Do fermented foods have a place in the paleo diet? Although the concept of eating only pre-agricultural foods is subject to many variations, in its strictest application one is limited to fresh, non- processed meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, eggs, nuts, seeds and healthy oils. Fermentation dates only as far back as the neolithic era, but even if our paleolithic ancestors had not yet discovered the magic of storing food in earth pits and clay pots for later use, it's still the world's oldest method of preservation and can be applied to many of the items on the list above.
The process of fermentation allows the beneficial bacteria that already exists everywhere in the environment to proliferate, thereby inhibiting the growth of contaminating bacteria that cause food poisoning. For this reason, fermentation is not only absolutely safe, but it can transform many fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy (kefir) and beverages (kombucha) into a fabulous source of probiotics, the healthy microbes that live in your gut and play a key role in your body's immune system. It also gives a substantial vitamin and mineral boost to ingredients that are already highly nutritious, and creates unlimited possibilities for paleo "fast foods" when keeping up with fresh and perishable ingredients presents a challenge. Once the raw, roasted and sautéed starts feeling repetitive, this method provides a great option for creating ready-made choices to have on hand. Given these considerations, fermented (or cultured) foods arguably deserve a place on the roster for even the purest paleo practitioner.
You won't find fermented foods widely available in the supermarket. Many things that have been traditionally preserved by culturing are now "pickled" for longer shelf life. The difference is that fermentation encourages bacteria growth (the good kind) while canning or pickling destroys all bacteria so it can be stored indefinitely. Sauerkraut, for instance, is probably one fermented food familiar to most people. But there are only a few specialty brands available, usually in health food stores or co-ops, that are prepared the traditional way. For this reason, it's a great idea to learn the simple process of culturing your favorite things at home. Paleo or not, you'll enjoy the flavor and variety of these superfoods. Here's a quick and easy recipe to get you started.
6-8 large carrots sliced lengthwise to fit upright in a quart glass jar, leaving about 2 inches at the top. This also works with cucumbers, green beans, sliced green or red peppers, etc. Once you get the basic idea you can experiment with almost anything!
2-4 tsps sea salt (adjust to taste)
Fill the quart jar with water to cover the carrots, close up the jar and let it sit at room temperature away from direct light. Try them out after about 3 days. If they're crispy, tangy and delicious, put them in the fridge. If they still just taste like raw carrots let them sit out another day or so, but don't let them go until they get mushy. Once they are chilled, they're delicious to eat straight out of the jar or with a dip. They'll stay for weeks in the refrigerator (if they last that long!)