Go With Your Gut (Flora) – The Great Pickle Experiment (Part I)

My first batch of crock pickles!

Gut bacteria have been on my mind a lot the last few years.  I bet that if you had a nickel for every time someone’s told you that, you’d probably have 5 cents.  Unless you’ve had problems with your digestive track, you probably don’t give much thought to the friendly little guys that call your intestines Home Sweet Home.  People are only just beginning to understand how big a role gut flora plays in, not just digestive health, but in our entire immune system.   Perhaps this is not the most delightful topic for a blog post, but I think its worthwhile to share.

 It seems like I’ve been hearing a lot about beneficial gut bacteria in the news lately — or maybe its just that I am interested in the topic and pick up on it when I hear it.  A few years ago I was diagnosed with a whopper of a case of diverticulosis.  After a few bouts of diverticulitis I noticed that when I am eating things that promote healthy, happy, friendly gut flora, they keep the bad ones at bay and all is well in my digestive world.  Initially my sources of probiotic were Kefir and yogurt.  However, after going paleo I stopped eating most dairy — particularly the processed Kefir I was drinking.  That got me thinking about the other probiotic rich foods there are out there — sauerkraut, kimchi, and pickles to name a few.  The catch is, once these foods are pasteurized, the cadre of microscopic gut warriors are wiped out.  The food still tastes good, but you lose the probiotic benefit.  If (and that’s a big if) you can find a source of raw unpasteurized products, you will get an ulcer from the sticker shock (I may have just paid $10 for a small jar of sauerkraut).  No point trading one gastrointestinal problem for another!

So what to do?  Make my own of course!  I’m starting with pickles and sauerkraut.  Depending on the results  that I get, I may try some kimchi (I’m not even sure if I really like it) or some other pickled veggies.  Last weekend I downloaded “Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods.”  Up first — crock pickles.  I decided to start with pickles because:

  1. I totally love pickles.  My aunt always bought 2 jars of pickles for the holidays.  One for everybody else and one jar for me.   She also had to add extra mini hotdogs to the baked beans — but that’s a different post.
  2. Cukes are at the very end of the season here in Ohio and if I didn’t get them now, I wouldn’t be able to find local fresh ones.

So why are fermented pickles different from the jars of Vlassic in the store (other than pasteurization)?  I’m still a newbie to the whole fermenting thing, but I shall explain it as I understand it.  Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.  The bulk of the pickles in stores are not fermented at all, but are preserved in a vinegar/spice solution.  A crock pickle is preserved through fermentation.  And fermentation is where the probiotic benefits come in.  There are two or three different types of bacteria that appear at different stages, but as things reach that fully fermented stage, the primary bacteria is lactobacillus.  You should recognize that from yogurt labels as one of the major (known) friendly bacteria.  So not only do you get the crispy crunch of a fresh dill pickle with your burger, but you get a little something something for your gut health on the side!  Some people even drink the pickle brine as a tonic.  I will probably try it.  I like dill pickle juice. And I’m a little bit of a freak like that.

There isn’t much to report yet.  They just went into the jar today.  I am super excited by the project — and by the adorable vintage pickle jar I picked up from a farm estate auction last weekend!  I’m glad I didn’t go with a crock because I can see whats going on — they just look so darn pretty in there!   They are like little pickle shaped fish in their own underwater world.

The ingredients are just baby cucumbers, dill, garlic, pepper, salt, and filtered water.   I don’t have a recipe to share yet.   I thought I’d wait and see how they come out first.  My mom and aunt will be here this weekend.  I think they will make excellent guinea pigs dinner guests.