When I was at a friend’s dinner party last month, instead of bringing a bottle of wine or a six-pack to share with guests, Karin Edgett brought homemade bottles of tart cherry, orange, carrot and grape fermented sodas. I expected a sour flavor, but I was surprised by the clean, refreshing, mildly sweet, fizzy-fruity taste I experienced. They tasted good, quenched my thirst and were good for me. I wanted to learn how to make my own.
“The sodas are water kefir, which is a probiotic,” said Edgett. “They are rich with enzymes and good bacteria that can keep your body strong, fight off bad bacteria, help you absorb nutrients and digest food better.” Edgett is a nutritional cook who teaches classes on how to prepare nutritionally dense foods and drinks.
The Importance of Probiotics
“Before the industrialization of our food and beverages in America, most every meal contained a probiotic or an enzyme-rich condiment or beverage,” explained Edgett. “Sauerkraut, cheese, yogurt, mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, pickles, sauces and salsas, wine, beer, kefirs, buttermilk and sodas all were fermented, probiotic-rich and full of digestive enzymes. By the 1970s, no food or beverages except for cheese or some yogurts had any probiotics or enzymes in them.”
According to Dr. Andrew Weil, probiotics are edible products containing the helpful or “friendly” bacteria that normally inhabit the human digestive tract. In the intestinal tract, these beneficial microbes help complete the digestive process, and some assist in the production of vitamins. Probiotics are used to increase the number of beneficial bacteria in your digestive tract. Probiotics can help to keep the digestive system in balance and functioning optimally.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that may be able to help prevent and treat some illnesses. Promoting a healthy digestive tract and a healthy immune system are their most widely studied benefits. Probiotics can be supplied through foods, beverages and dietary supplements. The root of the word comes from the Greek “pro,” meaning “promoting,” and “biotic,” meaning “life.”
Many of us need help in maintaining a healthy digestive tract. According to a 2013 survey reported by Fox News Health, 74 percent of Americans are living with gastrointestinal discomfort. In 2004, the National Institutes of Health reported about 70 million people in the United States are affected by digestive problems. Digestive disorders account for more than 104 million physician office visits per year. In 2004, digestive disorders totaled more than $141 billion in medical costs. An unhealthy gut can lead to serious medical issues.
In addition to supplying your gut with a wide range of good bacteria and helping you digest better, fermented soda also helps alkalize your body. When you use fruit flavors in water kefir you get additional nutrients from fruit.
How to Make Your Own Fermented Soda/Water Kefir
In order to make fermented soda you need a starter culture. “The water kefir soda culture is thought to have come from the prickly pear cactus,” said Edgett. “You need to get the culture from someone else or buy it. You can’t make it yourself.”
She explained that “a culture is the symbiotic colony of yeast and bacteria. Fermentation is the act of feeding that culture. During the fermentation process the culture eats all the sugar so you end up with a fizzy, tasty, sugar-free soda.”
Making the soda is a two-step process. First, create a probiotic fizzy water by feeding the culture dried fruit and sugar water. Let it sit at room temperature for 24 hours.
Add fruit juice to the fizzy water to make your flavor of choice for a natural soda. Let sit for six to 12 hours depending on how much sugar is in the juice.
Making your own probiotics can be a fun project for the summer. Fermented sodas are great for drinking with a meal. According to Edgett, drinking four ounces with every meal can be a beneficial practice for most people.
The Journey from Ad Exec to Nutritional Cook
Edgett, who has been on the Hill since 1987, found her way to becoming a nutritional cook and learned about the benefits of probiotics out of sheer necessity. When she ran her own advertising agency she never felt 100-percent healthy. “I was developing chronic health problems. In the 90s, I was so dehydrated I pulled my hamstring muscle while swimming. I couldn’t sit or drive. I was ready to give up.” But she found a doctor who began to teach her about real nutrition from food.
“Real nutrition means, in part, when food is prepared properly it can nourish your body and help your body heal itself and keep it strong.” For example, Edgett discovered the benefits of drinking fresh-squeezed orange juice versus bottled. “Fresh squeezed has compound sugars that are healthy versus single sugars in bottled juices that aren’t good for anyone. I started learning about how to maximize nutrition in what I ate and drank.”
After selling her business in 2007, Edgett traveled to Latin American countries where she lived on farms that grew and prepared traditional native foods. “My interest and curiosity became my passion and new vocation. I traveled to Colorado to study nutritional cooking – one of the only places in the country where you can become certified.”
Edgett learned how to marinate meat and fish to make nutrients; how to break down fibers, phytic acids, oxalates and enzyme inhibitors and how to properly soak, germinate and ferment nuts and seeds and legumes for maximum bioavailability. For example, dried chick peas contain enzyme inhibitors, phytic acids and fibrous skins which cause nutrients to be indigestible or unavailable. If prepared correctly – soaking in warm water with a neutralizer (lemon, vinegar or whey) up to 24 hours, removing skin, rinsing and boiling in a pot with two inches of water covering the peas and finally simmering at low boil for two to four hours until tender – all their nutrients become bioavailable.
Fermented soda is one of the easiest ways to ease into the world of eating healthily. It’s a great way to replace a habit of drinking regular sodas or diet sodas with a comparable-tasting liquid that has much more nutritional value.
If you’d like to schedule a class with Karin Edgett or if you have any questions, email her at [email protected] or contact her through www.karinedgett.com.
Pattie Cinelli is a holistic health and fitness consultant who likes to create success outside of the box. She challenges stereotypical assumptions and creates new beliefs and ideas about health, fitness and aging well. Pattie’s a journalist who has been writing her columns for more than 25 years. You may contact her at [email protected]. Pattie will be on summer vacation for the next two months. Her column will return in the September Hill Rag.