by Adrienne Caldwell
Honestly, I just stood a bit speechless, with tears almost welling up. A customer told me something I hadn’t expected in the moment. I was offering a sauerkraut and kim chi demo at a natural food store, and a gentleman approached me, asking me if I was the producer.
“Oh good,” he said. “I wanted to let you know…your sauerkraut has totally changed my life. I have suffered from colitis for years, trying different medicines, with little or no relief. I started eating your kraut everyday, and it also inspired me to change my diet. I’m well now.” Colitis is an inflammation of the colon’s membrane lining, resulting in ulcers and often strong abdominal pain. (I do not know if this gentleman consulted a doctor or not, which I would recommend, as more doctors are focusing on food in their nutritional and preventive care programs. They can advise you as to what might be helpful for your condition.)
I was silent. People have shared many stories with me before. “I eat fresh sauerkraut when I feel a cold or flu coming on, and it works!” “I feel better when I eat a little with my main meals.” “My skin is clearing up.” “My digestion is better.” “I am conquering Candida with kraut!” I have had my own very beneficial experiences, too. But somehow this gentleman’s story stopped me in my tracks. Here was this rosy cheeked gentleman, with an easy stride and warm smile, who had suffered greatly for quite a long while and didn’t anymore.
Sauerkraut and kim chi are the probiotic vegetable version of yogurt and kefir. Where yogurt and kefir are created by culturing beneficial bacteria in milk, sauerkraut and kim chi are created by culturing beneficial bacteria in grated cabbage and other sliced vegetables. The bacteria grow as they ferment the natural sugars within the produce, creating a stable pH medium of lactic acid. These good bacteria, accompanied by lactic acid, enhance the growth of flora within our intestine, offering an abundance of benefits.
What are these probiotic, “pro-life” bacteria? How do they directly support our health?
Both helpful and harmful bacteria live in our environment, and we ingest them continuously through our skin, breath, water, and food. When there are enough healthy, beneficial “pro-life” bacteria on or within an organism, there is most often not enough space or nutrition available for harmful bacteria to grow.
With this principle in mind, it makes sense that soils tended with sustainable farming practices have healthy humus formation where an abundance of beneficial bacteria thrive, in the earth, air, and water. The plants that grow in that soil then carry these thriving bacterial populations, and the animals that eat the plants do too. Human beings who choose to prepare these plants and/or animals for a meal, while drinking good water and breathing fresh air, receive the beneficial bacteria they need.
Organic raw produce and animal products have not been treated with chemicals or antibiotics, and they have not been refined, pasteurized, or irradiated. All of these practices actually kill off the beneficial bacteria. Consequently organic raw foods have the most healthy nutrition and beneficial bacteria available.
Culturing and fermenting these whole foods using traditional methods with salt (not vinegar) actually increase nutritional value and pro-life bacteria, resulting in a preserved raw food product that can be sourced locally and accessible during each season, especially through the long winter months when fresh raw food is harder to come by.
Both sauerkraut and kim chi contribute to our health through strengthening our digestion and immune system. Through fermentation the pro-life bacteria (primarily lactobacillus) in sauerkraut and kim chi have already done much of the digestive work of the food for us, making the nutrients in the food easier to assimilate.
These bacteria and their lactic acid medium help balance stomach acids, assist enzymes in breaking down proteins, and deter the growth of harmful bacteria within our gut. Beneficial bacteria line up along the wall of the intestine forming a barrier that hinders such pathogens as e. coli and salmonella from passing into the blood stream. They create antioxidants (glutathione and super oxide dismustase) that scavenge free radicals, often precursors for cancer.
On this note, sauerkraut and kim chi also have isothiocyanates which studies show potentially inhibit the growth of cancer (particularly in the breast, colon, lung, and liver) and phytochemicals which directly boost the immune system. All this healthy probiotic activity within the intestine has been found to promote good sleep and calmer behavior.
A little sauerkraut and kim chi goes a long way. A couple of tablespoons of this whole raw food contain millions of lactobacilli and about the same amount of vitamin C as a few strawberries or orange slices. The product Powerkraut is made the traditional artisan way from organic cabbage and salt, entirely processed by hand in an eco- kitchen.
It is then cultured and fermented in small batches under specific temperatures to the proper pH and taste. Try Purple Powerkraut in your holiday cranberry relish or as a splash of color and nutrition in your favorite salad. Add a bit of olive oil and black pepper to Classic Powerkraut and you have a quick and easy side dish to help digest holiday turkey or other proteins. Lightly pour toasted sesame oil and tamari on Ocean Powerkraut with some grated carrots and scallion, and you’ll convince most anyone to eat sea vegetables! Try kim chi garnishes on omelets, stir fry, and even cheese and crackers, for extra warmth and life.
Sauerkraut and kim chi have been called the “new super foods of the 21st century” and “probiotic powerhouses”. It may be true, but I hope a message these beneficial bacteria seem to offer doesn’t get drowned out through loud advertising or future big business. Through their quiet existence, good bacteria create profound, necessary activity for soil, plant, animal, and human health. It is unfortunately true: We often do not realize the importance of something until it is lacking or no longer present, and we often shut down to it’s suffering until it’s too late. Very much like the dying of many plant and animal species, the urgent call from millions of today’s suffering children, and the dwindling of creative cultural traditions around the globe, declining probiotic life calls us to connect to life and wake up to what we are destroying in our world, both outside and inside. I believe these healthy bacteria have a lot to teach us.
As I work in the garden and culture and ferment in the kitchen, and I hear at least one message through their activity, based on the basic principle of probiotic life I referred to earlier. “Please bring culture back to your world. Please fill your world with as much goodness as you can, leaving little space or place for harm to grow. Then life will flourish. It works for us, and it can work for you.”
Adrienne Caldwell, the producer of the local product “Powerkraut,” pioneered the first 100% organic hot lunch program in Wisconsin for grades 1 to 12 for three years. She has been living and working on her organic farm for five years, growing produce for Organic Valley. She also worked for WALA, an organic/biodynamic pharmacy based in Europe, where mother tinctures are made with specific fermentation and rhythmic processes.