Frequent daily consumption of fermented foods is a standard practice in my programs. Fermented foods provide microbial species such as Leuconostoc mesenteroides, Lactobacillus plantarum, and various species of Pediococcus and Weisella. These are microbes normally resident on the surface of vegetables such as cabbage and cucumbers that, when submerged in an anaerobic environment (i.e., without air or oxygen), proliferate. You can therefore ferment vegetables without adding any starter culture, but just wait for resident surface microbes to proliferate. (Be sure your veggies have no added coatings such as wax.) Adding a starter culture, such as Cutting Edge Cultures vegetable starter*, abbreviates the process, reducing the time for fermentation down from a typical two weeks to about 3-4 days. (Fermentation times vary widely, however, depending on the veggies chosen. Tomatoes, for instance, ferment rapidly, while cabbage ferments slowly.)

But here’s a quick and easy trick: Purchase a commercially fermented food such as Bubbie’s fermented pickles. They do a great job of adding garlic, peppers, and other herbs and spices to create a terrific collection of flavors. Enjoy your pickles but save the liquid that remains. Slice up some veggies such as cucumbers and add to the liquid, making sure that you add enough sliced cucumbers to make the level of water rise to the very top to exclude air, or use something (e.g., clean rock, small plate, ramekin), or top up with brine of your own. (Make brine using 2 tablespoons of non-iodized salt to a quart of filtered non-chlorinated water.) The key is to prevent the veggies from being exposed to air. Set aside on your kitchen counter for 3-4 days and you will have another batch of fermented pickles or other veggies.

You can do the same with commercially fermented sauerkraut or other products. There is an especially delicious product from Cleveland Kitchen called Kimchi Pickles. The terrific flavors caught me by surprise. Despite the “kimchi” label, it does not taste like kimchi but bursts with its own unique flavors. Eat the pickles, then save the liquid. I combined the liquid remaining from two containers to top up a single container to exclude air. The fermented cucumbers I made turned out as delicious as the original product.

Because fermented foods are not required to disclose what microbes are present, we can only assume that the usual resident microbes are present. However, you can add microbes of your own, being careful to either source them from another fermented food (e.g., liquid from fermented sauerkraut) or purchase species that you know will ferment at room temperature, such as Lactobacillus plantarum or Lactobacillus brevis. (Stores that provide beer brewing equipment are good sources.)

If you’ve read my Super Gut book, you already know that frequent consumption of fermented foods is key in restoring or maintaining gut health. Most of the microbial species of fermented foods do not typically colonize the human gastrointestinal tract. They produce metabolites such as lactate and acetate that, in turn, nourish resident gut microbes. Many of these resident microbes are “fed” by fermenting species. Resident gut microbes then produce the fatty acid, butyrate, that mediates numerous beneficial effects on the human host, such as deeper sleep, reduced insulin resistance and blood sugar, reduced blood pressure, and healing of the intestinal lining. The presence of fermenting species also compete with fecal species such as E. coli and Salmonella, keeping them from over-proliferating, as they have in the majority of modern Americans.

*I act as a consultant to Cutting Edge Cultures for which I am financially compensated.