That gut feeling

Updated: 21 September, 2020 10:46 IST | Sukanya Datta | Mumbai

What's with sourdoughs, kombuchas and kimchis flooding social media feeds? Two Mumbaikars bitten by the fermentation bug and two experts share why it's a healthy trend

Watermelon kombucha by Divya Advani
Watermelon kombucha by Divya Advani

In the initial months of the lockdown, when it was difficult to source even essentials, Wadala resident Divya Advani started craving for her favourite beverage, kombucha, a fermented, bubbly tea. "Since I couldn’t get any easily, I decided to make it at home," recalls the founder of Brownsalt Bakery who has since then gone on to brew several flavours of kombucha and tepache. Advani tells us that she had always been curious about fermentation, but never got to try it, due to a busy schedule. "During the lockdown, with free time on hand, it was the perfect hobby," says the baker, adding she’s been able to substitute sugar-loaded store-bought beverages with her healthy, fermented creations.

Much like Advani, many foodies seem to have been bitten by the fermentation bug, thanks to which sourdoughs, kimchis, pickles, sauerkrauts, whey sodas and ginger beers have been all over our social media feeds. While some took it up as a lockdown project, experts note that the trend has a lot to do with the fact that the pandemic has altered our eating patterns, putting the focus back on immunity and well-being.

Plum whey soda by Nadkarni
Plum whey soda by Nadkarni

Food for thought

Dr Siddhant Bhargava, fitness and nutritional scientist, and co-founder of Food Darzee, says that confined at home, Indians have begun to make informed choices about what they eat, with many trying their hand at making naturally low-sugar, fermented drinks and edibles like carrot kanji, pickles, etc. "It is nothing but the metabolisation of food in the absence of oxygen. It is a trend now, as people are more focused on eating right to improve gut health. Fermentation not only enhances the edible’s nourishing value, but also lends your body a dose of healthy probiotics like microorganisms, which are crucial for good digestion," he shares.

Laura Christie Khanna, a permaculture and fermentation expert, and co-founder of the Panchgani-based permaculture space, The Odd Gumnut, explains that traditional food systems around the world have always accounted for fermentation. "Our ancestors knew how food worked in our bodies. Unlike them, we have started regarding food as a fuel to get on with our busy lives." The past six months have, however, disrupted that mindless, busy daily rhythm, compelling us to look at food as nutrition. She adds that another reason could also be the recent emergence of medical research, which "points to the link between different kinds of diseases, mental health issues and allergies to the lack of diversity in the human microbiome".

Sourdough pita bread
Sourdough pita bread

Bacteria is your friend

Although communications professional Renuka Nadkarni has always included fermented food such as dahi, pickle, idli and dosa in her diet, she started reading up about it during the lockdown and had attended a workshop. "I realised the impact it has on gut health and well-being. That was an added benefit; the primary joy was that you can make so much with the stuff at home, and it leads to lesser wastage," shares the Tardeo resident who’s made tepache, whey soda, vinegars, ginger bug, rai paani ka achaar, and more. Advani also shares fermented products helped her digest food better. "I believe the kombucha started to clear out toxins after two months of consistent consumption."

Khanna explains that there are different strains of beneficial bacteria that help break down nutrients that our body can’t. "Imagine your body is a hotel. All the ecological niches in your body, or the empty hotel rooms should be filled by good bacteria that you get from raw, fermented food, so that bad bacteria can’t check in," she illustrates.

Kimchi by Divya Advani
Kimchi by Divya Advani

Fermented foods, thus, have many benefits according to Khanna and Dr Bhargava:

. Good bacteria comprise elements like lactobacillus, found in edibles like yogurt. These sit in your intestine, help regulate bowel movements, absorb nutrients, digestion, and prevent accumulation of bad bacteria in the gut.

. Help dissolve anti-nutrients that are often found in grains, seeds and nuts that the body can’t break down.

. Effective way to preserve produce for a long time, thereby reducing wastage.

Dr Siddhant Bhargava, Divya Advani and Renuka Nadkarni
Dr Siddhant Bhargava, Divya Advani and Renuka Nadkarni

Part of your diet

One can easily start making small changes in their diet by fermenting vegetables, says Khanna. "You can use the brine method or dry salt method for veggies like carrots, and it should last in the fridge for a year. It can be eaten as a crunchy side," she suggests. You can include dahi in your diet; the benefits are higher, Khanna points out, if it’s made from fresh milk, as opposed to packaged dairy.

Dr Bhargava shares that for breakfast, one can add cultured dairy like buttermilk, yogurt or kefir to smoothies. "Your lunch can comprise fermented pickles in salads or sandwiches. For dinner, have soup, which must be cooled a bit before you stir in lacto-fermented vegetable juice. Lacto-fermented chutneys, mayonnaise and cultured buttermilk, too, can be paired with items in the main course," he signs off.

Kombucha ketchup

Kombucha ketchup

Instead of opting for store-bought ketchup, a kombucha ketchup allows you to use up kombucha vinegar. All you need to do is mix together:

. 12 oz tomato paste
. 1/4 cup sugar
. 2 tsp molasses
. 1/2 tsp salt
. 1/2 to 1 cup kombucha vinegar (depends on the consistency you want)
It will stay in your fridge for about two weeks. You can add other ground spices for a kick, such as red chili powder/cayenne pepper.

Kombucha ketchup

Laura Christie Khanna (originally from Hannah Crum)

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First Published: 21 September, 2020 09:06 IST

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