So many of us, myself included, buy expensive store-bought probiotics to bump up the gut flora when needed. But honestly, the most effective (and inexpensive!) probiotics out there, are those that can be made at home.
As spring vibes start kicking in, many ask us if prepackaged probiotics are truly effective. And if we take a look at scientific studies, all of them are based on the health benefits of naturally occurring probiotics in fermented foods. And while prepackaged probiotic products can be life-saving when in a pinch or on the move, oftentimes if they’re poorly handled (lack of refrigeration), or old (lack of alive cultures) they are ineffective. So essentially, if they’re past their prime, you’re basically just in taking some sort of powder made of who knows what.
Ok, so what EXACTLY are PROBIOTICS?
Probiotics are microorganisms like bacteria and yeast, that promote healthy gut functioning. Probiotics can be found in a handful of foods, and they’re known for their ability to improve and maintain a healthy microbiome, which is the entire gut’s ecology. The medicinal properties of probiotics are numerous and will do much more than just keep your microbiome healthy.
Some of the major health benefits attributed to probiotics include improvement of the entire gastrointestinal system, enhancement of the immune system, reduction of serum cholesterol, cancer prevention, treatment of irritable bowel-associated diarrheas, antihypertensive effects as well as improvement of lactose metabolism and other common allergens.
Don't let the name similarities fool you! Prebiotics and probiotics are two very different things, yet they are both key players that greatly assist the microbiome’s health. Prebiotics are found in rich fibrous foods such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, and they can be understood as the nutritive soil of the gastrointestinal system. While probiotics are live microorganisms within foods that improve the “good” bacteria; Like the seeds that enliven the soil and bring the microorganisms in, assisting in metabolism and essential biological actions within the microbiome. Although they interact and greatly need each other, you can consume one without the other.
Both are often supplemented, but they sure don’t have to be! In fact, consuming a variety of foods and ferments can provide enough prebiotics and probiotics to support gut health. If you’re purchasing probiotics, be sure they’re alive. Oftentimes mismanagement by major grocery stores, long periods of transit without refrigeration, or even bad manufacturing processes determines the effectiveness of your powder. And, it is important that you are actually exposing your gut flora to a variety of good bacteria that actually match the environment that you live in. If your gut is only consuming the same information, the variety of microorganisms that you’re receiving is limited. This inhibits variety, effectivity, adaptability within the gut’s microbiota.
Common Foods that Contain Probiotics are:
- Krauts (Sauerkraut, Kimchi, etc)
- Pickles (Try pickling all sorts of veggies!)
- Raw Vinegar (Homemade vinegar is the best!)
- Raw Yogurt (Use plant-based and/or be sure to source from small dairy producers)
- Miso (Choose soy-free if possible)
- Fermented drinks (Kombucha, Tepache, Kvass)
*All must be raw, and not pasteurized*
While you can purchase most of these in your local supermarket, it’s both fun and rewarding to make your own probiotics at home. Making your own also allows you to adjust the recipe to your liking, according to your taste.
Probiotic drinks or sauerkraut are two easy ways to start if you’re new to this. For most probiotic drinks out there, like kombucha or ‘tepache’ fruit is usually the main yeast source, or sugar with tea. Tepache ‘te-par-chey’. is a Mexican drink made of pineapple peel, sugar, and cinnamon. It is a delicious drink, that is somewhat like kombucha, loaded with naturally occurring probiotics, prebiotics, and antioxidants. It's fun, and easier than kombucha if you want to switch it up a bit.
How to Make Your Own Probiotics
A FERMENTED DRINK MADE FROM SPROUTED GRAINS
Rejuvelac is a fermented drink made from sprouted grains. It contains probiotics and lactic acid and is the primary culturing agent for many nut cheeses. And! Although the classic drink is from berries, you could use any kind of grains (or a mix) and make it gluten-free, barley, kamut, amaranth, quinoa, and more. The fermentation extracts most of the nutrients from the berries for a delicious, fresh-tasting drink. The leftover berries don’t have much nutritional value but you can place them in compost to feed your garden.
- 1 cup wheat berries (or other whole grains such as quinoa, amaranth, kamut, barley, or rye berries)
- 6 cups filtered water
The best grains to use, other than the classic wheat berries, are:
- Brown Rice
- Rye Berries
Half-gallon mason jar (or smaller if you’re reducing size)
Sprouting lid - You can also use the ring of the mason jar lid and a double layer of cheesecloth or cut some plastic mesh to fit the mason jar ring, but the sprouting lid is pretty easy, and reusable.
Soak and sprout the grains: Put the grains in a glass half-gallon mason jar and fill with water. Screw on the sprouting lid. Allow soaking at room temperature for 8-12 hours.
Using the sprouting lid as a strainer, drain, then add just enough water to keep the grains moist, but not so much that they are immersed in water.
Put the jar in a warm place on the counter out of direct sunlight for 1 to 3 days and rinse the grains twice a day, each time draining well and adding just enough fresh water to moisten them. Continue this process until the grains have begun to sprout.
They will be ready when the grains have little white tails emerging.
Culture the rejuvelac: Fill the jar with 6 cups of fresh filtered water. Screw on the sprouting lid. Put the jar in a warm place on the counter out of direct sunlight for 1 to 3 days. The liquid will turn cloudy white, a bit bubbly, and foamy on the top. It will have a tart, cheesy-ish, fermented smell. Strain the liquid into clean glass jars and discard the grains.
Rejuvelac will keep covered in the refrigerator for about a week!
*Note: Make sure the grains used for the recipe are not pre-sprouted.
Photos by Emily Honeycutt of Deliciously Green
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