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. I’ve never tried kefir, but I do make my own yogurt, and have made buttermilk before. Does quark count? I made that a few times too, but it too sooo long.

    Thanks for the motivation to try something new!

  2. I have been wanting to start making kefir but hadn’t found any grains yet…so I would love to win yours!!!

  3. A site to buy kefir grains and Kombucha mushrooms is
    Nick’s Natural Nook and her ebay name is brinick12
    Great source! I found them on
    Thanks for doing such a great job!

  4. Hello!I have been enjoying your blog for a few weeks and I would love to be entered in your drawing! I recently ordered some sourdough starter and Ginger Beer Plant from Fermented Treasures and I am excited to give it a try. I am going to make up a few old-time remedies to experiment with and I think the Ginger Beer will be wonderful for upset tummies. Thank you so much! Kim

  5. Oh, and I would Kefir grains…I guess I didn’t read the directions very well the first time :-)

  6. 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

  7. 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!!!

  8. Pleeeease enter me! My grains got taken over by something and never recovered, I’ve been missing having kefir…

  9. I would love to win these! I am most interested in culturing some veggies and trying my had at kombucha!

  10. How funny, we are on the same wavelength! I’ve been experimenting with lacto-fermented veggies and fruits the past few weeks and am doing a series on them (with a new recipe, photos, etc. everyday) this week. So far we have two versions of pickles, a Latin American sauerkraut and roasted red peppers, but by mid-next week we’ll have two chutneys, a fruit preserve and salsa, to name a few. Come visit! I’m also experimenting with sourdough, with great results!

    I’d love to win the kefir grains – are they milk or water kefir grains (I’m assuming milk)? Have you tried making water kefir? I’m thinking about a few recipes for it as I’m trying to wean my husband off of Diet Coke (it is his last weakness I think! :) though fig water kefir might be a stretch for him!

    Thanks again!


  11. I would LOVE to get some kefir grains- enter me, please! I’ve had it, but never made it.

    I have made yogurt, but haven’t since I’ve been married! My mom had a yogurt maker-I think it was a yogotherm. Basically an insulated thermos. Hopefully she still has it for me to try again!

  12. I currently make yogurt and buttermilk. I’m hoping to make some lacto-fermented pickles and salsa later this summer. I would love to make kefir with our raw milk!

    Michele :)

  13. I would love to win the kefir grains! Your nutritional philosophy is right up my alley. I love fermented veggies, but have never made them. Thanks for the recipes and links!

  14. Judy Kay says:

    I love making yogurt and have just started making sourdough bread. Planning on tackling veggies soon! I’ve been looking for local kefir grains and I’m not having much success… Thanks for thinking to bless one of us!

  15. I would love to try kefir. My daughter doesn’t do very well with milk but I would like to see if she could try kefir.

  16. Even though I lived in Korea for over a year, I never learned to like the taste of Kimchi. But my grandmother is German and feed me enough Sauerkraut when I was a child that I love it now, but I don’t think my husband does :-(

    But I havent’ given up. I recently read Nourishing Traditions and while I didn’t agree with everything, the fermented food section was the one I was most interested in! I would like to try something like a fruit chutney or cultured veggies. And my MIL makes delicious homemade pickles so someday I have to get her to teach me, my husband would love it if I could duplicate hers.

  17. I have been wanting to learn more about fermented foods. I currently use kefir, but pickles and sauerkraut have been on my list. Thank you for this simple and informative post!

  18. Jennifer says:

    I have tried Kefir from the grocery. I have also tried homemade yogurt. Both of which I really enjoyed. I have tried to find a supply of milk kefir grains locally without much luck. I have also tried to purchase some on a popular auction site! However, the prices go to high with the shipping for what I can afford to pay. That being said, I would loved to win your giveaway and finally have some milk kefir grains of my own.

  19. I had never even HEARD or SEEN the word kefir until I started reading your (and a couple of other) blog a few months ago. I’m very intrigued!

  20. Thanks for the links, Stephanie! I already make cultured vegetables, kefir, cultured butter (sometimes), and coconut water kefir, but I have yet to try my hand at yogurt-, kombucha-, or pickle-making. I enjoy all three of these, so I really need to get on the ball and make them myself. Even the fermented honey piques my interest. Hmmmm…you’ve given me some great motivation to add a few new foods to my fermentation/culturing repertoire. :-)

    (Since I already have kefir grains, don’t enter me in the contest.)

  21. oh please pick me! I’ve been buying kefir at the store and I know it would be better to make it! <– and more frugal!LOL

  22. I already make yogurt, and I’ve tried making buttermilk, too. I can’t stand foods with a pickled taste, so I’m going to have to say that I’m intrigued to try kefir. How appropriate for this giveaway!:)

  23. I would love to try kefir, so please enter me in the contest. I recently purchased Nourishing Traditions and have based my menu plan on a lot of her recipes. In fact I have my whole wheat flour soaking in yogurt for gingerbread right now! I’d love to try to make kimchi as my whole family loves to eat it when we go out for Korean barbeque.

  24. I would like to try kefir and the dill pickles. I guess I am just worried I won’t do it “right”. Wendy

  25. I really want to make yogurt and kefir – I have heard/read so many good things about them, I just need to do it! :)

    I love your blog, thank you for all your hard work you put into it – I read it daily! I am learning so much!



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