By Deborah Murtagh (

What’s missing from today’s food supply that our healthier ancestors consumed?

What if I told you that within minutes you could preserve vegetables, fruits and herbal condiments without the use of sugar and excessive amounts of salt, all while turning your produce into a health food so powerful it rivals expensive nutritional supplements?  What if I told you that these easy to prepare preserves can balance your immune system, aid gut and bowel health and provide you with energy filling nutrients and offer mood-enhancing joy?  Welcome to the world of probiotics!  Probiotic means pro-life, the World Health Organisation defines a probiotic as ‘any living microorganism that has a health benefit when ingested and your body’.  Your body is filled with around 100 trillion bacteria weighing around 2kgs, and only now are scientists beginning to understand just how important a role these bacteria are to health.  They are now commonly referred to as “The Forgotten Organ”.

In the popular movement back toward traditional diets is a growing trend toward cultured and fermented foods that nourish the family.   These foods support good health, vitality and longevity and importantly the immune system.  Probiotics have been clinically shown to help with a range of common ailments especially inflammatory conditions such as eczema, asthma and chronic infections, but also depression, anxiety and even weight loss.  Those who would benefit the most from probiotic foods are those with a history of antibiotic and anti-inflammatory drug use as probiotic foods can really assist in healing and balancing the immune system.

Why make these at home?  They are inexpensive and fun to make and you can culture these at home effortlessly without spending hundreds of dollars on expensive probiotics from your local health shop.  In fact a one-cup serving of these preserves may contain more healthy bacteria than an entire bottle of probiotics!  Not only do cultured foods contain high amounts of probiotics, they are also more nutrient dense and more digestible than unfermented foods.

Now to prevent confusion, a ‘lacto-fermented’ food uses whey strained from natural probiotic yoghurt to inoculate bacteria into your preserve, while a ‘cultured’ food uses probiotic starter cultures.  It is recommended you utilise a wide range of cultures so that you get a wide range of probiotics into the gut.  These are available from


Lacto-fermented Probiotic Garlicspring 2013 077

The Ideal home medicine for when you are feeling under the weather.

Loads of garlic – about 8 large bulbs

2 tsp dried oregano

2 tsp juniper berries

2 tsp sea salt

2 tbsp whey (see below for instructions)


1.  With clean hands, peel the garlic and remove any blemishes.

2.  Place garlic cloves into a sterilised mason jar.

3.  Add oregano, juniper berries, salt and whey with ½ cup filtered water and pour over garlic.  Make sure the liquid comes at least an inch above the garlic, adding more water if necessary. However, the top of the liquid should be at least an inch below the top of the jar.

4.  Close lid and keep at room temperature for 3-10 days checking each day if fermentation has started.  You will notice a pop when you release the lid and the juices will fizz.

5.  Once your probiotic garlic is fizzing, move it to a cool dark place where it will keep for several years.

Note: If it is hot in your home store in the fridge once it has fermented. They soften and get better with age.

To strain whey from yoghurt, place a fine sieve lined with muslin cloth over a bowl.  Place 500mls of probiotic, natural unsweetened yoghurt, into the lined sieve and strain for 4 to 24 hours.  A clear green or yellowish liquid will strain into the bowl, this is the whey.  You can store this in a clean jar in the fridge for several weeks.  Use the thick yoghurt in the top of the sieve as you would sour cream.

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Lacto-fermented or Cultured Vegetables

Lacto-fermented pickles and vegetables are made using whey; cultured vegetables use a probiotic innoculate.  They are highly nutritious, extremely nourishing and full of beneficial bacteria as well!  This is the best way of using up left over garden produce and almost any vegetable can be preserved this way.  If you choose not to use whey, additional salt may be used; however, you won’t obtain the full health benefits.

There are so many ways of doing this and you can really experiment with making your own delicious variety, but simply put we need to learn this art, teach others how to do it and keep this food in our diets forever!
I large mason jar
vegetable grater attachment for food processer (can be done by hand but it might take a while!)
Himalayan salt
organic vegetables such as cabbage both red and green, kale, carrots, beetroot, diakon radish, spring onions, leeks, raddish, turnips, with small amount of onion, garlic and chili flakes if you like it spicy!
1-2 tsp natural whole sugar like coconut sugar or rapadura or yacon syrup (to feed the bacteria)
probiotic starter  culture like Caldwells starter culture, or ½ cup yoghurt whey

1.  Finely grate all the vegetables, or very finely slice ones that cannot be grated.wintered 030

2. Chunk up garlic if using and finely chop some of it for flavour.

3. Sprinkle well with salt (usually aorund 1 tbsp per 1 kg of packed veges) then massage and squeeze well to release all the juices from your vegetables.  This may take several minutes.  Scrunch and squeeze to get as much moisture released as possible.

4. Sprinkle with spices if using and combine well.

5.  Pack them firmly into the mason jar and using your knuckles pound vigorously until all the vegetables are packed tightly below the juice line.  You are aiming to have one inch of liquid above the vegetable line.

6.  Make sure all the vegetables are packed down firmly as air is not good for the bacteria to thrive in.

7.  Place lid on jar and sit at room temperature, covered to keep them dark, for several days until it starts bubbling and fermenting.  This could take anywhere from 2 days in summer to a week or more in winter.  For bacteria to thrive it needs to be in a warm spot.  By a fire, linen cupboard etc.

8.  After 1 week check your vegetbales. Beware that the tops will pop like champagne and the veges may be fizzy for a while, this is a sign the bacteria are doing what they are meant to.  Some recommend letting the pressure out occasionally.

9.  Once your culture has fermented for several weeks, place in the refrigerator where they will keep for a very long time!

Cultured picklesPickling cucumbers.

Cultured pickles are made in the same way as lacto-fermented vegetables; however, instead of using whey as an inoculant, we use different strains of bacteria.  My favourite  cultures are Lactobacillus plantarum and Caldwell Cultures which also include a healthy yeast.  I also use a range of cultures so visit my website for more information.

Cultured vegetables are truly fun to make, you can use larger bit size pieces of vegetables like cauliflower, gherkins, coloured carrots, baby turnips, whole raddish, pickled onions etc.

1. Prepare your vegetables by cleaning them thoroughly and removing any blemishes.  For pickles such as gherkins, remove the very tips and tails of them.  For pickled onions  and baby beetroots, for example, remove skins and tip and tail them.

2.  Place your prepared pickles into a clean mason jar.

3.  Cover with clean spring water (not chlorinated town water or it will kill you cultures).

4. Add any spices such as pickling spice, garlic, chili, mustard seeds etc that you have chosen for additional flavour.

5. Mix through your culture starter and cover in liquid covering the pickles completely yet leaving 1 inch below the top of the jar to allow for room gases caused by the bacterial fermentation.

6.  Continue to ferment as above.

7. For pickled onions, once they have fermented for several weeks, remove and reserve half the water and top with apple cider vinegar.  NOTE:  You may reuse the reserved water as a starter for your next batch of vegetables.

For more information visit

healthy kitchen



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