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Let Fermented Foods Do Your Dirty Work

Affiliate Disclosure | in Recipes | by | with 58 Comments

My Dirty Little Secret

I like bacteria. I let my kids eat dirt. Sometimes (okay most of the time) I forget to wash their hands before dinner.

And I’m okay with that.

In this world of antibiotics, antibacterial soap and antimicrobial clothing most people think I’m snuggled up in a nice, warm petri dish full of the enemy. All I can say is . . . yep.

How did you spend your first year of marriage? Mine was a process of becoming incapacitated by cascading failures all across my body’s functional systems. It started with hives, then moved to severe abdominal pain, heart palpitations, fatigue, humiliating acne and weight loss that reduced me to nothing but a skeletal silhouette.

The established medical community gave me a nice little label – autoimmune disorder NOS (not otherwise specified) – also known as “your body is attacking itself and we have no freaking idea why . . deal with it.

Natural Born Killers

So I did. It took a long time, but I did eventually learned why my immune system was going haywire. Each of us are born with natural killer cells (NK cells) designed to seek and destroy abnormal cells such as cancers and viruses. Their sole function is to fight, but all too often we eliminate their natural enemies with the overuse of antibiotics.

To make things worse, antibiotics and antibacterial cleaners/soaps/etc kill both harmful and beneficial bacteria indiscriminately. Beneficial bacteria are designed to help us fight infections. When they bite the dust alongside their bad brothers, we become more vulnerable to future infection, which requires more antibiotics, leading to more infection . . . the cycle goes on and on. Where beneficial bacteria used to thrive, helping us with essential functions like digestion and detoxification, we have become a wasteland. That’s when NK cells find a new enemy . . . us.¹

Imagine your body is the earth. There are good armies and bad armies, and then there’s a little battalion of  good army robots designed to seek out and destroy the stray soldiers from the evil empire (muah hahahaha!). One day the whole world goes nuclear (aka a course of antibiotics that kills indiscriminately), and most of the armies are wiped out. The robot special force is unaffected, but most of the enemy they’re designed to seek out and destroy an enemy no longer exists. Unfortunately they can’t override their programming, so they begin attacking friendlies instead. That, in a nutshell, is the sci-fi definition of an autoimmune disorder. For a more complete explanation of germ theory and why Pasteur got it wrong check out this post.

Winning The Culture War

To maintain health we need to build up the good armies and avoid nuclear options like antibiotics as much as possible. Unfortunately, we’re drinking antibiotics whether we like it or not, so there has never been a more important time to build up the good bacteria in our bodies. (I’m not sure how a battle analogy took over this post, sorry!)

Now, most of this is probably not new to you, but maybe like me you’ve gotten lax about including probiotic-rich fermented food in your diet. If you’re ready to turn that around and start this season, happier and more colonized, I have a suggestion!

Save $50 On Get Cultured And Learn How To Ferment Anything

Jenny from Nourished Kitchen is offering $50 off Get Cultured! How to Ferment Anything through October 22nd. And seriously ya’ll, she means anything! Honey-wine, homemade soda, barbecue sauce, even BACON. With 100 recipes featuring everything from coconut kefir to sour pickles and condiments like ketchup and mustard there is literally something for everyone. And the best part is she shares the principles behind the recipes so you can create your own!

Click here to see the full list of lessons.


If You Could Ferment ANYTHING, What Would It Be? Spontaneous apple cider? Coconut chutney? Kvass? Tomatillo salsa?

Photo Credit: Joe Photo on Flickr

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58 Responses to Let Fermented Foods Do Your Dirty Work

  1. latisha says:

    yay!!!! i need some fermentation love. um, do i have to choose? seriously. i want to make all of this…now i just need more counter space. okay, officially im going with tomatillos cuz they are in season here now and im mexican. good enough reasons as any. can’t wait!

    • Heather says:

      Okay, tomatillo salsa is officially on the menu! I’m actually making a red salsa this week since our tomato plant was still producing up until about 10 days ago. Let’s consider it a practice run. :)

  2. Nanci says:

    My family of nine goes through 4 liters of water kefir a day!! Cheaper than powdered drinks, fun to make and watch grow, science experiments for all the different flavors we can make, and my kids love it!! Tried Coke for a friend that is addicted to Coke, did not work! The Coke killed the Kefir!!

    I am torn what to vote…..If I cannot say ALL, I will choose spontaneous apple cider.

    • Heather says:

      Wow, 4 liters!?!?! I have some water kefir grains here but they are hibernating because I didn’t drink the stuff fast enough. It kept turning slightly alchoholic and I was afraid to give it to my toddler. Do you have a fave fruit you use to flavor it?

      • Nanci says:

        My kids like multi fruit juice. We also will make a strong cinnamon tea and use that. Anise seed is good! Juice of a lemon and a few springs of lemon balm, peppermint, or spearmint is yummy!
        We will make a cup of tea with 3 tea bags of any type of tea, add a couple spoonfuls of raw sugar, add to 2nd stage fermentation.
        We make the Kefir in a gallon jar with a liter of water. After 24 hours split the kefir water between 2 litter bottles and add 1 1/2 cup liquid and 2 TBLS raw sugar, and wait another 24 hours. Drink!!
        We also have collected a bunch or small plastic pop bottles from a friend and we make the 2nd stage in them so each kid has their own bottle to take with them. They choose whatever flavor they want for their bottle. Works great for hikes, picnics, and general running around.
        Really good when you have been out exercising and are super thirsty!!
        This is really good for family gathering where family thinks your kids are deprived if they do not drink all the sopa pop at the family gatherings. The kids are walking around drinking a fizzy drink from pop bottles! Who can complain?? ;0)

  3. Tiffany says:

    All the recipes sound great! I have crohns disease and I know that I need more fermented foods in my diet, but I don’t know where to start. Really looking forward to this. If I had to vote on were to start I lean towards the cider.

    • Heather says:

      Hey Tiffany – I was not formally diagnosed, but I had all the symptoms of Chrohn’s about five years ago. It sounds far-fetched I know, but by changing my eating habits and using a modified form of acupuncture I was able to completely reverse my symptoms. Obviously I don’t know anything about your particular situation, but I hope it encourages you to know that people with similar issues have recovered from “incurable” conditions thanks to real, nourishing foods.

      Oh, and I’m attempting apple cider this week! If it works out I’ll post directions asap because this is the perfect season for cider!

  4. Joanna Moore says:

    i vote for apple cider. because it sounds the least weird. right now i’m in the creeped out stage as far as thinking about fermentation and culturing and lacto all that stuff. it reminds me of cottage cheese which disgusts me and sour cream gone moldy and curdled milk and oh geez i need for that kind of thinking to be redeemed with something really yummy! i know some bacteria are good for us (which is why we don’t do antibiotics and don’t wash our hands like crazy…i know, ewww) i don’t even really like yogurt all that much. i’ve never had whey, kefir, or anything like that but i’m willing to give it a shot because i’m sure it’s super nutritious! i guess this is one more step (scary, yet necessary) in my journey of eating healthier =)

    • Heather says:

      I can totally identify with your feelings, Joanna. Before I learned about Weston A. Price simply eating chicken wings grossed me out. I could not stand touching bones, and on Thanksgiving I would gag if anyone mentioned giblets. For me, getting used to a traditional diet has been a process. Now I make bone broth without wincing, and my body is stronger and better for it. Kudos to you for pushing past your discomfort and continually making steps to a healthier you!

      • erika says:

        Having a really hard time getting into fermented foods. I don’t seem to like the taste of anything fermented. Also, I have a sensitive gag reflex and can’t handle the texture of anything like yogurt, jello, whipped cream…. any suggestions?

  5. Kirsten says:

    I’m a newbie to doing my own fermentation, so I’d love to hear about any and all recipes! :-)

    • Heather says:

      I’m so glad you’re going to participate, Kirsten! I want this to be fun and not overwhelming, so a lot of the recipes I’ve selected are perfect for those who are just starting out.

  6. Megan Alba says:

    I’m hoping to start doing some fermentation next year – hello resolution! – so I’d love to know more about it! We’re big salsa eaters in my family, so I’m looking forward to the tomatillo salsa recipe.

    Several years back, initial testing showed I might have lupus. I’ve also had eczema, allergies, sinus issues, earaches, heart palpitations, etc. over the years. All seemed unexplainable and unrelated – until I began looking into nutrition. My husband and I started our journey to health this year with whole foods and trips to the farmer’s market, and we’re planning to take it to the next level in 2011. I’m looking forward to putting all this research to work and rebuilding our health next year! Thanks for sharing your story, Heather. It’s an inspiration to know that others have overcome health issues through proper diet & nutrition.

    • Heather says:

      Woohoo! I know so little about you Megan but everything I’ve learned tells me YOU ROCK! You’re making the hard choices . . . going off the pill, changing your diet, etc. but in my opinion life will be much easier long-term. Listening to your body is always the best option. :)

      • Megan Alba says:

        Thanks, Heather! I’ve enjoyed reading your blog over the past few months.
        On a side note, we have family in Plano and will be visiting this weekend. Your restaurant guide is so helpful! We’re planning to try The Grazing Cow this trip.

  7. Jolee Burger says:

    pickled beets, cider, kimchi, kombucha – Let’s make it all.

  8. Anna D says:

    I do not wash my kid’s hands before food sometimes as well. I do eat a lot of sauerkraut (my parents always made it throughout their lives so it is very natural for me), kimchi, home brewed ginger beer and cultured milk and of course home made cream cheese. I would vote for all the receipts but especially tomatillo – I love tomatoes!
    Looking forward!

  9. Tamara Morales says:

    I grew up in a home that enjoyed homemade sauerkraut, kvass, pickled beets, and loads of garlic (among tons of homegrown and whole foods). However, as an adult I have gotten away from all this goodness. My hubby is a huge fermented foods fan, so I am slowly getting back on board, so thank you for your post!

    • Heather says:

      Anna and Tamara – How wonderful to have grown up on these foods! No doubt I would have not encountered the health challenged that I did if I had discovered these foods earlier in life.

      • Anna D says:

        Wonderful indeed. Thing is I come originally from a Russian family and in our tradition back home things like liver, kidneys, cow’s heart and tongue, chicken stomach walls hearts and pig’s trotters and tails, souerkraut, kefir, even kombucha were and still are very normal as well as rye bread and raw milk and butter. So I guess I have an advantage especially in attitude in terms of taste buds. It is only when I came to UK I abandoned those foods only because did not give it a second thought.

        • Heather says:

          I want to be your neighbor! Last night I baked a whole chicken and used the bones to start a batch of stock. I cooked the liver but couldn’t bring myself to eat the heart so I put it in the stock. I need to spend time with someone for whom these things are normal!

          • Anna D says:

            I would love to be your neighbor! If only I could. Actually cold heart is perfect substitute for the luncheon meat and cold cow’s tongue is very good with sourdough rye bread and some mayonnaise or even without bread. Chicken hearts are actually really good cut in halves and fried in some lard with some sea salt.

  10. Jennifer R. says:

    Oooh, they all sound so wonderful — can I vote for all of them? I did purchase a fermentation crock, but haven’t used it yet. I know I want to eat more fermented foods to heal my gut from the damage gluten has done. Thanks!!!

  11. Denise L says:

    I am just getting into the idea of fermentation and am so intrigued by all the benefits. It makes total sense. I have started making my own yeast from any and everything-apples, pomegranates, grapefruit, etc. My goal is to start making my own sourdough bread, which seems to be a better option than whole grains. Anyway, I so enjoy your blog-good to find like-minded people.

    • Heather says:

      Wow, Denise. I really admire you for harvesting your own yeast. I was very intimidated when I got started with sourdough so I just borrowed a starter.

  12. Rachel J. says:

    I’d love to try cider. I made homemade ginger ale a few years ago and it was fantastic. I keep wondering why I haven’t done it again, lol. @Megan, you sound like me! As far as I know I don’t have lupus but have had a lot of those same issues. Over the past few years I’ve realized that aside from probably being malnourished in general, (thanks to a combination of bad eating, bad bacteria overgrowth, low stomach acid which just contributes to a vicious cycle of more of the above), I’m very deficient in magnesium. Supplements helped with the heart palpitations and achy legs. Then I started drinking daily nettle infusions this spring to help manage my allergies. A nice side affect was that the eczema covering my hands cleared up. It took a while for me to realize the connection. And after reading on detoxification I realized that I was probably folate deficient (there’s a gene mutation that, if present, prevents the body from utilizing sythetic folic acid) and thus developing skin issues. Cutting back on sugar helps as well, although that’s more of a struggle for me. Now I’m trying to be more consistent with eating some sort of ferment daily, and hopefully it will be with each meal. Water kefir is an easy way, and I love my homemade sauerkraut and goat’s milk yogurt.

    • Heather says:

      Rachel – I’ve never heard of the nettle tea/eczema connection, but it makes sense. Will to share that info with a friend whose child suffers from eczema. Thanks!

  13. Michelle Shuster McPherson via Facebook says:

    Do you make kombucha? I attempted to make kombucha this summer and was unsuccessful. I really want to perfect it because everyone in my family loves it, but to buy it for all of us regularly gets expensive.

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  16. Sam C. says:

    I would love some of my mom’s radish kimchi. I miss it…

  17. Ashley Boyd says:

    Thank you so much for sharing! This whole fermentation idea is new to me… and I’ve been telling my husband that I need to take a class or something!

  18. Aubree says:

    Heather- I too have been a MESS for the last 8 months, beginning right after my husband and I got married. It has been so difficult, yet strengthening for us as we learn to love in sickness and weakness…not just health! We do try to eat REAL food and live healthy, but I keep feeling stomach aches that radiate to my back, weakness, fatigue, slight weight loss…ugh. I guess all this to say I am SO encouraged that you were able to reverse many of your symptoms. Keep posting these great articles!!

    • Heather says:

      Hugs to you, Aubree!

    • Sarah Hall says:

      Okay, I don’t want to sound like a wack job but make sure you get that radiating pain looked into. You just described the exact symptoms my father-in-law had with pancreatic cancer. I’m not wanting to be an alarmist, just want to encourage you to look into it. Believe me, I know I sound ridiculous and you probably have already looked into it… just wanted to make sure.

  19. Carol says:

    Kimchi, in fact I have some going right now. I look forward to trying to make it in many more ways, I am in love with the stuff!

  20. angie h says:

    I really want to add fermenting foods to our meals. My husband was in Korea and loves kimchi (they eat it a lot over there). I would love to learn to make it to encourage him in our changes. But, water and milk kefir is where I want to just start. Sourdough is a biggie on my list to learn (I have a big bread eater in my house). How do I do all of this and work full time??? Time is such an issue for me, I need to get organized and get a routine…..

    I love, love, love your blog btw!

    • Heather says:

      Hi Angie! I’ve found that making big batches less frequently works best for me. Fermentation was the preservation method of choice until refrigerators came on the scene so there’s no need to worry about them “going bad.”

  21. Amanda says:

    I vote for them all. I have a family of 4 little ones all sensitive to foods and with gut issues. We saw great healing on SCD and are stepping it up with Weston Price principles this year with super results. We are daily raw milk yogurt addicts and I’m ready to step it up with fermenting! I’ve got the massive Nourishing Traditions book from Sally Fallon and can’t get a moment to read it from all my GAPS cooking~LOL! Some step by steps in pics would be SOOOO awesome! I love your blog-you are spot on girl!~glad I found ya!

  22. Amanda Hecker via FB says:

    Fermenting rocks 😉

  23. Bree says:

    First, I have to say that your science is almost completely inaccurate. By your argument, once an individual begins taking antibiotics they would be unable to stop as well as unable to reconstitute their normal flora. This is utterly and completely false, as just about any individual who has ever taken an antibiotic can tell you. Yes, antibiotics will kill good flora along with the bad, your body has ways of replenishing this and you can help it (by consuming pro-biotics, as you mentioned), this is the only accurate scientific statement on your entire soapbox. I’d like to point out that many of the antibiotics used do occur in nature, they’re not all dreamed up by the big bad pharma. You also are essentially arguing that antibiotics lead to autoimmune disease, again, a completely false statement. I feel many of the complications you had with medication were a result of the fact that your immune system WAS dysfunctional, so no wonder it would have a “bad” reaction to modification since it was “defective” to begin with. Also, your assertion that NK Cells are unable to turn off is, again, false. If this were true our commensal bacteria would be under constant attack by our NK cells, leading to us not having any bacteria. Here is a link that explains NK Cells, how they function, and how they are controlled: . Also, NK Cells attack cells, viruses are not cells and consequently are not attacked by NK Cells.

    Furthermore, your assertion that Pasteur “got it wrong” is utterly ridiculous. Antione Bechamp, the “scientist” you champion as having got it all correct was discredited in his own time. You conveniently don’t mention how Bechamp proposed these bacteria get in to the sick tissue in your related post, allow me to elucidate: Bechamp proposed that other “living entities” called microzymes coalesced to become bacteria in response to host and environmental factors. Furthermore, he asserted that these microzymes, not cells, were the fundamental building blocks of life and that these microzymes could condense together to create blood clots as well (which are NOT living things), which we also know is completely false. So, you are asserting that the body synthesizes its own bacteria in response to “ill” tissue? Perhaps you are unfamiliar with Koch’s postulates ('s_postulates, wikipedia actually provides more valid sources than you do in the linked post), you have also indirectly argued that these are as well invalid. So then why is it that when a doctor tells you your child has Strep throat that you believe him? When a doctor diagnosis a UTI, why do you drink cranberry juice? That’s all based on Koch and the concept that the organism causes the disease. Let me assure you, if I gave a flask of salmonella to drink to you, who lives a healthy life style, and to another individual who eats fast food every day of their life, you both would become ill.

    I don’t have a problem with fermented food, or the belief that living a healthy life style helps avoid illness and disease (in fact, I do my best to live healthily as well). Nor will I argue that children should not eat worms and dirt, our society has strayed too far into trying to be aseptic and that’s causing a lot of its own issues. However, to invalidate science and to blatantly spew misinformation as fact is irresponsible and deserves reproach. I’m very sorry that you lost your father tragically while you were young and that you feel more could have been done for him, but that does not give you the right (or the qualifications) to discredit centuries of scientific research. If you chose not to believe it that’s fine and it is your decision whether you and your family will benefit from medical advances. However, blatantly providing misinformation and lying by omission of facts is dishonest and harmful. People in the public are looking toward you as a reliable source, and you are doing them and their families disservice.

  24. Sandy (NZ) says:

    I have no prior experience of fermented foods so am determined to be brave and give it a go… So am keen on less threatening things like fermented salsa and tomato sauce (we don’t have the word ketchup over here!). I’ve just bought your baby food ebook, Heather (it’s brilliant! Thank you!) and I think I could try the fermented mayonnaise recipe, I’ve just strained some yoghurt to thicken and this time I’ve saved the whey! Yay me!

  25. Nicola says:

    Hi Sandy,
    I’m in Wellington, NZ and hosting a cultured vegetable class next Wednesday if that’s any help? I also have Healther’s Ebook – it’s great, my little boy is super healthy & a big fan of the recipes.
    Our household couldn’t be without dill-cious beets. Yum!
    Thanks Heather for another great post.
    here are the details of the workshop:

  26. Jennifer S says:

    Love this post! I, too, shun the antibiotics. I haven’t taken one since I was a child. I hate how doctors throw around antibiotics like candy now. You have a cut? Take these antibiotics. You have a cold? Here’s some more. Yeesh.

    I love bacterias! A friend of mine is constantly amazed how Hubby and I never get sick, and yet we are “dirty” (not her words, just the best word to describe it with)…while she and her Hubs get sick and have various health problems almost all of the time. I’ve been trying to beat the knowledge (HA!) of bacteria and whole foods in to her for a little while now, and I think its finally starting to take hold.

    I’ve heart fermenting, but I’ve been a little intimidated to branch out from what I’ve gotten good at. Of course, I felt that way each time I’ve tried something new. I’ve been lacto fermenting homemade mayo and ketchup for a little while now, and I’ve made ginger soda a few times (and its yummy!), but any time I think of trying something new, I get a little scared. I can’t wait to see more fermentation! Ferment everything!

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  30. Shannon says:

    this post is perfect! i feel the same way about the superbugs that we are creating. my 18 month old daughter is still experiencing gut issues from reflux meds everyone pushed me into giving her as an infant (a whole other story for another time) and this post will prove to be very helpful in my journey to getting her on track. and we can ALL use this in our lives!

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