This is one of the kings of fermentation, and it is both a prebiotic and a probiotic. Fortunately, it is also cheap and easy to make. There are two main ingredients, cabbage and time. Salt and spices are recommended, but this is an alarmingly simple recipe. This can take about six weeks, so plan ahead! This recipe is for one lonely head of cabbage, which will make a small batch just to get you started. And addicted.
- 1 medium cabbage (2-3 pounds)
- 1/8 cup of your favorite spice: pepper, allspice, caraway, dill (optional)
- 4 teaspoons salt
Wash your hands, because this is a hands-on project.
Discard the limp outer leaves of the cabbage, then cut it in eighths and remove the core. Using a mandoline or knife, slice the cabbage into thin strips (you know what kraut looks like, but feel free to improvise) and place it in a large bowl. Add the salt, turning it as you mash the cabbage down. Technically, you don’t need salt for fermentation, but it helps to break down the cabbage, it may help to stop pathogens and it tastes good. Feel free to experiment!
The salt helps to break down the cell walls of the cabbage which causes liquid to leak out. It may take a while, but soon the kraut will be quite wet. If you want to add some spices, this is a great time to add them.
Now you can put it into a mason jar or two and pack it down more to make sure that all the cabbage is covered in liquid. It will start fermenting immediately. In the first few days, you might get a scum on the top, but you can simply wipe it off with a paper towel. Cover the top of the jar with a breathable cloth and use string or a rubber band to secure it. It will create gas as it ferments, so it needs to be able to let it all out. Mash down the kraut every day to make sure it is staying submerged and to force the gasses out. You want anaerobic microbes, so everything needs to be completely submerged.
After 5 to 10 days, you can start testing it to see if you like it. You can let it go for a few weeks if you like it a little more sour. When it suits your taste buds, put a lid on the jar and store it in the fridge. You now have a powerful pre and probiotic mix that is has a long history behind it.
When you get hooked on your kraut, you’re going to want to expand into other foods and spices. A great place to start is with one of Sandor Katz’s books, like Wild Fermentation. Sandor is a master kraut maker and you will be inspired.
Kicked Up Oatmeal
Oatmeal makes a tasty cereal that contains beta-glucan, a terrific prebiotic fiber. And it’s naturally gluten free for people with allergies or celiac disease. But it’s a little boring. It’s easy, however, to kick it up a bit with some simple additions.
Try nuts like chopped pistachios, hazelnuts or almonds. For a little sweetness, try raisins, blueberries or chopped apricots. Also tasty is maple syrup or honey, both of which contain enough complex sugars to be considered prebiotics. (They also have straight sugar, so don’t go overboard!)
For spices, try cinnamon or cardamom. And to make it creamy, add a little butter or better yet, yogurt or kefir.
You should use steel-cut oats, which are minimally processed. That will take 20 minutes to cook, but it’s worth it. Add the extras for the last five minutes of cooking.
Sexed up Veggies
A lot of people don’t like veggies and that’s often because they’ve never had them cooked right. If you’ve ever had boiled cabbage or canned asparagus, you’re forgiven for being put off by veggies. But fear not, there is a way to make veggies delicious and even better for you: roasting.
It’s actually simpler than boiling, because you don’t need to bring the water to temp. Instead, just chop up some veggies, add a little salt and oil, put them on a baking pan and cook them until they just start to brown. They are good to go! Browning causes complex sugars and flavors to develop in the veggies, and you don’t need to add anything to them. Here are some simple combinations:
Brussels sprouts, grapes and walnuts
Cauliflower, chopped apricots and pistachios
Cabbage wedges, cherry tomatoes and hazel nuts
The theme, as you can see, is to mix a veggie with a fruit and add some nuts. Put them in the oven at 325ᵒF. The veggie and fruit get cooked first for 10-20 minutes until browned, and the nuts are added for just the last two or three minutes of cooking. Delicious.
Add some Fiber
It can be hard to get enough fiber. In places like South America and Africa, they easily put away 40 or more grams of fiber a day. That’s because they eat things like cassava (also called yucca or manioc), which is full of the stuff. But most North Americans have never heard of cassava. Until your store starts to carry some of these high-fiber foods, you can try prebiotic powders. These are becoming quite popular, and they go by names like oligo, inulin, FOS, GOS and more. They are all oligosaccharides, complex sugars that feed your good bacteria.
They have a slightly sweet taste, so they’re easy to add to other foods. Sprinkle some on your morning cereal or add it to your coffee. Toss some into your smoothie. You can also cook with them, but add them toward the end of cooking so you don’t break them down into simple sugars, which are instantly absorbed in your small intestines and will never make it to the important microbes in your colon.
Start out slowly with these oligos – they can cause gas and bloating until you get used to them. But they can be a real life-saver until cassava shows up in your veggie aisles.
Use more Onions
Onions and their cousins, leeks, shallots, scallions and garlic, are all loaded with psychobiotic fiber. It’s simple to chop up some onions and add them to any savory dish. If you don’t think you like onions, try a sweet onion, like a Vidalia. They are so delicious you can eat them raw. Put them in salads and top your meat with raw or browned onions. Similarly, add some leeks to your soup for a wonderfully deep flavor. Shallots are like a cross between onion and garlic, and go well in omelets and marinara sauce. Garlic, of course, is a quintessential Italian seasoning, and you can make a meal of just noodles, olive oil and garlic. Yes, you may smell a little garlicky, but once your friends learn about how good and healthy these alliums are, you will have a lot of happy company.
Don’t Kill the Cheese
There’s a reason that you add parmesan on top of your spaghetti, not as a cooking ingredient. Cheese is a probiotic! Most cheese, unless it has been pasteurized, is chock full of good, potentially psychobiotic microbes. So, before you add cheese to a recipe, think about how you can minimize the heat death of these beneficial microbes. Always add cheese at the last moment, and try to never cook it over about 120ᵒF. This is one of the reasons to pay attention to the lessons learned by ancient civilizations. They’ve worked out a lot of the bugs.
For the same reason, don’t overcook your kraut. It’s actually perfect at room temperature. That’s also why you should add yogurt on top at the end of cooking. Just keep the probiotics in mind when you use these living foods, and don’t cook them to death.
There are now some sugar substitutes that use oligosaccharides. That sounds like a chemical name – and it is – but most of them are natural. Oligosaccharides are simply long chains of sugars that can’t be digested by the normal acids and enzymes in your gut. That means these complex sugars make it all the way to the colon, where they feed the beneficial bacteria that live there.
If the basic sugar unit is fructose, the chain is known as fructo-oligosaccharide. If the sugar is galactose, the chain is galacto-oligosaccharide. These are two of the most important complex sugars, and you can buy them in powdered form as a prebiotic and also as a sugar substitute. It is not as sweet as regular table sugar, but it can be very satisfying if you are suffering from a sugar deficit.
You can also try other natural sugars, like honey, maple syrup, coconut syrup and agave nectar. These all have complex sugars, although they also contain simple sugars, so don’t overdo it.
Toss in some Greens
Greens are full of prebiotic fiber, phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, flavonoids and antioxidants. If these items were in a pill, you would pay top dollar for them. Instead, they are practically free and Americans look down our noses at them. Not smart!
You can add greens to many of your meals without really even noticing. Add chard, spinach, parsley, cilantro or basil to your scrambled eggs. They will lift that humble breakfast to a new level and make you feel light instead of leaden.
Put greens in your soup. Toss in some endive or chopped cabbage to your bean soup or ramen to kick it up several notches. Take a flier on seaweed. It goes great in miso.
Don’t be satisfied with ordinary lettuce in your salad. Crank it up a notch with cilantro, basil or mint.
Experiment with collards, bok choy or endive, which never get enough love. Do you walk swiftly past the greens in the grocery? Don’t. Take a chance and surprise yourself. It’s not hard to go green.
Try resistant starch
Studies have shown that the highly caloric starch in foods like potatoes, when chilled, will convert into something called resistant starch, which is actually a prebiotic fiber.
You can purchase resistant starch in the form of flours, like unmodified potato starch, green banana flour and plantain flour. Use them in to replace some of the flour in cooking, or add these powders into your smoothies or yogurt.
Or get them from ordinary foods like beans and especially lentils.
This is a great way to make something creamy without actually taking in the calories of actual cream. You can use it in any soup that calls for cream or milk. After cooling, this concoction turns into a prebiotic, with a high load of resistant starch.
- 3 potatoes
- 1-2 cups stock (veggie or chicken)
Dice the potatoes and then steam them until they are soft. Put them in a blender (a food processor is unlikely to make this smooth enough) along with some stock. Start blending, and add stock until you get a liquid that is thick, smooth and creamy. In order to make this a prebiotic, you need to refrigerate it before using it in any savory recipe. Save some calories and feed your psychobiotics with this delicious cream substitute.