose, and protein removed, is rich in fat-soluble vitamins that are somewhat rare outside of eggs and liver and contains none of the (potentially) harmful proteins or carbs that plain old whole milk has. Even with extensive fermentation of yogurt, kefir, et al it is still difficult to remove ALL of the offending substances. Plus, butter just has such a beautiful fatty acid profile, especially if it is pastured and the n-6:n-3 ratio is 1:1, as it should be. Clarifying is too much work for me, so I use plain pastured butter for most cooking duties. (My mom loves it, too, which is nice, because she gets nervous about lard, beef fat, and coconut oil. It’s tough to meal plan for picky people, sometimes.)

    Icarus wrote on December 10th, 2009
    • Fage Greek yogurt has about 30g protein for every 16 oz tub, with 6 or 7 g carbs, plus 40+ g fat, mostly saturated. That’s a pretty decent amount of protein.

      Erik wrote on December 10th, 2009
      • Or, you could go one step further and go with cultured, pastured butter.

        Erik wrote on December 10th, 2009
        • …or both! We don’t have to choose between yogurt and butter.

          Excuse me, but, clarifying butter is too much work??!! It’s melting butter! It’s so easy to make ghee and it’s so fantastic. Once it’s done and the whey skimmed off the top and the casein left at the bottom of the pan, I combine with ro0.ughly equal parts coconut oil in glass jars, stir it up, and use for my basic cooking fat. So good, so good, but a more neutral flavor than coconut oil alone.

          Jeanmarie wrote on December 16th, 2009
      • and delicious. Don’t forget the delicious part.

        Tina wrote on December 11th, 2009
    • Are you sure that the casein doesn’t stay in the yogurt and the albumin leave in the whey?

      Juan Moore wrote on November 7th, 2013
  8. Mark, I’m so excited to see this post!

    I’ve been making kombucha and sauerkraut and yogurt and raw cheeses in my kitchen for months! I started with the kombucha, then added yogurt. Then, because my husband won’t stop eating grains, I started making real fermented sourdough bread for him. Then I added yogurt cheeses. Then I added sauerkraut. Both a yogurt and a sauerkraut are baking in a warm place right now! I also make creme fraishe (french sour cream).

    Yes, I know it’s a lot of daily. But I can’t give up dairy. I do make sure to consume it cultured or raw.

    But yay for fermented foods! Yay good bacteria!

    gilliebean wrote on December 10th, 2009
    • Do you have a recipe for your real fermented sourdough bread? My husband loves his grains also.

      Robin wrote on January 18th, 2013
  9. My post didn’t show up but I was trying to link to Mark’s interview with fermentation guru Sandor Katz. (And I’m too lazy to figure out the html right now.) Between him and the Weston A. Price Foundation, I’ve been inspired to start my first batches of sauerkraut and kombucha this week. It’s too cold in my kitchen to see results yet, but I’m looking forward to making kimchi if I can get these to work. Also check out the article “Fermentation (food)” on Wikipedia for an incredible list of fermented foods from around the world.

    Shebeeste wrote on December 10th, 2009
  10. let’s not forget the ACV (with the mother), people! i take a tablespoon of ACV in a mug of hot water each morning. i’ll throw in some cayenne if i feel a cold coming on.

    cenz wrote on December 10th, 2009
    • Indeed! How did ACV not get an honorable mention? I have a 2.5 gallon batch of homemade ACV with local apples (some I picked) fermenting right now!

      Grok wrote on December 10th, 2009
      • ooo. nice. do you have a good recipe? … i guess there is little that could screw up the taste on this one.

        i do a lot of homebrewing, so i imagine i should have all the necessary equipment. (i know. i know. the horrors of beer, etc., etc. but i’m going to drink it, so i might as well make it and know what’s in it)

        cenz wrote on December 12th, 2009
        • No not really.

          Originally just used raw cider and Bragg ACV for a starter. MOV formed a little while later. Pretty basic stuff.

          Grok wrote on December 12th, 2009
    • I buy some great raw apple cider vinegar from the apple sellers at my local farmers market. Whenever I feel a bit run down and if illness is making the rounds at my daughter’s preschool (or in my lab), I take a few swigs of raw ACV each day. Don’t know if it helps (on top of all the other healthy measures I take), but it sure can’t hurt. And the evidence seems to support it’s powerful probiotic effects.

      Aaron Blaisdell wrote on December 10th, 2009
  11. I spent the summer on an archaeological excavation in Macedonia, where our diet was heavy with greasy meat and (try not to shrink away in horror) lots of potatoes, white bread, and beer. The people who turned away yogurt at breakfast had a LOT more digestive problems than those of us who grabbed a bottle every morning. Yogurt is definitely helpful for keeping the pipes running, especially for offsetting the damages of gluten.

    Jojo wrote on December 10th, 2009
  12. Thanks for the wonderful and timely post, Mark! I’ve greatly upped my intake of fermented foods over the past year. Love FAGE yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha (which is so easy and cheap to make). I also take fermented high-vitamin cod-liver oil every day (along with high-vitamin butter oil), both purchased from Green Pastures–a la Weston A. Price. This is the first year that I’ve gone about 9 months without a noticeable cold (probably had a few that I fought off before they manifested into real symptoms), and my gut has never been happier (throwing grains out the window obviously helped there, too).

    Aaron Blaisdell wrote on December 10th, 2009
    • Aaron, how does that fermented liver oil taste? I take the Carlson’s bottled stuff, which tastes like not much at all.

      Erik wrote on December 10th, 2009
      • Let’s just say it’s an acquired taste. It does leave a bit of a tingle in the back of the throat (as does apple cider vinegar and an overly fermented kombucha). But it doesn’t taste “bad” to me. In fact, I’ve acquired a taste for it and now rather enjoy its distinct flavor and mouthfeel. The bottle instructions suggest keeping it in the fridge once the bottle is opened, but I leave it in a dark cupboard where it remains easy to pour into the 1/4 teaspoon. I also drink the CLO first, then the butter oil as the BO will then wash away the tingle in the back of the throat. Give it a try!

        Aaron Blaisdell wrote on December 10th, 2009
        • Hmm, intriguing. I love kombucha, and I can do straight shots of ACV. I think I’ll give it a shot. Thanks.

          Erik wrote on December 10th, 2009
        • Avoid the Fruit Attack gel, it is nasty stuff. I didn’t like the Oslo Orange either. The Cinnamon tingle is quite good. I have some of the chocolate but haven’t tried it yet. No matter the flavor, though, you just have to have something handy to wash it down with.

          Jordan Rubin’s (non-fermented) cod liver oil is the best-tasting available at retail, lemon mint-flavored. He also doesn’t reduce the vitamins or add in synthetic ones like Carlson’s and others do now. Hence the switch to fermented cod liver oil.

          Jeanmarie wrote on December 16th, 2009
        • We take the unflavored fermented CLO off a spoon…typically with a little sea salt on the tongue. We prefer this 100X over all the flavors that try to hide the fish-y flavor. We like fish! (but not mixed with orange, chocolate, etc)

          We were actually OK forcing down the cinnamon, but this is much easier for me and my 5 and 7 year olds.

          I don’t get a tingle from the FCLO.

          Whitney Lemons wrote on October 13th, 2010
  13. My body can’t tolerate anything fermemted. I think it’s the high level of histamines coupled with my leaky gut problems that trigger bad allergic reactions with anything fermented (sneezing, fatigue, migraines).

    In fact, I’m eating primal now to heal my leaky/inflamed gut, but I don’t know at what point it’ll be safe for me to introduce fermented food again without all the problems they have caused me for so many years before I discovered what was going on.

    Grains and dairy might have caused the leaky gut in the first place, but cheese and yogurt surely gave me chronic migraines and allergies for witch I took a lot of NSAIDS for years, not knowing that they would only make things even worse.

    Pro-biotic supplements are even worse. I get the flu from it. Its like my body sees it as foreign and triggers immune responses.

    Sebastien wrote on December 10th, 2009
    • For leaky gut, probably greenpastures will do good for you as well colostrum from surthrival(high doses) and reishi gano mushroom extracts and other medicinal mushrooms plus wild herbal teas like changa piedra, catsclaw and peppermintleaves, curcuma etc…

      Soaking ciaseeds will creat a yelly subustance wich will do good too, but start with a teaspoon.

      Perry wrote on November 10th, 2010
    • Ditto for me on the migraines – I am getting one now and just realized it’s probably because I tried Natto for the first (and last) time today. I don’t mind having an excuse not to eat Natto, but I do miss yoghurt )-:

      Sydney wrote on April 1st, 2014
      • Try homemade saurkraut juice.

        Cynthia wrote on December 17th, 2015
  14. Good start with info on fermented foods. I’m not sure what pickles you are referring to, but most commercial pickles are still made the traditional way with salt, rarely with vinegar. If you aren’t sure, always buy good quality kosher half-sour (or if you can stomach it, full sour, yum!) pickles; they are always fermented with a salt-water combination, NEVER vinegar.

    Ace wrote on December 10th, 2009
    • Very few store-bought pickles are not pastuerized, which kills all the beneficial bacteria. Bubbies Kosher Dill Pickles are one brand of lacto-fermented, unpastuerized pickles you can buy in some HFS–full of all the beneficial bacteria–and they are way yummy! I totally recommend them!

      FairyRae2 wrote on December 10th, 2009
    • I think you got it backwards, most commercial pickles are made with vinegar (with a little salt for flavor) and are not lacto-fermented. They are heat-processed. Maybe you’re talking about a deli that makes their own?

      I tried Bubbies and didn’t really like them that much but they certainly would be more beneficial than the usual store-bought crap. I just go with homemade sauerkraut or kimchi instead, or Cultured brand sauerkraut for a treat.

      Jeanmarie wrote on December 16th, 2009
  15. I spent a long time trying to heal my leaky gut and while I wouldn’t say that all is perfect in there, I actually feel like my digestive issues/inflammatory stuff has faded tremendously.

    Having no tolerance for probiotic foods or supplements is a clear indication that there is a great imbalance of microflora in your gut. One of the major things I have learned is that a strong reaction to probiotic foods may not necessarily be caused by the food, but by the die-off that results from those good bacteria getting in there and actually doing some work!

    I was able to heal my gut (and two of my children’s) on the GAPS protocol. With GAPS, you start with the most incremental of probiotic foods so as not to overwhelm your detoxification pathways. I believe we started with 1/8 of a probiotic capsule. Some people even find that to be too much. After GAPS, we transitioned into a Primal way of eating with plenty of fermented veggies added in for good measure.

    I was just recently able to get raw, pastured dairy. I have been making kefir and different types of yoghurt (I’m Canadian, that’s how we spell it!) with that milk. For the first time in over a decade, I can say that my body doesn’t react negatively to dairy. In fact, I think the kefir is one of the biggest sources of my healing.

    I wish you all the best in your road to recovery. Leaky gut is the cause of so many health issues, but it’s completely possible to overcome it.

    p.s. You can find my sweet friend, Ruby’s, authentic kimchi recipe on my blog. It’s so yummy.

    Tara wrote on December 10th, 2009
    • I love that GAPS healed your guts–I’ve been doing a modified version of GAPS w/ my ds (who has some food sensitivity issues) as well. He’s currently on around 1/16 of a probiotic capsule. When he started taking them a week ago he had trouble sleeping for a few days, plus some other reactions, but is doing better now. I too totally believe it has to do w/ die-off. (He’s eaten probiotic foods like fermented veggies in kimchi, salsa and sauerkraut, juice kefir, coconut milk yogurt, etc. for quite some time now, but starting a high power probiotic has really effected him.)

      Stories like yours are really inspiring! Thanks for sharing!

      FairyRae2 wrote on December 10th, 2009
  16. Hi Mark,

    I just want to say, when I first discovered the paleo/primal/evolutionary approach to diet and fitness, you were the first advocate I came across! I was initially very into your teachings, but as time progressed I confess I thought you were perhaps a bit off in your ideals, such as heavy supplementation (very un-Grok) and a bit generalised for the lay-man…

    I must admit that through further research; I am now agreeing with you on almost 100% of the practices you preach. I am still not absolutely certain on multivitmains, but I am sure we need to ATLEAST supplement some vitamins/minerals (Vit D, K for example) in our diet, if not all for insurance.

    I think of all the advocates on the net (of which many I have come across) you are definitely the most on track! Perhaps I should read your Primal Blueprint and stop free loading off the website after all!

    Well done!

    Ben wrote on December 10th, 2009
    • Hi Ben,

      I’m curious what you’ve learned to make you think we need to supplement Vitamin K. It is my understanding that humans (or rather, the bacteria in our intestines) make enough without need for an outside supplement.

      Uncle Herniation wrote on December 11th, 2009
  17. Another vote for Kimchi.

    It’s a recent addition to my portfolio when I eat Korean BBQ.

    I have a diversified fermented foods portfolio in my energy intake investments.

    Nutritional bricolage.

    epistemocrat wrote on December 10th, 2009
  18. Nothing much to add to the conversation here, other than try your sauerkraut with some tart apples cut into the starting material for a tasty variant.

    My other contribution is copy editing: ‘…everything that might touch a bodily orifice – hand, utensil, small child…’ I don’t know how many small children are touching your bodily orifices, but I try to keep that to a minimum. 😛

    Alchemyguy wrote on December 10th, 2009
    • Children and babies tend to want to inspect tongues and teeth with their hands and shove their little fingers up your nose when you’re not paying attention or are vulnerable. This happened to me when my nephew approached me while I was doing a head stand (oo unprotected nostril!)

      SophieE wrote on March 9th, 2012
  19. I can’t live without yogurt! I come from a middle-eastern background and we add real yogurt (the sour chunky kind) to everything except sweets, particularly meat dishes. I enjoy sometimes horrifying my German colleagues when they see me pouring raw cold yogurt over meat 😀

    One way to consume yogurt is as a drink (Ayran). You simply mix equal parts yogurt and water with a touch of salt. We sometimes add minced garlic to it. It is definitely an aquired taste but it’s so easy on the stomach.

    HKay wrote on December 11th, 2009
  20. Great article. I’ve tried rejuvelac but just got stomach cramps from it. Maybe didnt make it properly or somat.

    Anyone tried high meat? Im considering giving this a go soon.

    Brian wrote on December 11th, 2009
  21. I watched a renowned microbiologist discuss the use of Anti-Microbial Soaps, he AND his family ONLY used regular hand soap. His contention: We are killing too many beneficial bacteria which will cause us all many problems in the future.

    Beneficial bacteria perform many important tasks for us…… he said that if we classified “things” based on their composition…humans were bacteria, because we are mostly made up of bacteria…… hmmmm.

    Steve wrote on December 11th, 2009
    • He’s right, using the antimicrobial soaps strip the hands of all bacteria, including what’s called “beneficial flora”. This leaves room for the bad bacteria to possibly take over and propagate instead of the good bacteria. This is also why raw milk (especially goat) is so good for you. Pasteurized milk from the store is basically sterile. All it takes is on bad bacteria to get in there, and, since the lactose is such a perfect growth medium, it goes bad and gets that sour smell we are all familiar with. Drink that and you’ll get sick. Raw milk on the other hand still has all of the beneficial bacteria, and bad bacteria doesn’t have any room to take over. I’ve left a 1/4 gallon of raw milk on the counter over night at room temperature and still consumed it. Tasted just as good as ever. Try that with that store bought swill they call milk. And yes, all of my co-workers think that because I drink raw milk that I’m in imminent danger of keeling over at any moment. You should have seen the looks on their faces when I told them. Priceless.

      Dave, RN wrote on December 11th, 2009
      • Dave, I don’t even want to share my experiences with the longevity of raw milk for fear of people trying them, but I’m quite convinced that raw milk just about doesn’t go bad. I call it shape changing 😉

        Grok wrote on December 11th, 2009
        • needless to say, buttermilk seems to last about one or two days shy of forever. i’ve done some ghastly things as well. no harm no foul.

          cenz wrote on December 12th, 2009
        • Hilarious @cenz!

          Pretty amazing stuff. truly does make you never want to consume the pasteurized stuff ever again. I regularly rant about it on my site. Ha-ha

          Grok wrote on December 12th, 2009
        • I left organic pasture fed raw milk in a glass jar on the kitchen bench for 4 days, after which it split and I ate the curds and drank the whey. I used the left over whey as a starter for fermenting beetroots to make beet kvass. Delicious.

          I am glad that mass produced milk from grain fed, hormone laden, anti-biotic ridden, stressed cows deliberately bred from a lineage of evolutionary unfit cows that produce too much milk to be able to even survive, let alone thrive, in the wild…..must be pasteurised. Imagine how many people would die if they stopped pasteurising this milk. I would never touch the stuff, but I am sure glad that those who insist on the “cheap” stuff at the very least pasteurise it!

          We shouldn’t be asking the government to remove this law. Instead we should be congratulating them for having the sense to mandate pasteurisation for crap milk. In addition to our congratulations we should also be humbly suggesting that they allow certified bio-dynamic milk to be sold unpasteurised for human consumption.

          Sander wrote on February 11th, 2014
      • I left an unopened container of FAGE greek-style yogurt out at room temperature overnight and ate it the next morning with no ill effects. 😛

        Vivian wrote on December 30th, 2009
  22. Mark, what are your feelings on probiotic supplements? I’m talking about reliable, good-quality supplements, not some disturbing cereal or sugary yogurt bragging the inclusion of “beneficial bacteria.”

    Emily wrote on December 11th, 2009
    • He recommends them in the PB book (high quality ones of course) as part of recommended supps like a good multi and fish oil… :)

      FairyRae2 wrote on December 11th, 2009
  23. The question of bacteria and our consumption I’ve always thought was interesting. Especially as it relates to “raw water” the stuff my dogs have no problem lapping out of a container in the yard, or flowing in a ditch, but everything I know says I’ll be sicker than anything if I try the same trick. How is it that every animal in the world but people can drink the “raw water” around them with little issue, yet we can’t? Is it a question of antibodies passed down from the mother or something that we don’t have? Can one train themselves to make use of this resource? It would sure make camping much easier.

    Mickey wrote on December 11th, 2009
    • Good question. Our dogs make good use of puddles in the forest when we’re hiking (it’s rainy season here in Northern California) and they love muddy water, which presumably is full of minerals as well as a bounty of beneficial microbes. If there’s anything bad in there, their systems seem well-equipped to handle it. I wouldn’t drink it myself, no, but I’m sure I get some of the same germs when the dogs kiss me (I try to steer them towards my chin or cheek rather than my closed mouth!) and I’m never sick anymore.

      Jeanmarie wrote on February 2nd, 2010
      • My first (and hopefully only) encounter with giardia involved housesitting a cabin on Kodiak, with resident dog, and an open stream from which all the surrounding huts took their water – and which all the local critters, dogs included, shared. And they shared their poop, as well. Being younger and stupider, and raised as an urban brat, I didn’t know about chlorinating the water I used to drink, cook, bathe in, and brush my teeth.

        It wasn’t nice. I can attest to the fact that that dog was sick, and I got as sick as the dog. Painful cramps, farts and explosive diarrhea. In a house with no running water. For weeks – until I was pityingly handed a bottle of Chlorox. Eventually I had only the dog’s effluvia to contend with. Which he liked to expel every time he was petted. Ick.

        Bottom line – Giardiasis is a serious affliction – I’m positive it damaged my gut forever. And it hurts. And it’s everywhere in the great green. So if you let your pets out, beware letting them lick you, and wash your hands before you eat or drink. And disinfect your water, or you too might have a sad tale to tell.

        Leaf Eating Carnivore wrote on August 27th, 2012
  24. Check out Sally Fallons cook book
    “Nurishing Traditions” she is a big pusher of fermented foods and suggest using whey to increase the nutritional value. Looking forward to Marks Cook Book.

    Biglee wrote on December 11th, 2009
  25. Timely post… I made some organic raw yogurt lastnight! Just waiting for it to chill a bit and Ill be eating in here in about an hour. 😉


    Rob wrote on December 12th, 2009
  26. I don’t know if Puerh tea falls into this catagory. It is tea that has been allowed to ferment over time. Very good and Earthy.

    SCOTT wrote on December 19th, 2009
  27. It would seem like this would be the right group to give me some information!
    Has anyone had issues with his/her skin when incorporating fermented foods into diet? My skin was clear, but after adding more fermented foods I had bumps on my arms and face. Not acne but just bumpy skin. I backed off eating/drinking everyday and they went away. Coincidence? Can one “OD” on these foods?

    Jordan wrote on June 10th, 2010
    • For about 4- 4 1/2 years now, I’ve had red bumps forming around my eyes, and other places on my face sometimes. They come and go, worsen and ameliorate partially, but never completely go away. I assume it is an allergy but am never pure enough in my diet to go on an elimination routine. I suspect casein, but I don’t drink much dairy except the occasional raw, or kefir (commercial, not making any currently), but use lots of butter and ghee. I also consume lots of homemade kombucha. Mine isn’t acne either but it looks horrid.

      I was also told recently that too much kombucha can hurt the liver. Is it really that powerful? I still haven’t seen any studies or detailed explanation of this. Not sure there’s any connection to my red splotches, and since I’ve been eating fermented foods for much longer than I’ve been getting these red bumps or welts, I don’t know whether that’s evidence for or against kombucha etc. Anyone have any definitive information on this?

      Jeanmarie wrote on June 10th, 2010
      • i get red bumps (which can progress to a rash and then to flakes/scales) around the outside corners of my eyes and the sides of my nose when i eat dairy. my dermatologist dx’d it as seborrheic dermatitis (i.e. dandruff, in another place) and said it didn’t make sense to him that dairy would aggravate it. but the correlation was really clear. even steroid cream wasn’t working, but quitting dairy cleared it up. if i ate dairy, it would be back the next day. i was eating mostly raw milk. the rawness was not a saving grace. and i avoid butter, now, too. use some ghee occasionally. i recommend you switch to coconut products for a week and see how your skin does.

        megan wrote on June 10th, 2010
  28. So strange- I backed off dairy by about 98% in the past year or two and in the time leading up to now I’ve experienced the bumps. I do use primarily coconut if not nut milks in place of dairy, so it sounds like I’m on the right track there.
    What happened on my face sounds similar to what you both experience(d)- but the areas on the arms -and chest now that I remember- were more like a “chicken skin” in patches if that makes sense? No redness, just patches of rough skin.

    Jordan wrote on June 10th, 2010
  29. I may just try that, Megan. We just discovered we like raw goat’s milk and have a friend nearby who has dairy goats, so we’re trying that for now. I love coconut but my partner gets tired of it fast, so I may have to delay a nondairy test until he goes out of town! Thanks.

    Interestingly, I think I commented in December that raw milk still gives me gas, but I had some very recently that cause me zero problems whatsoever. It’s clear to me these things can progress for better and for worse at different times.

    Jeanmarie wrote on June 10th, 2010
    • As I have just recently found out, it might more likely be the difference between A1 casein milk (mostly from Holstein cows, which are the source of most of the milk in this country) and A2 casein animals (other cow breeds such as Jerseys and Guernseys, goats, camels, sheep, etc.), rather that the rawness of the milk itself, or any individually cycling reactions, although there might be some separate issues there as well. Apparently most, but not all, of the cows used by raw milk producers are A2 breeds, so if you are lucky enough to live near a producer (I’m not, alas, being up in the Frozen North, land of the Stink Head fermented fish), it probably pays to check what’s being milked.

      This might be one reason why all of the European cheeses I love don’t bother me…

      Leaf Eating Carnivore wrote on November 10th, 2010

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