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With fermented foods growing in popularity alongside the real food movement and Paleo diet, readers and fans of the Body Ecology Diet sometimes wonder why we always recommend a starter culture.
“While I always find your information useful and on the mark, I think it a little misleading to insist that people ALWAYS use a starter culture when culturing at home. Fermentation has been around for thousands of years, as you well know. I have been making sauerkraut all my life and never used a starter.”
The Body Ecology Principle of Uniqueness
Many of those who come to the Body Ecology Diet come with the intention to resolve complex digestive disorders that are a product of antibiotic overuse, a diet high in processed foods and artificial sweeteners, and an environment filled with toxic chemicals.
In short, our gut microbes aren’t what they used to be.
This broadly affects our health. For example, when the inner ecosystem is wounded, there may be:
Kombucha is easy to find in your local health food store and is considered a wild ferment. For those rebuilding digestive health, wild ferments are not easily tolerated.
- Signs of intestinal or systemic Candida overgrowth
- An immune system that has lost its balance—with signs of allergies or autoimmune disease
- An inflamed and leaky gut
- Bacterial overgrowth
- Multiple food sensitivities
- Mood or behavioral disorders
- Skin rashes, eczema, or acne
The old ways of wild ferments do not work for everyone. It’s true that ideally we could all eat wild ferments made with kefir grains, whey, or salt water brine and be in perfect health.
But these days, the body suffers much more—mostly from imbalances in the immune system and metabolic distortions.
Since recovering the inner ecosystem for people with digestive issues is our core focus, we always recommend using a starter culture when fermenting vegetables, dairy, and coconut water to mitigate the problems associated with wild fermentation.
Wild Ferments vs. Cultured Ferments
With the increasing popularity of fermented foods, it’s easy to believe that wild ferments are the same as cultured ferments. They are not.
Wild ferments challenge the immune system.
For someone with a wounded inner ecosystem (and a sluggish thyroid or tired adrenals), the challenge of wild ferments on the immune system may be too much to bear.
If you eat wild fermented foods and are not seeing the changes you would like in your health—this could be the missing piece of the puzzle.
Those with robust health can enjoy wild ferments, no problem. However, those who are rebuilding their immune system and recovering their inner ecosystem cannot tolerate wild ferments. Luckily, your body will tell you what works. The key is to learn how to listen.
Common wild ferments include:
- Kombucha (home brewed or found at the grocery store)
- Beet or veggie kvass (home brewed or found at the grocery store)
- Cultured vegetables made with only cabbage and salt
- Dairy or water kefir made with kefir grains
If you consume these foods and notice an itchiness in the back of your throat or in your ears, acne, moodiness, or a change in body odor—these are just a few of the signs related to a change (for the worse) in your body’s ecology.
Using a starter culture in your fermented foods targets gut health and supports the immune system.
A starter culture inoculates your food with beneficial microbes. It makes sure that good bacteria and yeast are growing, with little room for contamination or growth of problematic strains. Similar to a probiotic you might find at a health food store or at your physician’s office, cultured foods deliver specific strains of microbes.
The only difference is that while a probiotic supplement contains dormant or “sleeping” strains of bacteria and yeast, cultured foods are active and living. This ensures the survival of good bacteria and yeast all the way to the colon.
NOTE: Remember to feed your starter culture with a prebiotic, which gives good bacteria and yeast the nourishment they need to thrive. We also suggest adding a pinch of trace minerals or Celtic sea salt to your brine before culturing.
What To Remember Most About This Article:
Wild fermentation is growing in popularity, but it may not be the best choice for your health if you are rebuilding your inner ecosystem—related to damage from antibiotic overuse, processed foods, artificial sweeteners, and toxic chemicals in the environment.
Restoring digestive health requires a safe starter culture; in these instances, wild fermentation is not recommended. It helps to understand that wild ferments and cultured ferments are different. Wild ferments challenge the immune system and may not be easily tolerated.
On the other hand, a starter culture can be used to safely make fermented foods teeming with beneficial bacteria. A starter culture ensures friendly bacteria and yeast growth, while protecting against problematic strains and potential contamination. For the best results, feed a starter culture with a prebiotic and add trace minerals or Celtic sea salt before you ferment.