Marjorie is a freelance investigative journalist with a B.S. in
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Author: Beatrice Trum Hunter
This book is not a manual on how to ferment foods. Instead it is a very helpful guide in understanding why fermented foods should be an essential element in our diets.
Author: Beatrice Trum Hunter
Whenever I think about indigenous peoples and their customs, I become concerned that these societies are losing their cultural heritage. Almost all areas of the world are becoming industrialized, sanitized and homogenized. One definition of culture from the New World Dictionary is….. “The ideas, customs, skills, arts, etc. of a given people in a given period.” Another definition is… the growing of bacteria or other microorganisms in a specifically prepared medium. Fermentation of food depends on specific cultures of microorganisms. These cultures, which have been developed in various parts of the world, were revered, and guarded for reasons we will talk about below.
People realized that these microbial cultures, and the resulting fermented foods, were vitally important in preserving the food, in adding to the food’s digestibility and nutritional content, and that fermented food helped to keep the people in robust health. These “cultures” were an integral piece of their overall culture of arts, language and customs. I was fascinated by this connection made by the author of this book, Beatrice Trum Hunter. On page 119 she speaks of a cultured milk called Taette, which originated in Norway.
“When Norwegians emigrated they were reluctant to abandon their taette cultures. Doubtless, there were many experiments to find some way to transport the culture to a new location. One successful method was to dip a clean piece of linen into the taette and air dry it. Later in the new location, the taette was reconstituted and found to be viable. For me this feat is a metaphor. Just as emigrants faced an unknown future, so was the dormant culture facing an unknown future. Would either survive? Also, cultural ties are strong, and are especially strong for food traditions. By transplanting taette successfully, the emigrants retained their cultural heritage. The old and the new were connected. The past could be savored in the present, and there was hope that it could be savored in the future, as a vibrant milk culturing agent would be passed along, from one generation to another.”
After reading this section of the book, the phrase “to preserve a culture” has taken on a whole new meaning for me. It has also illustrated just how vital the fermentation process is for the survival of humanity. Generational sharing of fermentation practices not only plays an important role in preserving our heritage or culture but it is also a requirement for the preservation of our health. Our ancestors were instinctively aware of this fact. However, with the development of our industrialized food system…. pure, unadulterated, live fermented foods are difficult to find. “Probiotic Foods for Good Health” is one of the few books available which is working towards restoring the recognition and practice of this very valuable health tradition.
The author thoroughly and plainly explains the science behind the health benefits of fermented foods. She discusses how the probiotic bacteria in these foods help to form and strengthen our immune systems. Hunter talks about the importance of the integrity of the mucosal barrier in the intestinal tract and how a breakdown in this barrier may be one of the main reasons for allergic reactions. Thus by healing this barrier, through the use of probiotic foods, along with the rotation of foods, we are able to improve or eliminate many allergies. Probiotic bacteria are very healing to the intestinal mucosa.
Some studies and clinical experience show that lactose intolerance can be improved through the fermentation of milk. Many who experience digestive troubles when drinking sweet or unfermented milk, can tolerate milk when it is made into yogurt or kefir. Hunter shares advice on how to determine whether a person’s symptoms are caused by lactose intolerance or true milk allergy.
The process of fermentation is not just limited to milk. Our ancestors used fermentation to improve and preserve many different types of foods, from meats, to fruits, vegetables, and grains. Foods which were once available as live cultured foods… are now pasteurized and bear little nutritional resemblance to their natural unprocessed counterparts. Pasteurization destroys the probiotic bacteria, enzymes and some of the other beneficial properties of the food, which help to keep our immune systems strong. To put it more bluntly, the process of pasteurization greatly contributes to the disabling of our immune systems. Some examples of this adulteration are processed sauerkraut, pickles, yogurt, buttermilk, beer, cider, etc. Even soda began as a fermented beverage but is now a toxic mix of chemicals and sugar. The author informs us of the many different processes the food industry uses to supposedly improve these fermented foods but which inevitably strip the food of its vital health giving essence. Hunter leads us through the dairy isle of the grocery store, advising as to what products are better for us , which ones are best to avoid…and why. High sugar content, lack of live cultures and unnecessary additives, are some of the things to wary of.
The author includes a chapter on the importance of fermenting grains. Traditional societies almost always soaked and fermented their grains to make them more digestible and to rid the grains of certain antinutrients and toxins. Today the world consumes an overabundance of grains which are not aged in this beneficial manner. This lack of natural processing of the grains may account for much of our degenerative disease. Hunter gives examples of some of the different fermented grains that were used in specific areas of the world and explains why unfermented grains can cause nutritional deficiencies.
Near the end of the book, probiotic supplements are discussed. Advice is given on how to select the proper form of probiotics and what to look for on the product labels. The author also includes the benefits that can be expected from these commercial products.
One of the main focuses of modern medicine is to develop an increasing number of drugs to kill off pathogenic bacteria. Are the pharmaceutical and insurance companies aware of the already existing arsenal of beneficial bacteria which exist in fermented foods? Are they cognizant of the fact that if these beneficial organisms inhabited our digestive systems, much of our infectious and degenerative diseases could be prevented? The insurance companies may be interested in this logic but I doubt if the drug companies would investigate further into this matter. Prevention is not in the best interests of the pharmaceutical industry.
Hunter describes the antimicrobial nature of fermented foods….”Therapeutically, fermented foods such as yogurt act gently and effectively to alleviate health disorders such as chronic yeast infections or chronic constipation. The value of fermented food to combat infectious agents is constant, whereas microbes learn to resist antibiotic drugs, and the drugs themselves become less and less effective. Also eating fermented foods strengthens the immune system. Fermented foods become instruments of preventative medicine.”
I feel that Probiotic Foods for Good Health is an important addition to the few books existing on this subject. This book is not a manual on how to ferment foods. Instead it is a very helpful guide in understanding why fermented foods should be an essential element in our diets. The book also aides us in sorting through the many products on the market which claim to be cultured and beneficial. Fermenting our own food can be an easy, fun and inexpensive way to maintain our health. Over the past couple of years I have enjoyed experimenting at home with fermentation, however, this book by Beatrice Trum Hunter has further peaked my interest in this subject. It has encouraged me to add more fermented foods into my diet and to explore further into the art and practice of fermentation. There is so much more to learn. Together lets preserve our cultural heritage!