Baby Steps: Eating Cultured and Fermented Foods

This week's baby step is:

To introduce one new cultured or fermented food to yourself (and your family, if you can)!

Why this step is important:

Though they made not sound all that appealing initially, and I know that this may be a bigger Baby Step than some of the previous ones, cultured and fermented foods are actually delicious and offer so many health benefits!

You may have heard talk of good and bad bacteria, or intestinal flora- these are microscopic bacteria that live in your digestive tract and either aid in proper digestion, assimilation of nutrients, etc. or else they prevent it when the bad bacteria outnumber the good. Imagine a scale in your mind, balancing the good and bad intestinal bacteria on either end. Basically, when you eat cultured and fermented foods, you are heaping good bacteria onto the scale, and tipping it in the direction of a healthy digestive tract.

Eating foods that are chock full of beneficial, living bacteria is always helpful for good health, but even more so in our society. With doctors prescribing antibiotics irresponsibly for every little symptom (and with us accepting them so unthinkingly) we are in dire need of a bit of help to tip the scales back in the right direction. Add to that the fact that our meat and dairy contains antibiotics, and that most North Americans do not even know what real cultured or fermented foods are (let alone consume them), and you have a real recipe for poor digestive health (which in turn leads to poor health in general).

Some other health benefits include:

  • Rich in enzymes, which improve digestion and reduce the need for our body to produce it's own enzymes, which in turn promotes health and increased energy
  • Protects the nutrient content of food, and in many cases increases the availability of nutrients
  • Helps promote regular elimination (a fancy way of saying that it makes you go!)

How to get started with this step:

First, let's get familiarized with what types of food I am even talking about! Here are some examples:

  • Yogurt (the real stuff- plain, sour, no thickeners added or needed)
  • Kefir (similar to yogurt, but more drinkable, with a slightly different taste)
  • Buttermilk
  • Cultured sour cream, creme fraiche, or piima cream
  • Sauerkraut (this includes Kimchi, the Korean version)
  • Pickles (such as dill pickles)
  • Other pickled vegetables (pearl onions, beets, carrots, etc.)
  • Japanese miso paste, natto (fermented bean paste) and umeboshi (pickled plums)
  • Even fruit chutneys and preserves
  • Kombucha, a fermented, Asian drink made with tea (very healthy and good once you acquire a taste- I make this often!)

The only catch is the method. For instance, the regular dill pickles that you buy off of your grocery store shelf are NOT fermented. They are merely canned, using vinegar, at high temperatures, rendering any bacteria dead and useless.The method that is used for vegetables and fruits is the lacto-fermentation method, and it does not use vinegar but instead relies on the lactic-acid that naturally occurs at room temperature, and uses salt to inhibit bacteria while the lactic-acid develops and ferments the food.

Below, I have listed as many online resources as I could find, including a few recipes, ways acquire to starter cultures for dairy, etc. Ultimately, I would suggest purchasing a book with much more detailed explanations and instructions, and a wide variety of recipes. You will not regret it!

Online Resources:

Online tutorial for making fermented vegetables– This is an excellent tutorial, with step-by-step photos

Fermented Treasures– Purchase cultured food and fermented beverage starters from this site (as well as sourdough starter- hat tip to Kimi for finding this site!)

Sourdough and Lacto-Fermented Recieps– I don't endorse anything else on this site, but some of the information on the page I've linked to is very helpful.

Wild Fermentation Site– Some troubleshooting Q&A, tips, a couple recipes, and other links.

Specific Recipes:
Marinara-Styled Cultured Veggies
Garden Style Cultured Vegetables wiht Dill
Water Kefir Tutorial (for those who can't have dairy)
Making Dairy Based Kefir at Home
Fermented Honey (a few recipes from Weston Price site)
Making Sour Pickles
My Homemade Yogurt Technique
Homemade Sauerkraut– My mother-in-law's recipe
How to make Kombucha

Reading Resources:

These are the best books that I know of on this topic- either one would be a great resource for learning to make your own cultured and fermented foods! I constantly refer to Nourishing Traditions as a resource, personally, and have also heard wonderful things about Wild Fermentation (guess I need to add another book to my want-to-buy list!).

And on a side note… how about a small giveaway while we're at it?

I've got some kefir grains that I received a couple months ago from Shirley, a sweet blog reader. Well, I make it constantly and so my grains have started to multiply.

Since I know from experience that it can be hard to find real kefir grains (and that once you try kefir, you will adore it and want to have some everyday, as I do!), I will send a package of these little babies to one lucky, randomly chosen commenter on this post!

Tell me what (if any) fermented or cultured foods you eat or are most interested to try, and let me know that you're interested in being added in to the giveaway (make sure that you enter your email in the comment form), and I'll choose a winner by Monday at 4 pm! (As an aside, if you already have kefir grains, you can still comment, but just let me know that you're not entering the giveaway, as I'd prefer to bless someone who doesn't have any yet!)

Edit: The giveaway is now over, though you are still welcome to comment on the post itself, if you like. Thanks for entering, everyone!

About Stephanie Langford

Stephanie Langford has a passion for sharing ideas and information for homemakers who want to make healthy changes in their homes, and carefully steward all that they've been given. She has written three books geared to helping families live more naturally and eat real, whole foods, without being overwhelmed, without going broke and with simple meal planning. She is the creator of Keeper of the Home.

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  1. Dawn, so strange that the comment name and date were wrong- I have no idea what happened! Sorry about that!

  2. Can you email me and tell me more about the buttermilk?

  3. Below is my post. How did it get attributed to “Mrs.Taft?” The date is wrong too.

    Posted by: Mrs. Taft-NOT CORRECT | June 25, 2008 at 08:28 PM–NOT CORRECT

    I am so thrilled to find your site! I’ve recently subscribed to the Nourishing Gourmet newsletters. It is so refreshing to hear from someone who is also passionate about nourishing our families. I bought The Maker’s Diet and Nourishing Traditions about 4 1/2 years ago and have made many changes in the way we eat and have soaked and sprouted grains and nuts and made yogurt once. I love Kefir and have wanted to find grains for the past 4 years. Homeschooling 4 children and helping my husband in our new business has slowed down my experimenting and my “baby steps”. It’s been two years since we started the company, and recently less of my help has been needed, and I am so READY to make those steps now. I am doing a Whole Body Cleanse right now, and adding Kefir to my diet would be just wonderful. My kids would love it too. I appreciate your having this site. You are such an encouragement and a blessing. Please add me to the giveaway. Thank you!!!

    Posted by: Dawn | June 26, 2008 at 05:29 AM

    P.S. I forgot to mention that I would love to try fermented and cultured anything. Your post has reminded me that it’s time to make that step. THANK YOU

  4. Shirley Reese says:

    I’m wanting to try Kombucha again and start doing some fermented veggies once my garden in producing better.

    Don’t enter me in the drawing since I have grains. :-)

    I wanted to let you know that you can convert your milk grains to “water” grains successfully. We used to do water kefir for my autistic son. Here is how:

    Rinse your “extra” grains in water. Place in a jar with water & sugar over night. In the morning rinse again and place in jar with sugar again until the next day. There shouldn’t be any milk residue left at this point. If you think there is you can repeat the process one more time. When you feel certain there isn’t any milk residue left make your water kefir by adding 1/2 lemon, sugar (we use organic cane or sucanant), and dried fruit (prunes, raisins, or cranberries). Ferment for 24 hours, strain and enjoy.

    We have also successfully used converted milk grains for juice kefir too.

    I’d really like to try my grains in young green coconut water some day!!

    Hope this is helpful info to someone! Thanks for all your wonderful information Stephanie!!


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