Food For Thought: Get Cultured! Not Pickled!

“Many commentators have observed that America is a nation lacking culture—how can we be cultured when we eat only food that has been canned, pasteurized, and embalmed? … How ironic that the road to culture in our germophobic technological society requires, first and foremost, that we enter into an alchemical relationship with bacteria and fungi, and that we bring to our tables foods and beverages prepared by the magicians, not machines.” ~ Sally Fallon foreword from Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz

Sandy McCall

Sandy McCall

Over the years we have moved from foods offering actual health benefits to foods that are fast and sometimes empty in nutritional value. Most of us are beginning to look at our gut health as the answer to many health issues. (Ed. Note: and see Maureen McDonnell’s article this month on how gut health affects our mental and emotional well-being.)

“In the world of food, ‘cultured’ essentially means fermented—the chemical process of breaking a complicated substance down into simpler parts, usually with the help of bacteria, yeasts, or fungi.”

So for this piece, I will refer to this process most of the time as “cultured.” You may like the word fermented better! Same, same! Pickled foods have little or no relationship to cultured foods.

“Fermentation is a metabolic process in which an organism converts a carbohydrate, such as starch [grains] or a sugar [fruit], into an alcohol or an acid by using yeast. Bacteria perform fermentation; converting carbohydrates into lactic acid, and is called lacto-fermentation. The “lacto” portion of the term refers to a specific species of bacteria, namely Lactobacillus [a probiotic].”

Over the years, I have tended to make this process pretty difficult when it does not need to be. I was slow to eat some cultured foods that are typically called “fermented.” If you read my piece in the December 2014 issue on SuperFoods, you may remember I said that I know they are good for me, but I often do not like the flavors. So I have been on a mission to discover cultured foods that I do like as I know how good they are for me.

I don’t pretend to have all of the answers here but I will give you a picture of my own personal research and experience in discovering the importance of my own gut health. Better late than never!! As always, make sure you follow the advice of the professionals in your life.

In her book [GAPS] Gut and Psychology Syndrome, Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride explains how toxicity in your gut can flow throughout your body and into your brain, where it can cause symptoms of autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, depression, schizophrenia and other disorders. And that’s not all… Dr. Campbell-McBride believes gut toxins can show up in both children and adults in the form of digestive and immune disorders.

Gut health and the relationship to your overall health … We have all heard about the benefits of friendly bacteria for gut health. Many health professionals now recommend the addition of probiotic supplements to our daily good health regiment. Probiotics typically contain many different strains of friendly bacteria that boost our immune systems. What are these friendly bacteria and where the heck do they come from? (also see page 16, Gut-Brain Connection)

“The word ‘probiotics’ actually refers to a number of different bacteria strains. The most common probiotic is Lactobacillus acidophilus, although a number of the Lactobacillus species are used, including L. bulgaricus, L. casei and L. GG. Other common probiotics include Bifidobacterium bifidum and Bifidobacterium longum. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, milk enriched with the bacteria and yogurt that has added live cultures are among the most common dietary sources of L. acidophilus bacteria.”

Probiotics – An Overview: “There are more than 400 different species of bacteria in the human digestive tract. The most important of these are Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum. They are called probiotics, the opposite of antibiotics, because they aid in creating a healthy balance of microflora in the gut.” So the antibiotics kill the bad bacteria as well as the good bacteria that are probiotics.

“Fermentation is an inconsistent process, and is more of an art than a science. Commercial food processors developed techniques to help standardize more consistent yields. These include pasteurization, which effectively destroys the naturally occurring probiotics.”

There are many, many possibilities for cultured foods, particularly if you make them at home, but you can also buy some of them in the grocery story … the most common ones that we see in the grocery store are yogurt, tempeh, aminos, kimchi, sauerkraut, apple cider vinegar and the list goes on. But remember they are not all created equal … read the labels!

How is pickling different than culturing/fermenting you ask? Pickling is a process that started as a way to preserve food items for a longer shelf life, and has been utilized particularly in grocery stores but by some home cooks as well. Pickling should not be confused with culturing/fermenting, as it has surely been heated (pasteurized) and has vinegar added for preservation. Most pickles are not cultured and they do not have the probiotics we are focusing on here.

So on my continued mission, I have re-created some foods that I hope you will like. Read on … You don’t have to make this process difficult. Start small, it just requires a little planning … the basics are simple.

So here’s my attempt to make something different than the norm that we usually see with a Tempeh Reuben, I made Brussel-Kraut! You will love it! Here’s the definition of a traditional Reuben sandwich:

• Reu·ben sandwich \¦rüb’n- in rapid speech also¦rüb’m-\noun: a grilled sandwich consisting of corned beef, Swiss cheese, and sauerkraut usually on rye bread.

Gosh, I hope you try some of these recipes … they have not only been something of a surprise to me, I just loved every one of them and the possibilities are endless. I’ll be working on Whey Better Chocolate! Write to me and tell me your ideas for different cultured foods! Enjoy!

food1Wild Salsa

2 lbs of tomatoes of your choice
2 T tomato paste
5 scallions, chopped
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1/8-1/4 c Fresh Cilantro
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/2 lime, juiced
1 TBSP celtic salt
1 t pepper
1 t cumin
1 ea medium poblano, jalepeno, red pepper, banana pepper, seeded
1 T chipotle in adobo sauce
1/2 c whey from good plain yogurt

Chop veggies in food processor, and add remaining ingredients. Test for heat, salt and color. Add more tomato paste if more color is desired. Pour into mason jars and cap tightly. Leave on the counter for approximately 2 days. Transfer to refrigerator.


12 oz fresh Brussel sprouts, cleaned and trimmed
2 small Carrots, scrubbed and chopped
3 cloves Garlic cleaned
2 T salt (I use Celtic Salt)
1 t celery seed
2 scallions, chopped
Pepper to taste

Process all ingredients in the food processor and pack into a crock with a tight lid or use a canning jar. Add water to cover and pour about 1/4” of olive oil on top of kraut to hold veggies in brine. Leave the crock at room temperature to culture for 7-12 days. In the summer or in a heated room, its life cycle is more rapid. If left too long eventually it becomes soft and the flavor turns less pleasant.

Tempeh Reuben Wrap

See recipe for Brussel-Kraut above or use sauerkraut if you like.

8 ounces tempeh-sliced in half to make thinner. Brown in oil, turn heat down. Whisk together Quick Sauce and add to skillet. Cook tempeh in sauce, turning once.

Quick Sauce

3 tablespoons coconut aminos (or tamari or soy aminos)
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon maple syrup
½ teaspoon liquid smoke
Olive oil for browning

Thousand Island Dressing

3 tablespoons plain yogurt
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 cup minced dill pickle (I used homemade pickled baby zucchini)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Topping: caramelize 1 red onion in oil or butter by slicing and cooking at low heat until slightly browned and soft. Caramelizing makes the onions sweet.

Pile tempeh with dressing, kraut and caramelized onions. Serving possibilities:
1) Simply piled high on a plate (no bread)
2) traditional sandwich with grilled bread of your choice
3) or in romaine wrap

Coconut Yogurt

Make a day or two ahead if you need it for other recipes!

You will need a thermometer and a warm environment. I use my wood stove, or you can try the light in oven, or crock pot with jars wrapped in a dish towel. Check temperature regularly. IF YOGURT GETS ABOVE 110° degrees it will kill the probiotic goodness.

2 cans coconut cream (no additives)
2 T arrowroot powder
1 t vanilla (opt)
2 (powder only) probiotic caps (10 strain/20 billion microorganisms) OR
(3 T (milk) yogurt whey-it will not be dairy free)
2 T maple syrup or honey (opt)

1. Pour milk into a saucepan.
2. Bring to a boil. Add thickener. Return to boil, whisk for 2-3 minutes, and remove from heat.
3. Add optional sweetener and/or flavors if you like. Mix well. I recommend finishing with a hand-held mixer or a quick puree in the blender.
4. Allow mixture to cool for about 1 hour. (If you add culture when it’s too hot, it will die.) If you are using a thermometer, it needs to be between 90-115 degrees.
5. Add probiotic powder or whey. Mix well. Divide into desired containers as needed and place in yogurt maker or other warm (90-110 degree) environment. Leave the individual lids off the glass jars for your yogurt maker. If using oven, cover container(s) with a towel, turn on oven light ONLY. I use my wood stove while monitoring the temperature carefully.
6. Check in about 6-8 hours. If using the oven, 7-9 hours is necessary. Store in refrigerator in an air-tight container. IT WILL FIRM UP AS IT CHILLS. NOTE: Sometimes the consistency isn’t perfect; various milk, thickener, flavoring, and temperature combinations all interact different.

Cultured Fruit

Make a day or two before you want to use them.

2 cups berries: any berries except strawberries
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp whey (liquid saved from good quality plain yogurt)
1/4 tsp sea salt
filtered water to cover

Put the berries into a wide mouth pint size mason jar and smash them down a bit with a wooden spoon. In a measuring cup, make starter culture by adding a few tablespoons of water, honey and a pinch of salt. Stir and pour over the berries. Fill the jar with filtered water, leaving 1 inch head space. Press down with a wooden spoon to be sure liquid has filled all the air spaces. Cover tightly and leave at room temp for 1-2 days. Store in the refrigerator. Use within 2 months.

food2The Cultured Fool!

1 can coconut cream, whipped
½ t vanilla (or to taste)
1 T honey (or to taste)
12-16 medium to large strawberries
1 cup cultured fruit from recipe above (I used Blueberries)
Strawberries for garnish
Coconut yogurt, sweetened w honey
Toasted almonds

Put jam and chopped strawberries in a pan and heat until thickened; cool. Put full can of coconut cream into bowl and use mixer to whip until thick, add vanilla and honey. Add strawberries with jam, yogurt, cream in alternate layers and garnish with almonds and strawberries. Makes 4 Fools.

Sandy McCall’s day job is working as the Broker/Owner of Southern Life Realty. When she’s not being the “mad scientist” in the kitchen or loving-up her cat and dogs, she enjoys writing for WNC Woman and volunteering in the community. Your Dream, Our Expertise … Matching People With Property!, 828-273-9755, and

Sandy McCall
Written by Sandy McCall