Have you heard of cultured vegetables? Until last year I hadn’t either.
Spotlight on December of 2010. I was having a particularly awful run with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, a gnarly stomach disease that had me pretty much unable to eat anything without pain. It was the fourth time I had it in a year and I was desperate for a lasting solution. I had been on antibiotics, probiotics, special diets, gave up gluten, and yet nothing seemed to keep my stomach issues permanently at bay. That was until I got turned on to the wonder of fermented foods.
I was initially introduced to cultured vegetables through the Body Ecology Diet Book and through my dear friend Carly Dowell. Carly is a colon hydrotherapist, studied with Donna Gates (the author of the BED Book), and now produces cultured vegetables for health food markets all over Los Angeles. Carly told me if there was one thing I must do for my digestive health it was to eat fermented foods, in particular, lots of cultured vegetables. I listened and I haven’t been sick since. No drugs, no doctors, no new special diets, just the simple addition of this ancient super food with my lunch and dinner.
So what are cultured vegetables and what makes them so special?
Cultured vegetables are vegetables naturally fermented by friendly lactobacilli, which are present on the surface of all living things. Cabbage is commonly used, or a mixture of vegetables including cabbage, when added with a culture starter and left to ferment, create this wonder food. Raw cultured vegetables are rich in lactobacilli and enzymes, alkaline-forming, and loaded with vitamins. They help reestablish your inner ecosystem and the friendly bacteria in them are a less expensive alternative to probiotics! They also control sugar cravings which help with appetite and weight control.
Think of cultured vegetables as glorified sauerkraut, just with out the salt and in a raw natural form. Cultured vegetables are not the same as the salted and pasteurized sauerkraut sold in supermarkets and even some health food stores. That kind of sauerkraut is definitely not a digestive enhancing food, as the pasteurization (heating) process destroys precious enzymes, and the added salt eliminates any health benefits.
So now that we know what and how amazing this true super food is, let’s talk about where to buy it and how to make it.
I actually have never made cultured vegetables myself, which in typing this, I see is kind of ridiculous. The real reason? I’m lazy. And Carly makes the best darn version and buying from her requires no manual labor on my part. She makes four different “blends” to choose from, my favorite being the Green Blend, with the Spicy as a close second. I love adding the green blend to any plant-protein dish I’m eating (like on top of veggie burgers!) and the spicy is perfect for Mexican inspired dishes. So if you’re like me and don’t feel like putting in the work in to make a batch yourself (it’s kind of a hassle and requires you purchase an often pricey culture-starter) you can buy Carly’s product here. She will ship anywhere in the US! If you live in LA you can also find her products at Erewhon, The Co-Op, and in September, Whole Foods.
Now be warned. The taste of cultured vegetables is pretty startling at first. As Americans the somewhat tart and fermented taste is not something typical in our diets, so don’t be scared if you don’t like it at first! It grows on you. Even now I wouldn’t say I am in love with the taste. It’s good, especially mixed with other foods, but I don’t especially crave the flavor too often. I do however crave the benefits I almost immediately feel from eating this fermented food.
If you are feeling adventurous you can try your hand at making cultured vegetables at home. Here’s two great recipes I borrowed from the Body Ecology website that are pretty simple for your first veggie making endeavor:
Note: An important secret to making really delicious yet medicinal cultured veggies is to use freshly harvested, organic, well-cleaned vegetables. After washing the veggies, spin them dry. Clean equipment is essential. Scald everything you use in very hot water.
Cultured Veggie Version 1
- 3 heads green cabbage, shredded in a food processor
- 1 bunch kale, chopped by hand(optional): 2 cups wakame ocean vegetables (measured after soaking), drained, spine removed, and chopped
- 1 Tbsp. dill seed
Cultured Veggie Version 2
- 3 heads green cabbage, shredded in a food processor
- 6 carrots, large, shredded in a food processor
- 3 inch piece ginger, peeled and chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
- Combine all ingredients in a large bowl.
- Remove several cups of this mixture and put into a blender.
- Add enough filtered water to make a “brine” the consistency of a thick juice. Blend well and then add brine back into first mixture. Stir well.
- Pack mixture down into a 1½ quart glass or stainless steel container. Use your fist, a wooden dowel, or a potato masher to pack veggies tightly.
- Fill container almost full, but leave about 2 inches of room at the top for veggies to expand.
- Roll up several cabbage leaves into a tight “log” and place them on top to fill the remaining 2 inch space. Clamp jar closed.
- Let veggies sit at about a 70 degree room temperature for at least three days. A week is even better. Refrigerate to slow down fermentation. Enjoy!
To use the BED culture starter:
Dissolve one or two packages of starter culture in 1½ cup warm (90*) water. Add approximately 1 tsp. of some form of sugar to feed the starter (try Rapadura, Sucanat, honey, Agave, or EcoBLOOM). Let starter/sugar mixture sit for about 20 minutes or longer while the L. Plantarum and other bacteria wake up and begin enjoying the sugar. Add this starter culture to the brine (step 3). Done!
One last note on cultured vegetables. They smell funkadellic. I don’t know why but they smell absolutely gnarly but they do. Fear not, they are not nearly as crazy tasting as they smell. Promise. If you can get past the initial shock, I assure you the immediate and lasting benefits are worth a nose full o funk. This has been a saving grace for me and my digestive health and I know it can be for ya’ll too.
Hope this post can help a few people like it profoundly helped me.
Your Vegan Girlfriend