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Real Food Fermentation by Alex Lewin: Book Review & Giveaway

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I am a big advocate for fermented foods, and have committed to making them a regular part of my dietary habits. That’s why I am reviewing another great book about fermentation this week, Alex Lewin from Feed Me Like You Mean It’s recent book Real Food Fermentation.

Whether you are new to fermenting and are intrigued…or have already been doing it for a period of time, this wonderful book with gorgeous pictures (I’ve considered adding it to my coffee table collection for that reason) will delight any reader who is curious about flavors and textures, and the important role that microbes, enzymes, and bacteria play in preserving food.

It will also help you to appreciate that the art (yes, art) of culturing food is really one of the best and simplest ways to incorporate these essential living enzymes, good bacteria (probiotics), and increased vitamins and minerals in your diet for improved health.

Why make fermented foods, anyway?

You may be wondering what’s so great about fermented foods. They support digestion, immunity, and overall health by breaking down the elements in foods that our bodies might not otherwise be able to do and making nutritional elements more available. For an overview of the benefits of fermented foods, read The amazing health benefits of fermented & cultured foods & beverages. These foods support digestion, immunity, and overall health.

We are currently seeing a resurgence in interest of creating fermented foods for flavor and health, and what better time of year to learn something new like this than during the holiday season when there is so much focus on food anyway. This book would make a great gift for someone special in your life who loves and appreciates food and is perhaps thinking about taking their health to the next level.

What you’ll get out of this book and learning to ferment

In this book you’ll find basic recipes for fermented vegetable creations such as sauerkraut and pickles, kimchi, pickles, pico de gallo and more adventurous foods like hard apple cider, kombucha as well as a whole array of cultured dairy foods such as yogurt, whey, kefir, and crème fraîche, butter, and buttermilk (swoon!).

Recipes include clear instructions accompanied by images showing the reader just what his or her efforts will yield at various steps, and in effect bring to life the recipes discussed. I appreciate that, and I think someone who is just starting out on adventures in fermentation would too.

After meeting Alex in person, I have found that his book is written in a manner that is every bit as conversational as if you were actually talking to him.  His relationship with food is very comfortable and it’s evident that he’s delighted to share his knowledge with the reader.

As you read this book, you’ll discover that it’s meant to be read not at all in the way you’d approach most “cookbooks”, but as a way to become better acquainted with, enthused about, and as a way to unleash the desire to understand food and experiment in the kitchen in ways you may never have felt you could.  I hope the way he writes about food will not only compel you in this direction, but will inspire you to want to investigate this fascinating world of fermented foods, and try something for yourself.

I love the friendly, open explanations Alex provides  about how enzymatic activity and oxidation occur, and definitions of preservation and fermentation – which helps remove the mystery from the unique process of fermentation and how it can benefit health…as well as the conditions under which optimal fermentation occurs. There is also some valuable discussion of the ways in which the slow food movement has taken form and how it is affected by the mainstream, commercial food system, and genetic modification, and other factors.

In this recent radio interview, Alex talks about the qualities of fermented foods and why they are so good for our health. In a world where so many people have digestive compromise from poor lifestyle and dietary habits, fermentation reduces the stress on the body of creating enzymes for digestion. Raw foods are more difficult to digest, and fermented foods which really fall between raw and cooked are actually easier because microbes and enzymes act on the parts of the raw foods that our bodies have trouble assimilating.

Here is one of the fabulous recipes in his book:

Fermented Carolina-Style Slaw

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Yield: 1 quart (950 ml) or 2 pounds (900 g)

Prep time: 20 minutes

Total time: 4-7 days

Ingredients:

1 pound (450 g) green cabbage

1 large onion (red, yellow, or white)

1 large green bell pepper

1 large carrot

1/2 apple (optional)

1/4 pound (115 g) celery root, or 1 teaspoon celery seed

4 teaspoons (20 g) sea salt

1/4 cup (80 g) honey (or less, if you have included an apple)

6 tablespoons (90 ml) oil (mixture of sesame, coconut, and olive oil works well)

2 teaspoons dry mustard

1 piece (1/3 inch, or 8 mm) gingerroot, peeled and grated (optional)

Freshly ground black pepper

Equipment

  • Large cutting board (wood is ideal)
  • Large knife (a chef’s knife is ideal)
  • Large mixing bowl
  • 2 mason jars (1 pint, or 475 ml each) or similar glass jars with tight-fitting lids
  • Colander or strainer

Preparation

  1. Thinly slice the cabbage, onion, and bell pepper. (For tips on how to cut a bell pepper, see page 65.)
  2. Grate or shred the carrot, apple, if using, and celery root, if using.
  3. Ferment the vegetable mixture with the salt using the recipe for Lacto-Fermented Vegetables on page 75 (here’s a link on his site to this recipe), to the desired degree of sourness. Four to seven days is probably about right.
  4. Once the vegetables are fermented, drain them in a colander set over a mixing bowl, and press the liquid out with your hands, reserving the liquid.
  5. Combine 1/2 cup (120 ml) of the liquid with the honey, oil, dry mustard, and ginger, and mix well with a fork, whisk, or blender. Pour the dressing mixture and combine. Add salt and pepper as needed. Add more of the reserved liquid if you want more sourness. Refrigerate.
  6. Save any leftover fermentation liquid to use as a starter for your next project. Or mix it with oil and spices to use as a salad dressing. or drink it in the morning as a digestive tonic!

Alex studied math at Harvard University before graduating from the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts, as well as the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. He also serves on the board of the Boston Public Market Assocation, and teaches people how to put fermenting into action.

You can read more about what Alex is up to by visiting his blog Feed Me Like You Mean It site or on his Facebook page.

Listen to Alex’s interview about his book with Cary Nosler on Talk 650 KSTE, on Wide World of Health (Sacramento, CA).

Win a copy of Real Food Fermentation!

Giveaway rules:

The giveaway starts today and ends on Wednesday, December 20th at 11:59 p.m., MST.
Here are all the different ways to enter:

  1. Click in the comment box below and leave a comment saying you want to enter.

For extra entries, do the following and leave comments:

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  3. Follow Lactoferment on Twitter and Tweet about the giveaway.
  4. Follow Agriculture Society on Twitter.
  5. Like Agriculture Society on Facebook (again, blog post about giveaways on FB are not permitted). Extra entries are given for “liking” only.
  6. Please Stumble my page or any other articles you want to share!

The contest is open to anyone in the U.S. If you are outside the U.S. you must pay shipping charges. The winner has 24 hours to e-mail me about the prize. If I don’t hear from the winner, I’ll pick someone else with Random.org.

Best of luck to everyone entering. I will announce the winner here on Thursday, December 20th.

Photo credit: Quarry Books

 

Activism Healthy Living Kids & Family Real Food Toxin Alert!

A Visit To Green Pasture Products, Home Of Fermented Cod Liver Oil

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What happens when you have a whirlwind trip to the heart of Nebraska farmland for the weekend? A lot, actually.

On August 6th, 2010, my family and I flew to Grand Island, Nebraska to be picked up by David Wetzel, owner and CEO of Green Pasture Products, manufacturer of fermented cod liver oil.

Our trip took us through Denver where we had a five-hour layover, and then on to Grand Island which is a small town with a tiny airport, about 2 1/2 miles away from O’Neill, Nebraska where Green Pasture Products plant offices are located.

The landscape of Nebraska was surprising to me. Being from Idaho where we have a lot of mountains and forests, I expected the land to be really flat. But in fact it has a lot of rolling hills and was unseasonably green for that time of year, as David told us, due to more rainfall than usual for their part of the country.

To me, it looked like a farmland paradise…I guess that’s because for the last several years I have been dreaming of owning a family farm, and none of the farmland I’ve ever seen near where we live is anywhere near as luscious. It certainly doesn’t possess the beautiful quality of rolling hills so abundant in the Nebraska area.

Although Dave assured me there were feedlot facilities there in Nebraska , I am happy to report that I was able to live in my little fantasy dreamland as I never once spotted a feedlot the whole weekend during our stay.  :)

After getting off the plane, David drove us to a local restaurant where we had dinner with him and his wife, Barb and their family friend Sue who was also visiting them, who met us there. It was already late when we finished dinner so we went back to the hotel to get a good night’s sleep.

The following day David picked us up at 8:30 a.m. and we drove over to his farm to have breakfast with his family. They live on a beautiful 140-acre farm near Orchard, Nebraska, about 30 minutes away from the Green Pasture headquarters.  They have a herd of about 30 cattle, a number of chickens, and some goats. We ate a delicious home-made breakfast of egg-bake that had vegetables and sausage in it, and raw milk from their cows which was delicious!

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The Wetzel family has children from ages 3 up to 19, and we found all of their kids to be charming and a lot of fun. Our son Tristan was definitely kept busy by the kids during our stay with many activities, both in and outdoors. But he made a special connection with their 7-year-old Max.

After breakfast we went out to move their cows to another area of pasture on their property. When David told us they didn’t have horses and that they did it all on foot, I was momentarily surprised. I didn’t realize a person could do this (showing I had a lot to learn!).

He explained that none of them really had ever had experience with horses, and you also need a lot more land for horses and cows, so they had made the decision to do the job on foot and with the help of their dogs.

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Herding the cows was a great experience! It was wonderful to be out on the land and moving with the animals and nature. The weather was perfect, with overcast skies and breezes blowing over the land to cool us as we moved the cows from pasture to pasture.

Then we got in the car and drove to see the Green Pasture plant facility in O’Neill. David’s eldest daughter Ruthie accompanied us. We were met by plant manager who showed us the equipment used in the fermentation process of the cod liver oil.

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It is important to understand the general situation with cod liver oil production in the modern world. David explained that he traveled to numerous factories producing a cod liver oil product all over the world. Each of these facilities engages in industrial processing of cod liver oil which involves alkali refining, bleaching, winterization and deodorization. All cod liver oil products on the market have undergone extreme processing as a method of “purification” to remove heavy metals and other toxins.

The following information is taken directly from the Green Pasture web site and describes the production process of cod liver oil, including David’s personal experience in discovering the ancient method of how cod liver oil was procured and fermented in the old, traditional way. This information was originally published in the fall issue of Wise Traditions, the Weston A. Price monthly newsletter, from 2005.

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Returning to Traditional Production Techniques for the Quintessential Sacred Food, by David Wetzel

When I began to import cod liver oil, in order to sell it along with the high-vitamin butter oil I was manufacturing, I felt it imperative to go to Iceland and Norway to visit the various cod liver oil factories there. At that time, most cod liver oil in America was imported from Scandinavia, with a small amount coming from China. What I learned is described in an article published in the Fall, 2005 issue of Wise Traditions, Cod Liver Oil Manufacturing: How Our Most Important Dietary Supplement Is Produced.

To summarize my findings, all the factories were engaged in industrial processing of cod liver oil, which involved alkali refining, bleaching, winterization and deodorization. Each of these steps, especially the deodorization, removes some of the precious fat-soluble vitamins, especially Vitamin D.

Handwriting on the wall
With only one factory still engaging in the relatively expensive process of adding natural vitamins back into processed cod liver oil, it was easy to see the handwriting on the wall. The odds that this factory would soon fall in with the others and start adding synthetic vitamins instead of natural ones were great. I was also concerned that we had no cod liver oil manufacturer in the U.S. I was offended by the industrialization of a sacred food. I now fully understand that today’s fish oil industry has committed the same crime to a historically sacred food as the dairy industry has committed on milk.

Return to old methods
Fortunately, I had anticipated this eventuality several years ago when I began contemplating manufacturing cod liver oil myself. I wanted to produce a cod liver oil that contained only natural vitamins and, if possible, do it without the industrial alkali and deodorizing treatments. I also wanted to produce cod liver oil in the traditional way, which is by fermentation. I had read that in Roman times, long before refrigeration, fish guts were placed in a barrel with sea water and allowed to ferment. What came out the bottom of the barrel was a watery fermented fish sauce called garam, widely used as a seasoning (probably the precursor of Worcestershire sauce). The oil floated to the top and was collected carefully. This fermented fish oil was undoubtedly the civilized world’s first health elixir, reserved for the soldiers and nobility. It is said that the soldiers refused to march without their daily ration of liquidum.

South Sea Islanders put great store in shark liver oil – enduring considerable danger to procure the sharks even though other, less dangerous-to-catch seafood was plentiful. To prepare the oil, they put the livers inside the leathery stomachs of the shark and hung them in the trees for several months. As it ferments, the oil gradually comes out of the livers and fills the hanging stomachs! The yield is about one liter per shark.

A description of traditional European cod liver oil processing is provided by F. Peckel Möller in an article entitled “Cod-Liver Oil and Chemistry,” published in London, 1895. “The primitive method is as follows: as soon as the fishermen reach the Voer [pier], and finish separating the livers and roes, they sell the fish and carry the livers and roes up to their dwellings. In front of these are ranged a number of empty barrels into which the livers and roes are placed, separately of course. The fishermen do not trouble to separate the gall-bladder from the liver, but simply stow away the proceeds of each day’s fishing, and repeat the process every time they return from the sea, until a barrel is full, when it is headed up and a fresh one commenced. This is continued up to the end of the season, when the men return home, taking with them the barrels that they have filled. The first of these, it may be noted, date from January, and the last from the beginning of April, and as on their arrival at their homes the fishermen have many things to arrange and settle, they seldom find time to open their liver barrels before the month of May. By this time the livers are, of course, in an advanced state of putrefaction. The process of disintegration results in the bursting of the walls of the hepatic cells and the escape of a certain proportion of the oil. This rises to the top, and is drawn off.

Production of Fermented Cod Liver Oil
The challenge of producing a fermented cod liver oil was how to do it on a large scale. It has taken six dedicated years of work to get to the point of offering the fermented cod liver oil to the community. The first challenge was to figure out a way to ferment the livers in large vats; and the second was to find the livers.

The method we have developed processes the cod liver oil through a proprietary non-heating natural lacto-fermentation. The process can take up to six months and is carefully handled throughout the process to ensure the oil is clean and natural. Industrialized fish oils, including cod liver oil, are heavily carbon filtered and heated after rendering or extracting. We have developed a unique cleaning process that does not use carbon filters or heat. Both heat and carbon filters remove flavors, odors, colors and nutrients, and also denature the fragile unsaturated fatty acids such as DHA and EPA.

Our cod liver oil “factory” is a large building in north central Nebraska. We prefer to call it our cod liver oil green house. The building was built to store potatoes, but was gutted by fire soon after completion. It had been sitting empty all these years and came on the market at just the time we were looking for a facility, and became available to us at virtually no cost. We cleaned it out, washed and painted the walls, painted it and installed a new clear, solar-like roof. The building currently holds six fermenting vats of just under 10,000 gallons each.

The roof is a solar roof and we use natural sunlight for heat and light – we have lots of sunlight in Nebraska. Our next project is to start sun drying fish eggs in a part of the building.

My other task was to find the livers. The search began several years ago – I picked up the phone and made many cold calls, most of which got me nowhere. People said I was crazy to want to purchase thousands of pounds of cod livers. Finally I met a Russian who took an interest in the project and found the livers for me – in Russia, they know about cod livers.

The first load of 10,000 pounds, which we used for experimental purposes, arrived two years ago. The first load for commercial production – 40,000 pounds of frozen cod livers – arrived in a tractor trailer – packed into pallets. Future deliveries will come by railroad!

Testing Cod Liver Oil
Our next challenge was to test the oils for nutrient content. Of course, we do the standard tests for pathogens, PCBs and heavy metals. We do this to every batch, and our batches are small, so the number of tests per gallon of product is substantially greater than typically carried out in the industry. The heavy metal levels are “not detectable” and the PCBs meet WHO .090 ppm standards, the limit to which these compounds can be measured.

Measuring nutrient levels turned out to be complicated. When you test industrial cod liver oils to which have been added synthetic Vitamins A and D, you get graphs with well defined peaks, indicating the presence of Vitamins A or D. But the tests for our fermented cod liver oil came back showing a jagged line, with numerous peaks, no matter which method we used, and these peaks did not always match up with synthetic control peaks. The lab technicians were as surprised as we were. Their explanation was that this natural oil contains many isomers of Vitamins A and D. We have to add the peaks to get some idea of the total. We currently receive a wide range of nutrient values depending on the laboratory test method and interpretation of the analysis.

In general, the test totals are substantially higher for Vitamin D than one would find in any industrialized cod liver oil. The fermented oil contains 12,000 IU Vitamin A per teaspoon and 2,000 – 6,000 IU Vitamin D per teaspoon. The vitamin levels likely test lower because we are only testing for retinol and palmitate, not for all the other Vitamin A isomers.

Anticipating increasingly stringent controls on supplements, we have decided to label the fermented cod liver oil as a food – which it certainly is. Thus the label will contain a suggested dose and list Vitamin A as a percentage of the RDA. There will be no mention of Vitamin D on the label.

Cod liver oil dosing information

The suggested dose will be about 2 – 2.5 ml or about 1/2 teaspoon for adults, double for pregnant and nursing women and those under stress, and half that for children. Some practitioners are giving larger doses to treat serious health problems. The experience of Dr. Rosann Volmert, Doctor of Osteopathy, indicates that best results are obtained using a combination of fermented cod liver oil and high-vitamin butter oil – a confirmation of Dr. Price’s own experience.

It is now believed that the RDA (recommended daily allowances) of nutrients are too low – especially in light of the observation that higher levels of nutrients like Vitamins A and D have a positive effect on the disease and illness. Because of these findings, it is now recommended by practitioners and researchers alike that an increase in consumption of beneficial nutrients is essential for good health.

From the Weston A. Price Foundation: “Please note that these recommended doses are 2-5 times greater than the U.S. RDA for children, 4 times greater than the U.S. RDA for adults and 8 times greater than the U.S. RDA for pregnant women. The RDA values are based on studies conducted in the general population, which is now recognized to be largely deficient in vitamin D. For a discussion of studies showing that vitamin A consumption up to 30,000 IU per day by pregnant women does not result in a greater risk of birth defects, see Vitamin A for fetal development. This article also describes the vital role played by vitamin A in the development of the fetus. Pregnant women may wish to consult their health practitioner about taking cod liver oil during pregnancy.

Individuals under stress or wishing to use cod liver oil to treat a disease condition may take much larger doses, even up to doses providing 90,000 IU vitamin A per day, for a period of several weeks.”

Since this product is a fermented one, we surmised that it would contain Vitamin K2 as well as Vitamins A and D. What we found was a range of quinones, which include the various forms of K2. The fermentation increases the total quinone count by 700-1600 percent compared to readings prior to the fermentation process. We have not identified the specific quinones but I suspect that the K2 category and Co-enzyme Q family will be important components within the quinone nutrients. The fermented cod liver oil tests at 90 milligrams per gram, compared to the high-vitamin butter oil at 23-25 mg per gram. Quinone testing presents a fertile field for future research.

Taking cod liver oil
Many people who consume fermented cod liver oil report that it is not as fishy tasting as the industrialized varieties. The lacto-fermentation of this product can produce a slight sting on the back of the throat, which some find bothersome. Recommended ways to take the oil are as follows: mix with a small amount of warm water, swallowing quickly; add something acidic such as lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, or kombucha; use a bit of honey or maple syrup; or “chase fat with fat” by following the cod liver oil with cream, egg yolk, or butter. Another way to minimize the throat tingle effect is to take it during or after a fatty breakfast.

New Products
Our current batch of fermented cod liver oil comes in plain, arctic mint, cinnamon, Mediterranean, and orange, as well as in one-milliliter plain, non-gelatin capsules. We also offer Viking strength (unflavored), Mediterranean (garlic, oregano, pepper oil and unrefined salt), salty cod (unrefined salt) as well as a gel product in several flavors that can be eaten off a spoon. And finally we offer as our proprietary product, a cod liver oil-butter oil combo in gel (plain or flavored) as well as capsules. The products are available through Green Pasture Products and also through several distributors, including Radiant Life, Dr. Ron’s UltraPure and others in the U.S., as well as in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the UK and the European Union.

We also offer skate liver oil, available in non-gelatin capsules and spicy orange liquid. Our Russian supplier swears by the many benefits of skate oil. As far back as the 1600s, cultures have consumed and regarded as sacred, cartilage fish oils from ratfish such as shark and skate. Because skates are smaller than sharks, they are cleaner and more sustainable. Skate oil is higher in DHA content than cod liver oil and possesses the deep pigment color, well-known by Dr. Weston A. Price, to signify the presence of many other important nutrients. Skate oil sustains mood, mind, bone, and joint health.

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What an amazing trip! When I found out we were going to Nebraska, I had a feeling we’d learn some interesting things, but I never imagined what it would be like. I am still astounded at the loss of traditional knowledge about food and nutrition our civilization has undergone over just the last hundred or more years of time. In the span of human history, that’s not long, and yet the major over-riding influence of our century – The Industrial Revolution – has caused an enormous change in the way we grow, produce, sell, manufacture, and eat our food.

I’m also grateful for people like David Wetzel who work tirelessly to educate and preserve the heritage and presence of traditional foods like fermented cod liver oil that heal and keep us well.  What an admirable way to live life and help others! Many thanks to Dave and his family for a memorable trip and stay while we were there.

Our family takes fermented cod liver oil

Each member of my family takes Blue Ice Royal Butter Oil/Fermented Cod Liver Oil capsules every day. We vary our dosage from person-to-person and depending on what’s happening with individual health.  We’ve been taking it for almost two years, and I definitely credit its use with an observable pattern of better health in all of us. Whenever anyone is sick, we take more cod liver oil and I am sure it helps to get over whatever it is we have whether it be a flu, cold, sore throat, upset stomach, or anything else sooner than we would have if we had not been taking it. In addition to eating an overall nutrient-dense diet, I credit our overall improved state of health with real foods like the fermented cod liver oil and high vitamin butter oil combination.

This past summer in August, I decided to try increasing my cod liver oil dosage from 4 daily to 8 because I had been having trouble for many years with sore gums and bleeding in the front of my lower jaw, despite faithful brushing and flossing. Within 2 days, the pain and bleeding I’d experienced pretty continually for about 2 decades completely disappeared, and I haven’t had it since. And it doesn’t matter how little or often I brush, that problem is now gone.

Dr. Weston A. Price’s revelation

Back in the 1930s when Dr. Weston A. Price made his travels and observations, he discovered that the combination of cod liver oil and high vitamin butter oil caused amazing changes in health to occur. The butter oil has an ingredient he refers to as Activator X – otherwise known as Vitamin K2. This nutrient works in tandem with Vitamins A and D.  Our modern diets are grossly deficient in all of these critical nutrients from eating diets of processed, dead foods. For more information, read “On the Trail of the Elusive X Factor: A Sixty-Year Old Mystery Finally Solved” by Chris Masterjohn.

Include the following in your diet to maintain good health: sources of Vitamin K from the fat of healthy animals and birds on pasture, dairy products such as raw butter, cheese, and cream, liver from animals and birds like beef, chicken, goose, or duck – in addition to fermented cod liver oil.

Health professionals, authors, and researchers who recommend fermented cod liver oil:

Dr. Ron Schmid, ND

Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride, MD.

Rosann Volmert, DO

Chris Masterjohn

Want to know more about nutrient-dense foods?

Suggested reading: Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Dr. Weston A. Price

What are traditional foods?

11 healthy and nutrient-dense foods at-a-glance

The truth about raw milk, part I

Changing ingredients for a nutrient-dense diet

This post is part of The Healthy Home Economist’s Monday Mania Carnival.