Nourished Kitchen is a traditional foods blog that explores the connection between culinary heritage, health and sustainable farming. Nourished Kitchen features traditional foods recipes for grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish, raw milk and heirloom fruits and vegetables.
A ginger bug is a wild-fermented starter culture made with sugar, ginger and water. It takes about a little less than a week of daily diligence to make one, and you can use it to make probiotic, naturally bubbly soft drinks, sodas, herbal beers and tonics.
Ginger bug is a slurry of fresh ginger, sugar and water that has been allowed to ferment until bubbly and foamy. Brewers use the bug to brew probiotic tonics and drinks like root beer, ginger beer or probiotic lemonade.
Like sourdough starter, ginger bug is a starter culture that is rich in wild bacteria and yeast. These starters kickstart the fermentation process for other fermented foods. Sourdough starters provide the bacteria and yeast to make bread. Kombucha mothers make kombucha tea. And ginger bugs make homemade, naturally fermented sodas.
How does it work?
When you mix ginger and sugar together with water and let it sit, the wild bacteria and native yeasts in your kitchen and on the ginger itself begin to proliferate and grow. These wild microorganisms eat the sugar in your bug, and produce carbon dioxide as a result.
When mixed with a sweetened herbal tea, fruit juice or other base, the microorganisms in the ginger bug consume the sugar in the tea or juice. As they do, they reproduce and emit carbon dioxide that gives homemade soft drinks their bubbles.
What Are The Benefits of Ginger Bug
Since ginger bugs are fermented foods, they’re naturally rich in probiotics, namely lactobacillus bacteria and wild yeasts. These organisms help to support metabolic and digestive health as well as the immune system.
Ginger is a wildly popular culinary herb, and it also has medicinal properties. Herbalists use ginger to support blood sugar regulation, ease nausea and support digestion (3). And ginger shows promise in easing morning sickness (4) and migraine (5).
So while brews made with ginger bug are still treats, they’re far better for you than regular soda.
Ginger Bug vs Ginger Beer Plant
Don’t confuse ginger bug and ginger beer plant. While they’re both rich in probiotics and used to make natural sodas, they’re two different things.
Ginger bugs are wild-fermented starter cultures that rely on the native yeast and bacteria of your kitchen to become bubbly.
By contrast, ginger beer plants are a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) very similar to water kefir and made primarily of the yeast Saccharomyces pyriformis and bacteria like Brevibacterium vermiforme (1). That SCOBY produces tiny, gelatinous crystals that you feed sugar water, lemon and ginger.
You can make a ginger bug at home, but you must purchase a ginger beer plant. Or, at the very least, know someone who brews it.
Dice the ginger instead of grating it. While many recipes call for grated ginger, cubed or diced ginger works just as well and it’s easier to strain, too.
Use sugar or another caloric sweetener. The yeast and bacteria that make your bug bubble need a sugar to help them grow. Sugar is the most common choice, but you can also use honey, maple syrup, palm sugar or any other caloric sweetener. Avoid non-caloric sweeteners like stevia.
Turmeric and galangal work well too. You can substitute both fresh turmeric and fresh galangal in place of the ginger, for variety. Or use a combination.
Use organic ginger. Conventionally grown ginger is often irradiated, which may impact its ability to form a thriving bug (2). Irradiation is disallowed in organic production, so organic ginger works best.
Use chlorine-free water. Chlorine in tap water can interfere with bacterial and yeast production, so choose filtered water or spring water.
Seal your jar tightly for best yeast production. While it may seem counter-intuitive since other fermented drinks, like kombucha, often use an open container, your ginger bug does best in a sealed container like a Fido jar.
How to Make Ginger Bug
Making a ginger bug is simple. You’ll need organic, unpeeled fresh ginger, sugar or another caloric sweetener and water. It takes about 5 to 7 days to make a ginger bug, and may take less time in warm climates and less in cool climates.
The first day, you’ll mix water with sugar and ginger and allow it to culture in a sealed jar for 24 hours. Then, every day for 4 to 6 days afterwards, you’ll need to add a small amount of fresh ginger and sugar to the bug.
If your ginger bug begins to foam and bubble or if it smells yeasty like bread or beer, it’s ready to use. And you can use it right away or transfer it to a fridge up to 1 week.
Ginger bug, a slurry of fermented ginger and sugar, forms the basis for homemade, traditionally fermented sodas including root beer, ginger beer, herbal tonics and fruit sodas. These soft drinks and light beers are naturally bubbly and effervescent and very rich in probiotics.
Course Drink, Ferment
Keyword ginger, jaggery
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 6 days
Total Time 6 days 10 minutes
Servings 8 servings (1 pint)
To Start the Bug
2 cups water
2 teaspoons sugar
1 ounce fresh ginger diced
To Feed the Bug
5 teaspoons sugar
2 1/2 ounces fresh ginger diced
To Use the Bug
8 cups fruit juice or sweetened herbal tea
Preparing the Bug
Warm the water in a saucepan over medium heat, and stir in the jaggery until it dissolves fully. Cool the sugar water to room temperature.
Drop the ginger into a pint-sized jar, and then cover it with the sugar water. Seal the jar, and let it culture at room temperature for one day.
Feeding the Bug
The next day, and each day for 5 days, stir 1 teaspoon sugar and 1/2 ounce ginger into the jar, and then close the jar tightly. Between 3 and 5 days, you should start to see bubbles forming, and your bug should smell yeasty and gingery. When you see bubbles, your bug is ready to use.
Using the Bug
To use the bug, strain 1/2 cup of the liquid and mix it with 7 1/2 cups liquid such as fruit juice or sweetened herbal tea, bottle and ferment up to 3 days.
To make soda from your ginger bug, strain about 1/2 cup liquid from your jar and stir it into 7 1/2 cups sweetened herbal tea or fruit juice. Pour the the tea or juice into flip-top bottles.
Remember to leave 1/2 to 1-inch head space. And then let your homemade soda culture at room temperature up to 3 days. Then, transfer the bottles to the fridge and enjoy with in a few months.
It’s important to use fruit juice or sweetened herbal tea when you make homemade, naturally fermented sodas. The bacteria and yeast in your bug thrive on sugar. Without it, your soda and beers won’t culture.
Homemade sauerkraut, all salty and sour, is brilliantly easy to make at home. All you need is two simple ingredients: cabbage and salt. And then plenty of time to allow probiotics to do their work, producing a vibrantly complex and delicious food.
Sauerkraut is a traditional fermented food made by allowing shredded cabbage and salt to ferment over a period of time. After fermenting for a period of weeks or months, it produces a potent sour side dish that is rich in beneficial bacteria.
You’ll find similar dishes made from fermented cabbage, like kimchi and curtido, throughout the world, sauerkraut has its roots in German and Eastern European cooking.
Like most fermented vegetables, it’s easy to make at home and you only need two very simple and inexpensive ingredients: cabbage and salt.
What are the benefits of sauerkraut?
Like all fermented foods, sauerkraut is rich in beneficial bacteria(1). It is particularly rich in lactobacillus bacteria that you can also find in foods like kefir, sour pickles and yogurt.
These beneficial bacteria help support gut health and immune system function. They also help to enhance your body’s ability to manufacture and absorb key nutrients (2). Further, they can also help to support your immune system in cases of food borne illness or digestive distress (3).
Beyond support for digestion, sauerkraut and other fermented foods also show promise in supporting blood sugar regulation, metabolic health and cardiovascular health (4). While the mechanism isn’t fully understood, researchers have found that probiotics help to support optimal weight (5,6), but it largely depends on the specific bacteria.
Fermenting cabbage also releases key phytonutrients that support cellular health. Researchers have examined how these nutrients may prove helpful in the battle against breast cancer (7).
Salt and Successful Fermentation
At its simplest, good homemade sauerkraut needs only salt and cabbage. When it comes to fermentation, salt performs a few important functions.
First, salt helps to create an environment that favors lactobacillus bacteria. Those are the beneficial bacteria that make fermented vegetables both tasty and healthy. It also helps to keep other microbes like mold at bay until your fermentation is well underway. So we use salt for both safety and flavor.
Secondly, salt helps keep your ferments crisp. Without salt, your sauerkraut will become limp and mushy.
How much salt should you use?
Fermented vegetables like cabbage generally do well with 2-3% salt by weight. That means that for every pound of cabbage you use, you should also use 4 to 5 teaspoons salt.
You can also weigh your cabbage using a kitchen scale, and then use 2 to 3 grams salt for every kilogram cabbage.
How to Store Homemade Sauerkraut
Fermentation preserves cabbage and other vegetables naturally. That’s because the lactobacillus bacteria that ferment foods release lactic acid which, like vinegar, preserves foods and keeps them safe for long-term storage.
If you’re making a small amount of sauerkraut, tucking your jar into the fridge is usually sufficient. But if you’re making more than a quart or two, you may need to find other ways to preserve it.
Once you’ve finished making sauerkraut, you can preserve it a number of ways:
Canning sauerkraut is a popular method, but it’s unnecessary for long-term storage. The high heat required for canning destroys the beneficial bacteria and delicate food enzymes found in sauerkraut. If you’re intent on canning, follow safe guidelines.
Refrigeration is the easiest and most intuitive way to preserve fermented vegetables. Cold temperatures slow down the fermentation process. Make sure you store your kraut in its brine, and it will keep at least 6 months.
Root cellars are traditionally used to store ferments and cold-hardy crops. The low, even temperature functions similar to refrigeration and slows down the fermentation process, allowing you to store them at least 6 months.
Freezing sauerkraut in food-safe containers is another option. Freezing temperatures may damage the probiotics over time and reduce their numbers (8).
How long should you ferment sauerkraut?
When you bake bread or cookies, there’s a clear finish time. Accordingly, you pull them out of the oven when the timer sounds its alarm, or you risk burning them. But with fermented vegetables, there’s much greater nuance.
First, you want to make sure that fermentation has started. So, you’ll want to look for signs of microbial activity. Bubbling and foaming usually begin within about three days, depending on the temperature of your kitchen. And once you see bubbles forming, you’ll know that fermentation is underway.
But how do you know when it’s done?
Fermentation is complete when your sauerkraut tastes pleasantly sour. It should have a sour aroma similar to vinegar, but less pronounced.
So, if you’ve seen signs of active fermentation, like bubbles, and it smells pleasantly sour, it’s safe to eat. You can continue to let it ferment so that it develops a rich, complex flavor and deep sourness. And just transfer it to the fridge when it tastes right to you.
When considering fermentation time, keep the following in mind:
Colder temperatures cause food to ferment more slowly, so your sauerkraut may take longer.
Warmer temperatures cause food to ferment quickly, so it might need less time.
Smaller volumes take less time than large volumes.
Fermentation Crocks, Jars and Other Equipment
When making sauerkraut, you’ll need a container to ferment your cabbage. Because fermentation is an anaerobic process – that is it’s best without the free flow of oxygen, you’ll need an airtight jar or crock. When oxygen flows freely into your ferments, it can cause mold.
Many home fermenters use mason jars, especially when they’re just beginning. But it’s wise to invest in special fermentation equipment for making sauerkraut.
Ideally, your container is a jar or crock that allows the carbon dioxide that builds up during fermentation to escape without letting oxygen in.
Pro Tip: Use the Right Equipment
Glass Jars with Weights and Fermentation Lids. These are inexpensive and perfect for small batches of a quart or less. Weights keep your sauerkraut submerged while fermentation seals keep oxygen out, and both help you to ferment safely. Find weights here and fermentation lids here.
Stoneware crocks are heirloom-quality pieces. They come with heavy weights and have a well that you fill with water, which keeps oxygen out. They’re excellent for large batch fermentation of 1 gallon or more. Find them here.
How to Make Sauerkraut
If you’re making homemade sauerkraut, you’ll need to start with fresh cabbage. Very fresh cabbage from the garden or farmers market works best because it has a high water content, which means more juice for your brine.
After tossing any bruised leaves into the compost bin, you’ll core the cabbage and then slice it very thinly. Then mix it with salt and let it macerate until it softens and releases its juice.
Then, after kneading or squeezing the cabbage and salt together to fully release the juice, pack it tightly into jars or your crock. Weigh the cabbage down with glass or stoneware weights or a cabbage leaf, seal your crock. Next, let it ferment away from direct sunlight at least 2 weeks for small volumes and up to 6 months for large volumes, depending on how sour you like it.
Sour and richly complex, sauerkraut is a vibrant fermented food with deep flavor. While making sauerkraut at home can seem complicated, it's actually marvelously easy. And you only need two ingredients: cabbage and salt.
Course Ferment, vegetable
Keyword cabbage, sauerkraut
Prep Time 20 minutes
Fermentation 30 days
Total Time 30 days 20 minutes
Servings 8 servings (1 quart)
For the Sauerkraut
2 pounds cabbage (from 1 head)
4 teaspoons fine sea salt
Remove any bruised or damaged exterior leaves from your cabbage, and then slice it in half cross-wise. Remove the cabbage's core, and then slice the cabbage into strips no wider than 1/8-inch thick.
Toss cabbage and salt together in a large mixing bowl and let it rest about 20 minutes, or until the cabbage begins to soften and release a little juice. Then squeeze the cabbage with your hands to to soften it even further, and help it to release more juice.
When the cabbage has become limp and has released ample juice, transfer it to your jar. Pack the sauerkraut tightly into your jar, using a kraut pounder or a wooden spoon, so that the cabbage continues to release its liquid and no air bubbles remain.
Continue packing the cabbage into the container until the cabbage is completely submerged by its liquid. Place weights over the cabbage, and then seal the jar with your airlock. Allow the cabbage to ferment at room temperature and away from direct sunlight at least 1 month, or until done to your liking. When the sauerkaut is sour enough for your liking, transfer it to the fridge where it will keep at least 6 months and up to 1 year.
To use a traditional stoneware crock, consider quadrupling this recipe. Most crocks ferment a minimum of 4 liters of sauerkraut. Use 8 pounds of cabbage and 1/4 cup fine sea salt, prepare the cabbage and salt exactly as described above, but pack it into a stoneware crock. Cover the cabbage with stoneware weights, seal the crock and fill its well with water to complete the airlock.
Sweet, tart and delightfully effervescent, water kefir is a naturally fermented drink that's rich in beneficial bacteria. It's delicate flavor a natural fizziness make it an excellent substitute for sodas and soft drinks. It's easy to make at home with a few simple steps.
Tender pieces of chicken swim in a fragrant golden sauce perfumed by black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, cumin and coriander. If you make the curry ahead of time, and then warm it right before dinner, the flavors and aromas will have a chance to meld, producing a deep and resonantly rich flavor.
Robust with the vibrant sweet-tart flavor of fresh pineapple and gently perfumed with cinnamon and cloves, tepache is a flavor-forward, gently effervescent drink. A short fermentation of only a few days gives this thirst-quenching drink a light effervescence and striking, dynamic flavor.
Enriched with bacon and cream and enlivened by fresh herbs, this clam chowder recipe is easy to make with either fresh clams or canned.
We live near the seashore. And when the tide is low, and the water cold, we gather our boots, buckets and shovels and head to the beach. It’s there, buried in the tidal flats’ gritty sand that we find fresh clams. Plump and perfect for chowder. While we typically make this chowder with fresh clams, you can always used canned if they’re easier to find.
A good chowder is delicate, flavored with onions and bacon, and dotted with sweet clams and tender potatoes. I favor the simple, humble style of a good Maine Clam Chowder. Flecks of bacon, fragrant bites of celery, onion and clams all swimming in a delicate, thin broth with just the right touch of cream.
When the chowder’s finished, swirl some fresh chopped herbs into the pot. Dill and tarragon partner beautifully with seafood.
What is chowder?
Chowder is typically a thick and rich seafood soup that contains onions, potatoes, cream and herbs. Some chowders, like this salmon chowder, contain fish, others will contain shellfish and others will feature a variety of seafoods. Clam chowder? It features clams.
As with other traditional foods, you’ll find several varieties. While they’ll all feature similar ingredients, like clams and potatoes, you’ll find distinct regional variations, too. Regional culture, climate, culinary heritage and access to ingredients will influence how recipes come together, develop and evolve over time.
What are the different types of clam chowder?
When you think of clam chowder, you probably think of New England Style chowder – white, creamy, thick like gravy and studded with clams and potatoes. But, there’s a lot more varieties to consider.
All have clams, most have salt pork or bacon, as well as onions, celery and potato. From there, some varieties include dairy, others tomato, and others yet have a fine, clear clam broth.
New England (Boston) Clam Chowder combines onion, celery, potatoes with cream, clams and clam broth. Cooks also thicken the chowder’s broth with roux made from flour and butter to give it a thick, gravy-like texture.
Manhattan Clam Chowder originated not in New York, but in Rhode Island where early 20th century Portuguese immigrants forwent the cream of a traditional chowder in favor of a fragrant tomato base and plenty of herbs.
Rhode Island Clear Clam Chowder combines bacon, potatoes, onion, celery and herbs in a clear clam broth made without cream or thickeners.
Maine Clam Chowder is similar to New England-style chowders. It features potatoes, celery, onions and cream, and it also has a delicate, thin broth. Since Maine Clam Chowder isn’t thickened with flour, it’s a good choice for gluten-free eaters.
Is clam chowder good for you?
Clams are a particularly nutrient-dense food, and are a good source of B vitamins and various minerals. They’re particularly rich in iron, vitamin B12 and selenium, which is a powerful antioxidant that supports detoxification and thyroid health.
Potatoes, onions, celery and various culinary herbs will also give chowder more nourishment in the way of dietary fiber and various antioxidants and phytonutrients. Using grass-fed cream in your chowder will also give it a boost of healthy fats, like conjugated linoleic acid, and fat-soluble vitamins.
How to Make Clam Chowder
If you’re cooking with fresh clams, you’ll need to steam them first. Give them a knock on the counter, and if they stay open toss them. Then put them in your kettle with water, steam them until they open. Throw out any that stay closed. Then reserve the broth and chop the clam meat.
To make your chowder, you’ll start by rendering bacon so that it crisps. Bacon pairs well with clams, and gives the broth a nice, subtle smokiness.
To the bacon, you’ll add your aromatic vegetables: onion and celery. Instead of sautéing them, allow them to sweat in a covered soup pot with a dash of sea salt. They’ll release their flavor and fragrance, without caramelizing.
Next, add your potatoes, chopped clams and broth. Simmer them together until the potatoes are fall-apart tender.
Lastly, swirl fresh cream into the pot to give the chowder its characteristic creaminess. Toss in the fresh herbs, and serve.
Bacon, cream and herbs make beautiful companions for clams in this Maine-style clam chowder with its simple broth and lovely, light flavor. Fresh clams give this chowder the best flavor, but if you don’t live by the seashore or can’t find them in your local market, you can always substitute canned clams and it’ll come out just fine.
Serve this chowder right away with plenty of chopped fresh herbs and crusty loaf of buttered sourdough bread. If you have leftovers, you can store them in the fridge up to two days, taking care to reheat the chowder gently and slowly over a low temperature.
Author: Jenny McGruther
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
5 pounds clams, scrubbed clean and purged
1 tablespoon rendered bacon fat
4 ounces chopped bacon
4 ribs celery, diced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 teaspoons finely ground sea salt
2 pounds Russet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 bay leaf
1 cup heavy cream
Chopped fresh dill, to serve
Chopped fresh tarragon, to serve
Place the clams in a large stock pot, and pour in a quart of water. Cover the pot, and bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat. Steam the clams until they open, about 10 minutes. Discard any clams that stay closed after 15 minutes.
Strain the broth into a pitcher through a fine-mesh sieve, and allow the clams to cool until they’re comfortable enough to handle. Pluck the meat from each clam and place it onto a cutting board. Discard all the shells, and coarsely chop the clam meat.
Melt the bacon fat in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Drop the chopped bacon into the pot, and allow it to crisp in the hot fat – about 5 minutes. Stir in the celery and onion, and then sprinkle them with sea salt. Cover the pot, allowing the vegetables to sweat in the pot about until they release their fragrance and soften.
Add the potatoes and chopped clam meat to the pot, and then pour in the reserved clam broth. Pour in an additional 4 cups water, drop in the bay leaf, and then simmer the chowder until the potatoes soften and yield easily when pierced by a fork.
Use a slotted spoon or a pair of kitchen tongs to pluck the bay leaf out of the chowder, and then stir in the heavy cream. Taste the soup, adjusting the seasoning as needed. And then ladle the chowder into bowls, topping it with chopped fresh herbs.
Don’t have fresh clams? You can use canned clams. Just substitute 3 (6.5 oz) cans clams with their juice.
Cultured clams are a sustainable seafood, and you can buy them online here as well as in many grocery stores, natural foods stores and super markets. You can also use canned clams to make this chowder (see recipe note).
How to Purge Fresh Clams
Clams suck the grit, sand and mud that surrounds them into their bellies. And that makes for gritty clams. Almost all clams you purchase at the store will already be clean and purged. But, if you’ve gone clamming at low tide and want to make chowder with your catch, you’ll need to purge them first.
When you go clamming, make sure to bring a bucket of clean seawater home with you. Strain the seawater and submerge the clams in the water at least an hour and up to a day so that they release their grit. If you don’t have seawater, you can store them in saltwater. You can read more about the specifics of purging clams here.
Rich foods, like chowder, also benefit from lighter accompaniments. So, you might add a light spring salad dressed with a simple maple vinaigrette. Sliced ripe tomatoes dressed with celery seed, black pepper and sea salt also make a nice side. And you can always finish the meal with a fresh fruit salad or a strawberry mint sorbet to cleanse your palate.
Whether you’re going all-out with an elaborate spring brunch menu or you want to keep it fairly simple, here’s some easy and wholesome recipes you can put together quickly.
How to Make a Fantastic Spring Brunch
If you’re making an elaborate spring brunch, or you plant to feed eight or more guests, you’ll want to plan to make about seven dishes for your menu. That can include roasted ham or another meat, eggs, a big spring salad, two sides, bread and a dessert.
If you’re planning a smaller get-together or an intimate family brunch, you can plan to include three to five dishes. Eggs, a salad, a side and a dessert is usually enough to make sure everyone at the table has enough.
Serve some drinks with your spring brunch menu.
You’ll want to make sure that your guests have plenty to drink. And it’s always a good idea to serve big pitchers of still water. You can add fresh herbs or lemon to give the water a delicate flavor.
Springtime weather is unpredictable, and if it’s chilly outside, plan to serve something warm whether that’s hot coffee, herbal teas and infusions or even matcha lattés.
If the weather’s cooler, you can plan for freshly pressed juices, kombucha, or jun tea to your spring brunch menu.
Make some incredible (easy) eggs to your spring brunch menu.
Eggs are at the height of the season during spring and summer months. They’re also easy to make and fairly inexpensive, so they’re an essential addition to your spring brunch menu.
Instead of cooking eggs to order, or making a big batch of scrambled eggs (that can later turn rubbery!), try baking the eggs with herbs, vegetables and other ingredients in individual ramekins. You can also make frittatas and quiche in advance to share on the table.
It’s nice to serve a big salad of spring greens and herbs to lighten the meal. You can add herbs like mint, chives, parsley and dill to the lettuces, or top the salad with springtime vegetables like asparagus and radishes or fruits like strawberries.
Depending on how many guests you plan to serve at your spring brunch, you may want to add one or two side dishes to your menu. Roasted potatoes can be nice, but focus on other spring vegetables like asparagus, spinach and radishes, too.
You may have heard that soaking grains helps increase mineral absorption and enhance digestibility. Here’s what’s really going on.
Whole grains are wholesome and nutritious foods for most people. People who eat whole grains tend to live longer, too (source). And some of the longest lived peoples in the world consume diets rich in whole grains (source, source).
But most of those long-lived people aren’t just eating bran flakes and pre-sliced whole grain sandwich bread; rather, they’re eating minimally processed whole grains prepared in ways that maximize their nutritional value. In many culinary traditions throughout the world, grains are carefully prepared by soaking, fermentation or sourdough leavening. And while many cultures do traditionally soak or ferment their grains, the practice is not necessarily universal.
What are the benefits of soaking grains?
Grains are a good source of complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, and they contain B vitamins like niacin and B6. They also contain minerals like calcium, iron, phosphorus, potassium and zinc.
But here’s the catch: Compounds that occur naturally in grains can make them difficult to digest and make their minerals difficult to absorb. And for some people, especially those with compromised digestion, those complex carbohydrates can send them into fits of pain, bloating and digestive distress. Soaking whole grains helps to reduce these compounds, resulting in increased mineral availability and much easier digestion.
Soaking grains also release compounds called lower order inositols – specifically myo- and d-chiro-inositol. And these compounds help support blood sugar regulation, metabolic and hormonal health.
Enhanced Mineral Absorption
When you soak whole grains in warm water overnight, you activate the enzyme phytase. This enzyme then works to break down phytic acid which binds minerals like iron, calcium and zinc. As phytase does its magic, it release minerals in whole grains and makes them easier for your body to absorb (source).
Soaking is also the first step in sprouting grains. Sprouting grains tends to release even more minerals than soaking alone (source).
Most people who eat an otherwise nutritious diet inclusive of meat, fish and vegetables will consume the minerals their bodies need; however, if you’re concerned about your mineral intake, soaking or sprouting your grains can be a good strategy.
In addition to activating the enzyme phytase, soaking your grains also activates the enzyme amylase which breaks down complex starches found in grains. These complex starches can make grains difficult for some people to digest.
When those starches are broken down by soaking, sprouting or sour leavening followed by cooking, the grains tend to be a little easier on your digestion. This is also why sourdough bread tends to be easier to digest than quick-rise whole wheat bread, and why it’s permitted on a low-FODMAPs diet, particularly when it’s made from ancient grains like spelt (source).
Increase in Micronutrients that Support Blood Sugar Regulation and Hormonal Balance
When enzymes break down phytic acid, the compound that makes the minerals in grains difficult to absorb, they not only enhance the availability of minerals, but they also convert phytic acid into lower order inositols – and myo-inositol specifically.
These micronutrients help to support blood sugar balance, metabolic and hormonal health. These lower order inositols have a particularly dramatic effect on the hormonal health and fertility of women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) (source, source, source) and are often used therapeutically as supplements to support fertility, hormonal health and blood sugar regulation.
Myo-inositol supports blood sugar regulation, and can be helpful in the management of type 2 diabetes (source). Animal studies have found that these inositols which are present in soaked and sprouted grains may help to return insulin sensitivity to those who are insulin resistant (source), so they’re particularly powerful micronutrients.
What are the drawbacks of soaking grains?
Soaking grains improves mineral availability, makes grains easier to digest and increases compounds that help support metabolic health, there’s a few drawbacks. Namely, soaking grains can be tedious, and is generally less effective than sprouting or sourdough fermentation.
While soaking grains, especially for porridge and gruel, is a traditional culinary practice throughout the world, not all traditional peoples soaked their grains. The practice isn’t mentioned in Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, a landmark book that evaluates the traditional diets of pre-industrial people throughout the world.
Soaking grains can be tedious.
Planning ahead and soaking grains in advance is easy and takes very little time; however, it can feel tedious until it the practice becomes routine. If you want the benefits of soaking, but have trouble remembering or advanced planning, you can purchase sprouted grains and sprouted flour at many natural foods markets as well as online, and sourdough bread is readily available in most areas.
You’re probably getting enough minerals already.
If you’re eating an otherwise nutrient-dense diet that’s rich in minerals from meat, fish, and vegetables, you probably don’t need to worry about soaking your grains. The mineral-binding effects of food phytate can contribute to mineral deficiencies, but this is generally only a concern in developing nations where people may rely only on grains and pulses with very little access to other mineral-rich whole foods. It might also be a concern for people who adhere to vegan and vegetarian diets, and who must rely heavily on grains and pulses due to the absence of meat, fish, eggs and milk.
If you eat plenty of mineral-rich foods, soaking grains likely won’t contribute a significant amount of additional minerals to your diet. Of course, you might still benefit from eating soaked or sprouted grains because they’re also easier to digest.
Some people benefit from mineral-binding effects of phytate.
Some people, particularly those of Irish descent, are genetically predisposed to iron overload and a condition called hemachromatosis. While avoiding iron-rich foods like organ meats or clams is a primary strategy, the iron-binding effects of whole grains prepared without any special treatment could be valuable.
Phytic acid is a powerful antioxidant.
While we often call phytic acid an anti-nutrient because it binds minerals, it is also a powerful antioxidant precisely because it does bind minerals. More specifically, it binds iron.
Your body needs iron and iron performs many vital functions within your body. But, it can also contribute to free radical formation when the way your body regulates iron is disrupted (source). Because phytic acid found in whole grains binds iron and prevents you from fully absorbing the iron in grains, it can act as an antioxidant (source) and researchers are examining the therapeutic role it might play in colon and other cancers (source).
Not only does phytic acid bind minerals, but it also binds heavy metals in the gut (source), thus potentially helping to minimize their accumulation in the body.
Should you soak grains or not?
There’s both benefits and drawbacks to soaking grains. And it can be difficult to decide if it’s a technique that’s worth your time.
Remember that in an otherwise nutrient-dense, omnivorous diet, the mineral-binding capacity of phytic acid is unlikely to contribute to mineral deficiency. If you find that you have trouble digesting whole grains, you might try soaked or sprouted grains or sour-leavened breads to see if you feel better when you eat them.
If you’re prone to iron overload or exposed to heavy metals, you might consider eating whole grains for their phytic acid content, and doing so without any advanced or special treatment like soaking or sprouting.
If you enjoy the process of soaking or sprouting grains, then you should continue doing just that.
How do you soak grains?
To soak your grains, you should place them in a mixing bowl, cover them with hot water and let them rest at least eight and up to 48 hours. Most recipes call for soaking overnight.
You can also add an acidic ingredient, like lemon juice, vinegar or sourdough starter, to the soak water to facilitate the release of phytase and the break down of phytic acid. While the use of whey from yogurt or kefir was popularized by Nourishing Traditions, dairy will not facilitate the release of minerals in the same way as a non-dairy acidic ingredient will and so is counterproductive and ineffective.
Grains that are naturally low in phytase, like brown rice or oats, may benefit from sprouting or from the addition of a phytase-rich ingredient like ground rye.
Grinding or cracking grains before soaking them will also help to facilitate the break down of phytic acid.
How to Soak Grains
Soaking Whole, Cracked or Rolled Grains: To soak grains in their whole, cracked or rolled form, you’ll need to place them in a bowl and cover them with hot water at approximately 140 F. If you like, stir in one tablespoon acid like vinegar, lemon juice or sourdough starter per 1 cup grains.
Soaking Flour. Baking with soaked flour can be tricky. It’s best to use a sourdough recipe or to use sprouted grains because they don’t need to be soaked. You can also mix the liquid ingredients of your recipe together with your flour, cover them well, and leave the batter at room temperature overnight as in this recipe for Milk and Honey Sandwich Bread.
Soaked Grain Recipes
If you’re looking for soaked grain recipes, check out the cookbook The Nourished Kitchen which includes more information about soaking grains. Or check out the recipes below:
Matcha green tea, with its resonant flavor and vivid green color, has become increasingly popular, largely because it is powerfully rich in antioxidants and key nutrients that help to support relaxation while also improving blood sugar balance, cardiovascular health and gut health. This guide will fill you in on where to buy matcha tea, what to look for and how to know you’re getting the best quality, too.
What is matcha tea?
Matcha tea is a traditional Japanese green tea. The tea plants are grown in the shade which increases their chlorophyll content, making for a brilliant and vibrant green color. Shade growing the tea plants also increases their L-theanine content, or the amino acid that’s responsible for tea’s soothing properties. Only the young buds are harvested for matcha, and tea producers lay these leaves flat to dry before removing their veins and stems, and then grinding the tea into a very fine powder which is called matcha.
Matcha is traditionally used ceremonially in Japan, and, recently, it has been used to flavor a wide variety of foods both inside Japan and throughout the world. Matcha Tea Lattés are particularly popular, and sweets like popsicles or milk shakes also feature matcha as a primary flavor.
What are the benefits of matcha tea?
The way in which matcha tea is grown and produced make it particularly nutrient-dense and richer in certain amino acids and phytonutrients than other teas. When tea plants are grown in the shade and without access to sunlight, they naturally produce higher levels of theanine, chlorophyll and polyphenols, which makes matcha tea more nutrient-dense and higher in key antioxidants than most green teas.
It’s these key components – amino acids and antioxidants – that convey many of the benefits of matcha tea.
L-theanine, a naturally-occurring amino acid found in the tea plant that increases when the tea plant is grown in the shade, promotes relaxation and acts to reduce feelings of stress (source). L-theanine also helps to enhance concentration, alertness and cognitive performance while simultaneously supporting relaxation (source, source).
The way tea growers produce matcha is fairly unique, and it results in tea with a much higher concentration of antioxidants. High-quality matcha tea may have up to 137 times the antioxidant level found in lower grade, bagged green teas (source). Antioxidants help to reduce the oxidative stress and inflammation that is at the root of many chronic diseases.
What’s particularly interesting is that the polyphenols found in abundance in matcha tea help to support both cardiovascular and gut health.
Green teas like matcha contain many components that help to support heart health (source) and may do so because these micronutrients help to support blood sugar regulation and lipid metabolism (source) while also mitigating oxidative stress (source).
The polyphenols in green tea, which are more concentrated in matcha than other teas, also help to support gut health and optimal weight (source). The phytonutrients found in green teas, like matcha, help to inhibit oxidative stress in the gut, which can then improve gut health (source). The polyphenols in tea also foster changes in the gut, encouraging microbial diversity (source) and a healthier microbiome (source).
What to look for when buying matcha?
If you’re wondering what to look for when you buy matcha or where to buy matcha tea, there’s a few things you should consider to ensure quality, flavor and authenticity.
When purchasing matcha, you should look for matcha that is shade-grown in Japan and that has a rich and vibrant green color. It should also be free from additives and screened for heavy metals and other contaminants. Further, it should be stored and sold in containers or packages that minimize oxidation – or you’ll lose both the flavor and nutritive quality of the tea.
Authentic matcha is shade-grown in Japan and carefully processed to produce a vibrant, vivid green and resonantly flavorful powder. The vivid green color is an excellent indicator of the presence of phytonutrients like chlorophyll. The richer the color, the more nutrient-dense the tea.
The tea plant, like other crops, will take up heavy metals and fluoride from the soil in the same way it takes up minerals and nutrients. For this reason, teas including matcha may contain contaminants (source). Higher quality teas, teas made from young leaves and buds such as matcha, and organically grown teas will tend to have fewer contaminants and lower fluoride levels than poorer quality teas (source).
When buying matcha, remember:
The best matcha is grown in Japan.
The best matcha is shade-grown.
Matcha should be a rich and vibrant green.
Screened for heavy metals and other contaminants.
Matcha should be sold in ways that minimize oxidation.
Because tea can naturally contain contaminants, it’s important to purchase high-quality tea and to buy tea that screens for those contaminants. Pique Tea is unique in that their matcha goes through a quadruple screening process that screens for heavy metals, fluoride, toxic mold, pesticides and radioactive isotopes.
What’s the best matcha powder?
Matcha is classified into three grades depending on the quality of the tea. When you’re looking for where to buy matcha, pay attention to its quality as well as its grade. How the tea was grown and produced, the color and texture of the matcha powder, and the degree of oxidation are all factors that can influence how and individual tea is graded. Matcha is classified into three grades: ceremonial, premium and culinary, with ceremonial grade matcha considered to be the highest quality.
The three grades of matcha include:
Ceremonial Matcha is the highest quality, and it is primarily used in tea ceremonies and temples. It has a very high amino acid content, compared to other matcha teas, and so has subtle umami notes and a richly complex flavor.
Premium Matcha is rich in phytonutrients and amino acids, but tends to be less expensive and less richly flavored than ceremonial matcha but a much higher quality than culinary matcha.
Culinary Matcha is the least expensive option, it has a less vibrant green color and less complex flavor with stronger bitter notes. It tends to be more highly oxidized and is primarily used as a flavoring for foods and beverages.
Where to Buy Matcha Tea
If you’re looking for where to buy matcha tea, you have a few resources. You can find matcha tea at some natural foods markets and tea shops, but it’s easier to find consistently high quality matcha tea powders from specialty providers online.
Pique Teaoffers a ceremonial grade matcha from southern Japan. And like all authentic matcha, it is shade-grown. What makes it a fairly unique product; however, is that it is shade-grown 35% longer than average, which results in a higher level of L-theanine, an amino acid that helps increase relaxation and soothe stress.
They also screen their matcha for heavy metals, fluoride, pesticides, toxic mold, and radioactive isotopes, ensuring you the matcha is not only of the highest quality, but also the cleanest, too. It’s also packaged in individual servings to prevent oxidation.
Making homemade sauerkraut is a super simple process: All you need is cabbage, salt, a fermentation crock and plenty of time. But once you master a basic recipe, you can start to flavor your sauerkraut with other vegetables, herbs, spices and flavored sea salts to take it to the next level.
Add Fruits and Vegetables to Your Sauerkraut
Adding fruits and vegetables to your sauerkraut is a great way to enliven its flavor. Root vegetables like carrots, radishes and beets work particularly well since they stand up to fermentation nicely. Pomaceous fruits like apples and pears work nicely, too.
The key to adding fruits and vegetables to your sauerkraut is maintaining a ratio of about 3 parts cabbage to 1 part additional fruit or vegetable. For small vegetables, like little French radishes or garlic cloves, you can chop or slice them thinly, but shred larger fruits and vegetables.
Carrots can give sauerkraut a nice sweetness and bright color.
Scallions are particularly nice as they impart the flavor of onions without an overtly sulfurous flavor. They’re also used often in kimchi.
Radishes are an easy addition, and you can add thinly sliced French radishes or finely shredded Daikon radish. You can even make radish kimchi.
Garlic is a brilliant addition and gives your sauerkraut amazing, rich flavor. Add finely sliced or chopped garlic cloves.
Fennel gives sauerkraut a lovely, subtle sweetness. Core the fennel bulb and shred it finely.
Beets give sauerkraut an earthy flavor and a beautiful, vivid pink color. This recipe for beet and ginger sauerkraut has a fantastic flavor.
Apples are sometimes served alongside sauerkraut, but you canshred them up and add them directly to the crock with your cabbage. They’re excellent with caraway and juniper berries.
Pears give sauerkraut a subtle sweetness and a very light floral flavor.
Flavor Sauerkraut with Herbs and Spices
Herbs and spices can infuse sauerkraut with their vibrant and pronounced flavor, while also giving them medicinal value. You can find organic herbs and spices in bulk from Mountain Rose Herbs.
Caraway Seeds are often added to German and Eastern European recipes for sauerkraut.
Juniper Berries are also often added to German recipes for sauerkraut, and blend nicely with apple and pear.
Gochugaru is a Korean-style chili powder with a mild smoky edge, and it’s traditionally added to kimchi; however, you can add it to sauerkraut, too.
Turmeric gives sauerkraut an astringent note and a vivid golden color. It’s nice paired with pineapple and ginger.
Chilies are always lovely in sauerkraut, and it gives them a pleasant heat. You can add both dried and fresh chili peppers, and they blend beautifully with garlic and scallions.
Ginger soothes and supports the digestive system, and it works well in sauerkraut paired with turmeric and black pepper or hot chilies and garlic.
Dill, both fresh and dried, gives sauerkraut a fresh flavor and is reminiscent of dill pickles.
Flavor Sauerkraut with Specialty Salts
Sauerkraut relies on salt to both keep the cabbage crisp and the maintain the right conditions for fermentation – keeping mold at bay while the lactobacillus bacteria responsible for fermentation take hold. Plain and additive-free sea salt works well for this purpose, but you can also add flavored salts and culinary salt to give your sauerkraut a unique flavor.
Smoked Sea Salt can flavor sauerkraut with a rich smoky flavor that’s intensely pleasant. You can buy it here.
Kala Namak Salt is a black salt used in Indian cookery, and it has a sulfurous aroma that works nicely in sauerkraut. Because it is an intense flavor, use only a small amount of kala namak along with plain sea salt.
Red Alaea Salt is a vivid coral color and can give your sauerkraut a boost of minerals and a gorgeous color. You can buy it here.
Herbal Salts that blend both herbs and salt are fun to add, too.
Other Fermented Food Recipes You’ll Love
If you’re a fan of flavored sauerkrauts or just plain sauerkraut, you’re bound to love many other fermented vegetable recipes. You’ll find many in the Nourished Kitchen cookbook, but check out some of our favorites below.
Sour Pickles are made the traditional way in a brine with plenty of dill and garlic.