Podcast Episode #98: Fermented with Jill Ciciarelli

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Jill Ciciarelli - Author of Fermented1. Introduction to Jill Ciciarelli, health coach and author [13:25] 2. Historical Relevance of Fermentation [20:15] 3. Best Ferments for Beginners [24:46] 4. Quality Materials & Nutrient Bioavailability [30:55] 5. Kombucha Crash Course [34:22] 6. Healthy Skin Though Fermented Foods [48:42] 7. Common Fermentation Concerns [51:37]

Check out the blog tomorrow for a Fermentation 101 post with Jill, and a giveaway of three copies of her new book!

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Fermented CoverDiane Sanfilippo: Hey, guys, so I wanted to give you a quick introduction before we launch into our episode interviewing Jill Ciciarelli of the new book Fermented. I wanted to tell you guys that we are super excited to have two amazing show sponsors.

Liz Wolfe: Yay!

Diane Sanfilippo: Yay! So these are some companies that we actually reached out to and said: Hey, we love your company. We love your product. We would love to invite you to become show sponsors. We have had many, many companies approach us in the past, but we basically are like an exclusive nightclub over here, and only the best of the best are getting in!

Liz Wolfe: So we’re left standing outside, and our sponsors are partying without us.

Diane Sanfilippo: They’re wearing better shoes.

Liz Wolfe: [Laughter]

Diane Sanfilippo: OK, so our first amazing show sponsor is Chameleon Cold-Brew. Some of you may have heard us talk about Chameleon Cold-Brew in the past. I tried it for the first time at PaleoFX, which was at the end of March, and I – no joke – said to whomever was standing next to me: This is the first time I’ve ever had black coffee that didn’t taste bad. It was amazing. It was smooth. I didn’t feel like I needed to put a bunch of extra stuff in it.

Liz Wolfe: It sounds like you might be on it right now.

Diane Sanfilippo: Possibly.

Liz Wolfe: Possibly.

Diane Sanfilippo: I didn’t know why, but I found out from the company, and we’ll talk more about them as time goes on. They’re going to be a sponsor with us for a couple of months, actually, so we’re super excited to be able to introduce their product and talk about the company and all that, too, guys. But I found out that the whole cold-brew process actually makes it so that the oils and the tannins in the coffee beans don’t mix with the water because they don’t mix with cold water, so you get a less acidic, smoother tasting product, which was evidenced by my taste test! So it’s pretty cool, and I guess what happens, too, when you brew a pot of hot coffee, the oils tend to oxidize a little bit, and we know that from other things that we’re cooking, other types of oils, so that’s why if you let hot coffee sit out for a while it gets a little bit rancid and it’s just not that great tasting. So what you get with cold brew is something that’s much smoother, mild tasting, and you can do different things with it. You can drink it cold, or you can actually heat it up. And it does sort of have, like, an expiration. It lasts for a long time, but it’s one of those things where it’s a fresh product, so it’s sold cold, and they will ship it to you cold. You can order it from ChameleonColdBrew.com. We’ll put a link on the blog post. We’ll actually also try and get a coupon code for you guys. So go over to BalancedBites.com, check out the blog post for this episode, Episode 98, and we will link to them. We’ll get you a coupon code, and you should definitely check it out if you love coffee. Anything else, Liz? I know you love it, too.

Liz Wolfe: I love it. Well, they’re in some stores. I know they’re at Wegmans in South Jersey. I’ve seen them in, I think, a couple Whole Foods before. But yeah, I wrote about them once. I drank a whole bottle, not realizing it was, like, 4x caffeine. Man, that stuff goes down easy.

Diane Sanfilippo: Yeah, it’s actually a lot of servings in one bottle, and what you’re supposed to do is dilute it, which I know some people don’t do, but I do it because otherwise I will go through way too much of it at once. And you’re really spending about the same as you would if you just went to a coffee shop, probably even less than if you went to a coffee shop and had them make you an iced coffee, so you can do it at home, and I’ve been doing that pretty much every day and it’s been great, and it doesn’t make me feel weird at all or jittery or any of that. It’s just really delicious. If people get it in stores and you want to just let Chameleon know that you heard about it from us, just hop onto their Facebook page or Twitter or post something up somewhere and let them know: Hey, I tried your product, and I heard about it from Balanced Bites. Thanks so much. I love it, because I’m sure you will!

So who’s next? Our other amazing show sponsor is Pete’s Paleo, and you guys probably heard our interview with Pete and Sarah a couple weeks ago, Pete and Sarah Servold. They are based in Southern California, and they are launching, or they have already launched, actually, their nationwide shipping of amazing paleo meals. They had been working out of local CrossFit gyms and other venues in Southern California, which if you live in Southern California in the San Diego area, you can check them out and get meals fresh at different locations. But if you’re not in Southern California, they’ve been shipping meals, and I know, Liz, you’ve gotten some meals shipped to you, right?

Liz Wolfe: Yes, I have, and they have been a total godsend the last week and a half. Phenomenal. So good, so easy. It’s weird because I never really did understand how helpful it is, how it helps guide your choices to have something that good available that’s that quick to make because in all honesty, with how hard we’re working right now with the homestead, how hard my husband is working, there is that temptation. Like, I really don’t want to fix anything. – I know: too bad, so sad. – But versus making a choice that’s probably not as good when I’m that tired at the end of the day and when I’m not willing to put in the effort to really make or think about making a good dinner, I am so thrilled to be able to open up my bag from Pete’s Paleo and just literally defrost these things really quick in a bath of warm water and cook them up in about 5 minutes. What did we have last night? We had clove-smoked or clove-roasted brisket with acorn squash and braised kale. Man, that was good.

Diane Sanfilippo: Awesome.

Liz Wolfe: Yeah.

Diane Sanfilippo: Yeah, the other thing about what Pete’s Paleo has been making, which I’ve definitely been enjoying immensely, is their bacon. You guys have probably heard me talk about different kinds of bacon that I like. There was one that I really liked out in California, but you know what? I can’t get it here. And then I tried Pete’s Paleo bacon, and this stuff is, like, legit, meaty, really amazing smoky taste, not overly sweet. Like, it really just tastes like pork meat bacon. I mean, it’s like no other bacon you’ve tried.

Liz Wolfe: Yeah.

Diane Sanfilippo: It’s just super meaty.

Liz Wolfe: It melts in your mouth.

Diane Sanfilippo: And you can cut it. They send it to you in a slab because that’s how pork belly would come, and it’s up to you to cut it however you want, which is kind of cool because you just just slice it into some nice thick slices of bacon and bake it or pan fry it, or you can cut it into cubes and things like that, which is sort of when you find pancetta or something like that in the grocery store. So you can do anything you want with it. Their bacon is amazing.

We will also get you a coupon code to enter for Pete’s Paleo. Just check out their website, PetesPaleo.com. Also their sourcing is really, really high quality. There may be some meal services out there, and maybe there are some that are doing grass-fed meats, maybe some organic produce here and there, but I think one thing that we really love about Pete’s Paleo is that Pete is a chef by trade and he’s really, really committed to serving people amazing quality food and always sourcing from the farms who are doing it right. And I think that was probably – outside of us having become friends with Pete and Sarah because they’re just on an amazing mission and we love what they’re doing – that was one of the things about his company that to me was something that I said: We want to support this because you’re really doing it right. So if you’re having any issues getting higher quality stuff by you, you want to have some stuff on hand, check out Pete’s Paleo, and we have a special tip on the fact that as the new 21-Day Sugar Detox book launches, they will have meals that are tagged especially for The 21-Day Sugar Detox. So keep an eye out for that if you’re going to be doing the sugar detox. There will be meals that you can order that will help you through your three weeks!

Liz Wolfe: Very good.

Diane Sanfilippo: Awesome. So keep your ears out for what’s coming up with our sponsors in the coming months.

Liz Wolfe: Love it!

Diane Sanfilippo: All right, let’s get on to Jill’s episode here.

Liz Wolfe: Welcome to Balanced Bites Podcast #98. Oh, my gosh, 98. We've been friends for, like, at least 98 weeks, Diane. I'm terrible. So we have a special guest today. We're really excited to have our friend, Jill Ciciarelli:. Did I do that right? Did I do a good job?

Jill Ciciarelli: That sounded pretty good!

Liz Wolfe: Jill Ciciarelli: and Diane Sanfilippo.

Diane Sanfilippo: Oh, my gosh.

Liz Wolfe: I'm telling you, I miss the East Coast. Jill is the author of a fabulous new book. It will be out next week, so queue up at Amazon and get ready to order this book because you definitely need it. It's called Fermented: A Four-Season Approach to Paleo Probiotic Foods. If you listen to us often, Diane and myself are both huge fans of fermented foods, especially the kind that one makes oneself, so we're really excited to have Jill on to talk about her new book and ask her some questions about fermentation. So welcome to the podcast, Jill!

Jill Ciciarelli: Thank you so much for having me! I'm very excited.

Liz Wolfe: You and I have hung out just a couple of times, but you are by far one of my favorite people with the best glasses and the best hair…

Jill Ciciarelli: Oh, my stars, thank you.

Liz Wolfe: And the best expressions and the best last name.

Jill Ciciarelli: Too bad this is not a video podcast where everyone can see both of our fabulosity. You too, Diane. You're also fabulous.

Diane Sanfilippo: Except that's exactly why it's not a video podcast because we're lucky I'm even mostly dressed today.

Liz Wolfe: Diane has a retainer in…

Diane Sanfilippo: And, like, bobby pins in my hair and a high ponytail right on top of my head.

Jill Ciciarelli: The underside of the Balanced Bites Podcast. That's what this is.

Liz Wolfe: Yeah. I was this close to accidentally video calling you guys, and I shut my computer really, really fast just to avoid being seen because I have my glasses on with my computer glasses over those glasses.

Diane Sanfilippo: Shut up.

Liz Wolfe: And they're not meant to fit over those glasses. I'm not kidding.

Diane Sanfilippo: Why don't you just turn on f.lux during the day?

Liz Wolfe: What's f.lux? I'm flummoxed! What is f.lux.

Diane Sanfilippo: F.lux is a thing on your computer that you can download and install that'll cast an orange hue over your whole screen.

Liz Wolfe: No.

Diane Sanfilippo: Yeah. What?! Where have you been?

Liz Wolfe: I don't use the Internet, Diane.

Diane Sanfilippo: You were born on the Internet. What are you talking about?

Liz Wolfe: I don't even plug my iPhone into my computer.

Diane Sanfilippo: I mean, it's not great for just around the house when you're trying to keep that blue light out of your eyes. I know that's kind of the purpose for it, although I have these awesome new/antique light bulbs in some of my lights, which I think are a little bit nicer warm, orange glow, but anyway, yeah, it's called f.lux. They have a new URL. It's JustGetFlux.com.

Liz Wolfe: I like it.

Diane Sanfilippo: OK. I wish you could get it for your phone, your iPhone, but you can't. You have to jailbreak your iPhone if you want to put it on there, which I can't break rules like that. It's too stressful for me. But you can put it your computer, and when it gets later at night, it just starts to gradually dim and orange-out your computer, which is fine for most people. For a graphic designer, I don't recommend turning that on and forgetting that you've done so, but for everyone else…

Liz Wolfe: So when I'm patching together pictures in Paintbrush for Mac, you wouldn't recommend it.

Diane Sanfilippo: Right, and you're, like: I'm looking really tan in this picture! This is awesome! And then the next day it comes up and you're like: Why do I look pasty?! That would be why, yeah.

Liz Wolfe: Tangent!

Diane Sanfilippo: Yeah, totally. Anyway.

Introduction to Jill Ciciarelli, health coach and author [13:25]

Liz Wolfe: Anywho. So, OK, Jill, I would love to hear, first of all, a little bit from you about how you came to write this book and why.

Jill Ciciarelli: Well, it was an accident. I stumbled into it. I've been fermenting for a while, and I have to give a little shout-out to my other friend, Liz, local Liz who lives here in Pittsburgh with me, who awhile back gave me a kombucha SCOBY, and she said: Here, you need to maybe explore this. She is the one who got me into it. So I've been fermenting things here and there for a little while, and about a year ago, a little over a year ago, I decided to write a little self-published eBook about kombucha making because I got a lot of questions about it from my friends and clients and things like that. So I was assembling the book and I just got asked if I would be interested in writing a real, bound, available-in-bookstores book about kombucha making, but I said no because there's not that much to say about kombucha that you could fill up 200 pages about it. The process is pretty simple, and while there are many things you can do with it, it's not a 200-page volume about what you could do. So the idea expanded into a full-fledged fermentation book about different types of fermentation, and I was very, very excited to say yes, and that's how it happened.

Liz Wolfe: Fabulous. You also run a business called First Comes Health.

Jill Ciciarelli: Yes.

Liz Wolfe: Do you want to talk about that quickly? You were talking about answering questions for clients. Tell us what you do professionally through First Comes Health.

Jill Ciciarelli: Professionally I am a holistic health coach, so I help people who need to or want to start to eat right and lose weight and get in better shape and feel better about food and get more in touch with food, and I do it through ancestral ways of eating, so paleo, primal, Weston A. Price, all my jam, all my gig. So when people come to me and say: I don't know anything about food. I need to turn my life around. I need to drop some pounds. I need to figure out how to get in touch and feel better and live a better life through food, that's what I do. I help them. And my business is First Comes Health.

Diane Sanfilippo: Cool.

Jill Ciciarelli: The name came to me in a dream.

Diane Sanfilippo: Ooo, tell us about that!

Jill Ciciarelli: One day several years ago, before I opened my business, I was trying to think of a catchy name, something that sounded kind of cool and it wasn't just, like, Jill's Health Coaching. I had gone to a party at a German restaurant here in the ‘Burgh, and there was a really large guy at this party who was playing the accordion and singing and yodeling and whatever, and I wasn't quite sure if this yodeling was coming out of this man. He didn't seem like a yodeler, and I wasn't that close to him, so I wasn't sure if it was actually him, so I went up to him on his break, and I asked him if he was the yodeler, and he said yes. And as a result, that night I had a dream about him. And in the dream, he turned to me and said: First comes health!

Diane Sanfilippo: That's wild!

Jill Ciciarelli: And I woke up and said to myself: That's a catchy name! And so I wrote it down and the next morning I ran it by a few people, and they said: That's really pretty good! I like that. That's kind of catchy and it's memorable. And I thought: And it comes with a really great story about a big, giant man in my dream.

Diane Sanfilippo: I don't even know how to explain that pretty much right when I met you, Jill, I think I can count on one hand the number of people who I think are just, like, I don't know… so cool and have these amazing personalities and are just such interesting, nice people –

Jill Ciciarelli: Aww!

Diane Sanfilippo: – that I just was like: She's so cool! I just want to be her friend. Like, there's no way to really explain how that happens, but anyway.

Jill Ciciarelli: Well, thanks!

Diane Sanfilippo: You're welcome! I want to tell people quickly that I first met Jill at a book release party for Food Lovers a couple years ago, right?

Jill Ciciarelli: That's right.

Diane Sanfilippo: Was it their Make it Paleo party? Yeah. It's almost funny that I feel like we would have known each other before that just because it feels like now I've known you for so long.

Jill Ciciarelli: I know.

Diane Sanfilippo: But it's weird that I only met them about two years ago! So we met at that party, and since then, we've talked a lot about health coaching and working with clients and then obviously about fermentation as well, and you quickly became my go-to girl whenever people asked me for details about fermentation than I really have, and then subsequently I wrote the forward for the book. This is obviously a topic that I'm really excited and passionate about, but I just don't consider myself the expert on it, you know? I do some home ferments, but this book – I've obviously been able to see the whole thing – it's so much more information. We talked about the new book Beyond Bacon a little bit, I think, a couple weeks ago and how it's so much more information about pork and pork fat and all the stuff that you never knew there was so much to talk about, and it's the same thing with fermentation. I mean, I love that you give people some history and just a lot more information than a quick blog post could ever do, so I'm really glad that you wrote this book because I'm psyched to support it, and I'm psyched to be able to have people come to you for the information because I think you're a trustworthy resource, so I'm really excited about that.

Jill Ciciarelli: Well, thank you. I was really excited about the opportunity to write about a broader sense of fermentation, not just kombucha, which I originally had wanted to do, because it is a very interesting topic. I mean, it's kind of trendy now, but it's been happening for centuries, even longer than centuries. It goes back many, many, many, many, many, many centuries. It's a very interesting topic, and I was really excited to be able to write about it. And I love to do it, and I think it's important for the diet.

Historical Relevance of Fermentation [20:15]

Diane Sanfilippo: Before we go into some of our… we have some personally indulgent questions that we just want to ask you about fermentation, and we have some, I think, from your readers and some that we know that we get a lot from our readers. But why don't you just tell us a little bit about briefly kind of the historical relevance of fermentation and exactly why it is one of those things that's so pervasive through different cultures? We talk about this paleo approach to eating as ancestral and something we've been doing for a long time, but fermentation definitely comes right along with that, so can you just give people a quick primer on that?

Jill Ciciarelli: Well, it started off as a way for people to preserve the food that they had. Whenever they found food or grew their own food or harvested their own food… Obviously back in the day, nobody had refrigeration or ways to preserve it, and this was a way that people found to alter the food in such a way to make sure that it kept for the times of the year when food was not readily available. I think it just so happened that it introduced beneficial bacteria into people's diets and helped them live longer and live more healthfully, but because it started off as a way to preserve food, I think that's why it was popular all over the place and in different cultures around the world, but also it was necessary for survival for a lot of folks.

Diane Sanfilippo: Yeah, definitely. It kind of makes me laugh. I remember I posted a picture of my refrigerator at some point over the winter, and somebody commented, like: What's with all the jars? Why don't you have more fresh produce? And I was like: Well, first of all, it's winter, so what's seasonal around here isn't so abundant. But eating fermented foods over the winter, especially, as a way to get in some carbohydrate and some vitamin C, because I know things like sauerkraut are really rich in vitamin C, it was like, well, this is a traditional way of keeping vegetables in my fridge without worrying that they're going to go bad because they're already “bad” on purpose, right? I think, Liz, you're like that too, right? Jill, you must have, like, 4000 jars in your fridge, right?

Jill Ciciarelli: I do. I do. Right after I finished this book, I was like: I don’t want to see another jar for the rest of my life. I gave a lot of things away. We ate a lot of whatever I had made for the book, but then I'm slowly building things back up, especially now that it's summertime because there are so many really great fruits and vegetables around now, so I'm getting as much as I can and trying to preserve not only just with fermentation, but canning and dehydrating just so that later on in the year I'll have some “fresh” things. I mean, they'll be changed a little bit, but still good.

Liz Wolfe: One of my goals out here on this whole homesteading journey that's happening right now is to start canning, to put together… and I know nothing about root cellars, but I do know that this house is equipped to do that because this house is really, really old, so the canning, the root cellar deal, the fermentation, all that good stuff is on my list. Of course, I thought we would have done that already, but certain things get in the way when you have big plans, but I'm excited about that, and I hope your next book is on canning and root cellaring.

Jill Ciciarelli: Well, maybe. Maybe not root cellaring. I live in a high rise, so I have no root cellar.

Liz Wolfe: Shoot.

Jill Ciciarelli: Sorry.

Diane Sanfilippo: Ooo, can we give our listeners a really quick little bit of inside information about Jill? If you have the awesome book Gather: The Art of Paleo Entertaining, Jill's abode is where the New Year's party was shot.

Jill Ciciarelli: That's true.

Diane Sanfilippo: So you're famous more than four ways now.

Jill Ciciarelli: I guess my apartment is famous, too, yeah.

Diane Sanfilippo: Your apartment is famous. Is there a picture of you in there? I think there probably is.

Jill Ciciarelli: I think there's a picture of the back of my head in there.

Diane Sanfilippo: Yes! Awesome.

Liz Wolfe: And the back of your head is extraordinary, truly.

Diane Sanfilippo: Shiny golden locks. All right, Liz, you want to roll into some questions here?

Best Ferments for Beginners [24:46]

Liz Wolfe: Yes, so I'm going to start with a kind of selfish question because this is what I'm wondering for myself right now. What ferment is perfect for beginners? The cabbage is doing really well this year, so I wasn't sure if cabbage was the place to start, or what's the best for beginners?

Jill Ciciarelli: I would say that there are three things, three basic things that are very, very good for people who just want to start fermenting, and it depends on the direction that somebody wants to go with fermentation or their tastes or what they have available or anything like that. The first thing I would say is, you mentioned, Liz, cabbage, and sauerkraut is a very easy, very basic ferment to start with. It is really, really easy to make sauerkraut. You need nothing more than a glass jar, a knife, some salt, and a fresh cabbage, so that is a very, very easy way to begin. Of course, you can jazz it up and add different seasonings, different spices, other vegetables to it, but if you're just looking for a very standard beginners' ferment, that's a really great way to go.

The second one is fermenting carrots, and I really like this personally over cabbage, over sauerkraut, because I just happen to really like the taste of fermented carrots. They tend to be a lot sweeter than sauerkraut in their final result, they take really well to other sweet things that you can add to them, but they also take really well to savory spices, so whenever you would experiment with fermenting carrots, you can go either sweet or savory. So I think those two right there are very places to begin. And also with fermenting carrots, you need the exact same things that you need with fermenting cabbage. You need, obviously, a bunch of carrots, a knife, a glass jar, a little bit of salt, and you're good to go.

Personally, I began fermenting with kombucha. As I mentioned before, a friend of mine gave me a SCOBY and said this is something that you need to do, and I thought that you needed a bunch of fancy equipment and specialized testing materials and bottling this and that, and you can get complicated with it, but kombucha is extremely easy to make, it's very tasty, and I think it's a very good gateway into the world of fermentation because the results are very tasty and appealing to a lot of people and very easy to be personalized. Because I went that way first, I think it's a good idea.

Diane Sanfilippo: The point about the fermented carrots, that's one that I tell people who are especially curious about avoiding fermented goitrogenic vegetables like sauerkraut from standard cabbage because when we talk about thyroid health and all of that, goitrogenic vegetables aren't super problematic when people are just kind of eating them casually whenever they come up. Cooking actually reduces goitrogens, but fermentation increases them, so it's just one of those things where sometimes people also start to eat their sauerkraut and they're like: Wow, this is so tasty! And they eat tons of it at a time when really we don't need to eat a lot of it. So anyway, I love that fermented carrots are an option, and I love that you said that they're one that you would definitely recommend for a beginner because that just kind of reinforces that that's what I've been telling people, so I'm like: Oh good! That was good advice!

Jill Ciciarelli: Well, sometimes sauerkraut, especially to people who want to feed fermented foods to their kids, sauerkraut has a really strong flavor that doesn't appeal to a lot of people, and carrots are a lot more mild, and like I said, they're a lot sweeter, and I think they just have a broader appeal. I'll make sauerkraut periodically, but I typically have fermented carrots in my refrigerator just because I like them better and I try to eat a little bit of fermented food each morning with my breakfast, and sometimes sauerkraut is just too pungent for the morning.

Diane Sanfilippo: Yeah, for sure. It's definitely an acquired taste, so I think that's really good advice. I think people are going to really start taking to that. I get the question a lot, like, how can I make myself like sauerkraut? And for a lot of people, it's just keep trying it different ways and over time you realize it's not so scary, but yeah, at first it can be really off-putting.

Jill Ciciarelli: Well, something I want to add to that is, I get the question, too, how can I make myself like sauerkraut? I don't know why you would make yourself like anything. There are so many things. You can ferment almost anything in the world, so if sauerkraut doesn't hold any appeal or tastes weird, don't do it.

Liz Wolfe: You can ferment fish. I mean…

Jill Ciciarelli: Yeah.

Diane Sanfilippo: Do you guys watch Portlandia?

Jill Ciciarelli: I don't.

Liz Wolfe: Put a bird on it, Diane!

Diane Sanfilippo: As soon as Jill said you can ferment pretty much anything, I started thinking of the skit they do that says: We can pickle that! You can pickle anything. Oh, you have to watch this. I know something about pop culture that nobody else knows!

Liz Wolfe: Because that's not normal people pop culture.

Diane Sanfilippo: Everybody listening right now who's in Portland, which is, like, 95% of our listener base, they all know what I'm talking about.

Jill Ciciarelli: I just want to give a plug to Pittsburgh. I guess they say Pittsburgh the new Portland. So sorry, Portland.

Diane Sanfilippo: Pittsburgh is definitely the Portland of the East –

Jill Ciciarelli: Of the East.

Diane Sanfilippo: – because I've been to both, and I'll tell you, I have a better appreciation for Pittsburgh after being in Portland because I'm like: Wow, it really does kind of look like Portland. But there are definitely not as many hipsters. I mean, there are, there definitely are, but Portland definitely has more of them. Anyway. We digress. Liz?

Quality Materials & Nutrient Bioavailability [30:55]

Liz Wolfe: Yeah, I had a couple follow-up questions. First – and I imagine I know the answer to this, and then I'm going to go back to kombucha for a second – Jill, any of these things that we're fermenting, I imagine you're encouraging people to go local and to go organic or even if it's not labeled organic to buy from a producer that's responsible and not using a bunch of chemicals, a chemical cocktail.

Jill Ciciarelli: That's right because when you ferment food, you're changing the chemical structure of the food, you're changing the texture of the food, you're changing the flavor of the food, and if you start with shoddy materials, you'll end up with an even more concentrated version of shoddy materials. So definitely, if you can afford it, if it's well within your means, definitely go local, go organic, go as natural and as high quality as you can get. You want to start with quality because you'll end with even better quality.

Liz Wolfe: I think this is a really cool call-out – and definitely, obviously, correct me if I'm wrong – but when you're fermenting, you're actually making nutrition more bioavailable. So if you're going to spend money on really quality food, yet you're on a budget, I think fermentation is probably a fantastic thing to incorporate because you're actually getting more nutrients out of this type of food. Is that right?

Jill Ciciarelli: That is right. I tell people you can go out and buy a cabbage and eat a leaf of the cabbage, and you're going to get fiber and all kinds of good things from that leaf of cabbage, but if you ferment the same leaf, your body will be better equipped to take more from that same leaf of cabbage than it would had you fermented it. Yes, it makes it much easier on your body to take the nutrients from the food that you eat. So especially with fermentation, it is very important to pay attention to the quality of your food.

Liz Wolfe: I love that. I'm so excited!

Diane Sanfilippo: Is that because we're basically… fermentation is almost like a pre-digestion?

Jill Ciciarelli: Yes. That's exactly right because you're working on it outside of your body and breaking it down and introducing the kinds of bacteria that your body would already introduce to it inside your body, so it just does the work for you partially. Plus it tastes tasty.

Diane Sanfilippo: Yeah, and I think that's probably also what people need to hear, that the bacteria are doing some of this pre-digestion work, but then when we eat the fermented food, that's the bacteria that we're getting into our system that maybe we don't necessarily have completely at the time, which will help us to digest all other food as well.

Jill Ciciarelli: Right. In the book, I kind of explain the bacterial colony that we have living inside of us is almost like the armed forces. We need to make sure they're healthy. We need to make sure that they're taken out of active duty if they are weary and need repair. We need to send fresh people in there. So yes, this is something that we need to renew and refresh periodically, regularly, in order to keep ourselves healthy.

Kombucha Crash Course [34:22]

Liz Wolfe: So Jill, I want to quickly circle back around to talking a little bit about kombucha again. I actually have a SCOBY sitting out on my countertop. I'm going to put that all together today. You've inspired me to get that done finally.

Jill Ciciarelli: Oh, good!

Liz Wolfe: Yeah! So number one quick question: If somebody gives you a SCOBY… Well, let's talk first, what is a SCOBY?

Jill Ciciarelli: A SCOBY is a starter, and many times whenever you ferment something, you need to have a bacterial starter, a collection of bacteria in some form that will get the fermentation ball rolling. SCOBY stands for Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast. When you make kombucha, you need this type of starter that is specific to kombucha making that helps the tea to start to ferment. There are several different types of SCOBYs for different types of ferments, but definitely you need a kombucha SCOBY in order to start fermenting tea into kombucha.

Liz Wolfe: So a SCOBY is just kind of a blob of bacteria and yeast that you use to… You basically feed it with some sugar, right? So we blend tea with sugar and add the SCOBY, and the little critters in the SCOBY will start to eat that sugar. It's feeding them, and they'll kind of off-gas different beneficial acids and enzymes. Is that pretty much right?

Jill Ciciarelli: Absolutely correct, yes. Whenever you start to make kombucha, you're going to start with an amount, a half-gallon or a gallon or several cups of tea that is overly sweetened, that has more sugar in it than you would want to drink yourself. The sugar is not for you to ingest; it's for the bacteria and yeast in your SCOBY to ingest. And they are the ones who need that as fuel in order to properly ferment your tea into kombucha.

Liz Wolfe: Perfect. So we're not actually eating/drinking all that sugar. It's just feeding the little colony, the little critters.

Jill Ciciarelli: Right. And the longer you let a batch of kombucha ferment, the less sugar will be in it. In fact, you can start with tea that is very, very, very sweetened and let it ferment all the way to the point where it's actually very sour and has turned to vinegar.

Liz Wolfe: So is that OK once it gets to that point, because I actually prefer kind of a more tart kombucha versus sweet? Do you as well, or do you prefer something a little sweeter?

Jill Ciciarelli: I also prefer a tart kombucha. I let mine get to be a little bit tart. And also if you forget about it or if you happen to be too busy and your kombucha ferments longer than you want it to in order to drink it, if it tastes too sour at that point, you can use it as you would vinegar.

Liz Wolfe: So interesting! One of the things I've been playing around with is different types of facial toners, and I've heard a lot about people using kombucha in skincare, which I think is really interesting and we'll have to talk about that more another time, but I definitely use apple cider vinegar a lot for skincare, so maybe I should sub that out for some very tart kombucha and see what kind of mileage I get. OK, I'm going to continue with this kombucha line of questioning quickly, and then we'll try and bring Diane back in.

Jill Ciciarelli: OK.

Liz Wolfe: Diane dropped out just a second ago, for the folks that are listening, and we'll try and get her back in after I have my selfish time with Jill, asking all about kombucha.

The other question I wanted to ask was – and I think we were kind of getting into this when we cut out a little bit earlier – When your kombucha gets really tart, even if you're happy with that nice, tart, even kind of vinegary flavor, do you also need to make sure you're feeding it? I mean, can it starve a little bit in the absence of enough sugar?

Jill Ciciarelli: If you let it go for a very, very, very long time, yes, you can damage your SCOBY or kill it, and then you wouldn't be able to reuse that SCOBY again, obviously, but it takes a very long time. I had a couple of batches of kombucha that I wanted to try to make into very strong vinegar, and I let it sit for about two months. And I checked it every couple of days to make sure that there was no mold and no bugs in it, and it stayed healthy in that regard. But then after I was done with my little vinegar experiment, I wanted to make regular kombucha that I would drink as a drink, and the SCOBY was just as healthy. It still worked. So it takes a lot of time for a SCOBY to starve to death and die off. They're hardy little creatures. You do have to pamper them a little bit. You make sure that they do have some food, that they're not in total darkness, that you're not freezing them or overheating them, but they can last a long time.

Liz Wolfe: OK, very good to know. And how do you know – and I know this is all in your book, but just one last question about kombucha since I'm about to get that started. Backing up, I was given a beautiful SCOBY by somebody a couple of days ago, and I just wasn't ready to get it started, so I put it in the fridge. The SCOBY is in a jar with some juice and everything like that. So how long can you wait? Say, if you mail-order a SCOBY from, like, Kombucha Kamp or from somewhere else, or if somebody gives you a SCOBY, how long do you have before you have to get to fermenting?

Jill Ciciarelli: It depends on how you store it. I mean, you've put yours in the refrigerator, so you'll have quite a long time as long as it's in some sweetened tea, as long as it's sitting in a nice medium with some food that it can eat in the meantime, but in the refrigerator it would be very, very long. I've heard of people keeping them in the fridge for several months, although I wouldn't. I would tend to want to use them a little bit before that. If you keep them out on the counter, as long as they're covered and not getting any mold in them or, as I mentioned before, insects or insect eggs or anything like that. I would say a couple of weeks, maybe a week or two. It won't go rotten or go bad. They're hardy, but you do want to treat them right. So give it a couple of weeks outside of the refrigerator, maybe a couple of months if you're storing it in the refrigerator. I don't recommend that you ever freeze a SCOBY. That can kill it.

Liz Wolfe: Kind of like… well, I was going to make an analogy to frozen mealworms that I'm giving my chickens, but maybe I won't do that. Maybe I won't do that. But yes, freezing things can kill them, that's for sure.

Jill Ciciarelli: Yes.

Liz Wolfe: So last question, and this is actually from a reader, Carmen, about kombucha, and then we'll move on to a few other things: Carmen wants to know, “Why doesn't my home-brew kombucha taste like the store-bought brands? How can I make home-brew taste amazing in order to get my friends to jump on the kombucha bandwagon?” Any thoughts on that?

Jill Ciciarelli: Well, it's very hard to standardize kombucha from batch to batch. It's very hard to standardize any kind of ferment from batch to batch. Typically store bought, they're made in enormous quantities, and usually these companies who make them have some kind of special equipment where they can measure exactly the amount of sugar that is in a batch to start and measure exactly the amount of sugar that is there after it has been fermenting for a week or two, so it's a lot easier to standardize and make it taste consistent from batch to batch when you have large batches and a lot of equipment to help you do so. At home you can get it to taste a certain way, and you can get it to taste good from batch to batch, but it's very hard to get it to taste the same from batch from batch.

Why it doesn't taste the same as store-bought kombucha, I don't know. Without knowing how somebody's batch of kombucha is different from a store-bought batch, that's hard to troubleshoot. But keep in mind that fermentation depends on many, many different things: what kinds of bacteria and yeast are in your SCOBY, what kinds of bacteria and yeast are in the air around where you are. Where I live in Pittsburgh, I have different yeast and bacteria in the air than someone who lives in another area. So that could have something to do with it. It could be the kind of [indiscernible] they start with. It could be the kind of sugar that they use. If someone is flavoring their kombucha [indiscernible] they use, the flavoring that they use, so there are many, many, many variables here that it's hard to answer something like this to say this is why your home-brewed kombucha doesn't taste the same as store bought.

But how to get it to taste good in order for your friends to jump on the bandwagon, I would say to keep experimenting with different flavorings. I mean if you start off with a really good tea that tastes good, and if you serve it to your friends plain, it should taste really good that way. But if they like something a little bit more fruity or that reminds them more of pop or something that they might drink regularly or trying to get out of their diets and they did drink it regularly, flavoring things in different ways and being a little adventurous, I think, is a creative way to get people interested in what you're making and maybe pass on the hobby to them, too.

Liz Wolfe: Yeah, definitely. Diane has always added fruit after the fact, which is something that I usually don't take the time to do. But when she's ready to bottle her kombucha, she'll add a little bit of mango or some strawberry to it, that type of thing. I'm a little bit, I guess, minimalist when it comes to this stuff.

Jill Ciciarelli: You're a kombucha purist, Liz.

Liz Wolfe: I'm a kombucha purist. Exactly. Well, I think it's actually really cool about ferments, this idea that you were talking about, that unique bacterial imprint of your own environment, because our health, I think, in a lot of ways is a product of how our bodies themselves, how our cells are set up and interacting with the beneficial bacteria inside of our bodies, and it makes sense that wherever it is we live we can take a piece of that unique bacterial imprint into our bodies using fermented foods, foods that we ferment ourselves. And I think naturally it stands to reason that those types of bacteria that we get from our own environments will help us be healthier in those environments.

Jill Ciciarelli: That's right.

Liz Wolfe: Which is part of the reason I love this, and as many times as I mess all this stuff up because everybody knows that I'm a terrible cook and I ruin things, but I'm going to really, really try to get this right because I think that there is so much value in fermenting your own food versus buying it at the store, where it was fermented in California and sent to Kansas City and so on and so forth.

Jill Ciciarelli: Right. Something else that I would add to that is even though in my book I have a lot of recipes and there are things that I really truly believe are really good as stand-alone things, I really do encourage people to experiment on their own. What I like and what works well in my kitchen may not be what appeals to other people, and I think that you can take a good idea out of a book like mine or something that somebody else is doing that you happen to see on a blog or in another book and put your own spin on it and make it your own. And that's something I really like about fermentation, is that it's very customizable, it's easily personalized, and there are no hard and fast rules. It's almost the opposite of baking, where baking has to be very precise measurements and there's a lot of science and chemistry going on whenever you bake anything, but with fermentation, while there is a lot of science and chemistry happening, it's not rigid. You don't have to have specific measurements. You don't have to have specific ingredients. You can freewheel it and be creative on your own and create something that's unique to you or unique to the place where you live or try a new ingredient or a new spice or a new herb in something and make it your own, and I do encourage people to do that with the recipes I have in my book or any recipes for something fermented that they happen to find elsewhere.

Liz Wolfe: Very cool. Well, I'm excited to get started. I cannot wait to get your book finally… finally!

Jill Ciciarelli: Well, thank you.

Liz Wolfe: I've been watching your journey, the photographs, hearing all about it from Bill and Hayley, and I cannot wait to get it.

Jill Ciciarelli: I do have to give a shout-out to Bill and Hayley. Bill Staley took all the photos for Fermented, and they could not have come out better. I was just so pleased that they helped me as much as they did, and it was fun having them over at my house for many, many days, and the three of us had a really great time. It was just fun. So thanks, Bill and Hayley!

Liz Wolfe: Thanks, guys! They were on our show just a couple of weeks ago talking about The 30-Day Intro to Paleo Cooking and Gather, and they're just great people in this community.

Jill Ciciarelli: I agree.

Liz Wolfe: Yeah.

Jill Ciciarelli: Good friends.

Liz Wolfe: Good friends, good times.

Healthy Skin Though Fermented Foods [48:42]

So let's talk quickly – or not quickly – about health benefits of eating fermented foods even beyond digestive health. We talked about probiotics, but beyond that, what are some of the health benefits of fermentation that you're excited about?

Jill Ciciarelli: Well, personally one of the reasons why I was so interested – and you can even chime in here, too, Liz, because you're the real expert on this – but personally one of the reasons why I got started with this is because my skin was bad. And somebody mentioned to me and it might have even been you, Liz, although I don’t remember. It could've been you. Anyway, somebody mentioned to me: Hey, if you incorporate some fermented food into your diet, that can help your skin clear up. I had very bad acne all along my jawline and all along my chin, and one of the things that I started doing after adopting a paleo diet was introducing fermented foods into my diet. I first went out and bought things that I found in my co-op and my little grocery store close by, and when I started making my own fermented food, voila! My skin started to get a lot better. So that's another reason why I got into it. And like I said, maybe you can speak more to that, being the skincare expert that you are, but that's something that I do point people to in the book, is that it can do a lot for your outer beauty as well.

Liz Wolfe: I completely agree. Long ago, before I ever wrote anything about skincare or started talking about it publicly, I wrote a post on my blog about the three or four basic things that I did as kind of my very first skin intervention, my very first “skintervention,” and what I did was to add the fermented cod liver oil. There you go: another product of fermentation.

Jill Ciciarelli: Yes.

Liz Wolfe: I added fermented cabbage, so I added kraut and made sure to get a little bit of that every single day. I think that was probably most valuable, not just because of the probiotics, but also because of the sulfur, which is really important for skin health, and the more bioavailable nutrients, like we talked about fermentation increases the bioavailability of nutrients in food, so I think those were the two probably keys in the lock for me when I first decided I cannot take my skin looking like this anymore. I'm going to do something. I'm going to really make a concerted effort to add in those things every single day that I know should help my skin. So I totally know where you're coming from.

Jill Ciciarelli: Yeah. I mean, maybe that wasn't the best reason to start doing it because I like people to say: Oh, I did it for my gut health! But whatever it takes.

Common Fermentation Concerns [51:37]

Liz Wolfe: Agreed. So are there any questions in particular that people come to you with, like, any troubleshooting that people end up needing to do when they're first starting out with fermentation, right off the top of your head that you can help folks with?

Jill Ciciarelli: There are two things that maybe aren't quite troubleshooting, but two concerns that people bring. The first is, isn't it unsafe? And the short answer is, no, it's not unsafe. Obviously this has been a regular practice in people's lives for centuries, and if it were unsafe, we probably wouldn't be around or as robust of a society as we are. No, it's not unsafe. Yes, you are introducing bacteria into food, and I think something that I disagree with about our modern society is that we're taught that bacteria, across the board, are bad. Certainly there are bad bacteria out there, the bacteria that cause infection and disease and terrible, terrible things to happen, but the kind of bacteria that grows with fermentation or the kind of bacteria that we are culturing and cultivating and encouraging through fermentation is the kind of bacteria that we want. We are filled with more bacteria inside our bodies than we are with our own human cells. They outnumber us by 10:1, so bacteria are a good thing. We cannot live without them, we need them, and please do not fear all bacteria. Definitely fear the bad ones and things that are cause sickness and infection, but the kinds of bacteria that we want in fermentation are the good kind, the kind that we can't live without, so do not be afraid. So that's one thing I get a lot is, isn't it unsafe, and bacteria are bad, right? No, it's not.

Liz Wolfe: Mm-hmm.

Jill Ciciarelli: The second thing is people will say: What about mold? And very often whenever you start to ferment something or not even just when you start, whenever you ferment anything, you'll get a little bit of mold growing on your things. Now, depending on what you're fermenting, mold can be bad or mold can be no big deal. If you're making any kind of fermented beverage – so kombucha, kefir, water kefir, kvass, which is fermented vegetable juice – you do not want any mold. If you see mold, it's time to throw in the towel and start from scratch. However, if you're doing any kind of fermentation of [indiscernible] so if you're making sauerkraut or the carrots I mentioned previously or you're fermenting cucumbers to make pickles, and through the process of fermentation, if you happen to see a few speckles of mold here and there on the top, it's not really something to freak out about and throw the whole batch away. It's perfectly safe to wipe away the mold and make sure that there aren't any really big chunks or it or traces of it on the surface of your ferment, and toss it away and you're going to be fine. So those are the two things I get most often: Aren't bacteria bad? And I found mold; does that mean it has gone bad or rotten? And mostly the answer is no, but if you're fermenting beverages, the answer is yes.

Liz Wolfe: Kind of like when you scrape off the burnt spot on a piece of toast back in the day when we used to eat toast.

Jill Ciciarelli: Exactly.

Liz Wolfe: No big deal.

Jill Ciciarelli: Right. It's just one little spot that you need to get rid of, and the rest of it is fine.

Liz Wolfe: I love what you said about not fearing bacteria because it is hilarious, the whole germophobia where we're sanitizing our hands and we're sanitizing our countertops and all of those things, and I'm thinking this is really just an action that we carry out to make us feel better about our environments when really – not to say our environments are totally out of our control – but we do have to be realistic about, hey, if we're wiping off the countertops, what about the sides of the cabinets? And what about the couch that we're sitting on? There's just no way that we're going to get rid of all bacteria or all germs, but what we do need to do is try to cultivate good bacteria to fight off the bad bacteria and to boost our immune systems to the point that we can fight off the bad stuff.

Jill Ciciarelli: That's right. The other thing I want to say about bacteria is when you're fermenting things, there are a few different styles of fermentation. I mean, there are controlled fermentations or fermentations that you actually use, as I mentioned previously, some kind of starter. Like, a SCOBY is a starter. It starts the fermentation ball rolling. It gets the tea to start fermenting into kombucha. It gets milk starting to ferment into yogurt. And you need something, some kind of bacteria-rich medium to get the ball rolling. But there's this other type of fermentation called wild fermentation, and whenever you make sauerkraut or fermented carrots or you're shredding up turnips to make sauerruben or you're making pickles or something like that, you don't necessarily need a bacterial starter. You can use one, but you don't necessarily need one. If you're making sauerkraut and you're shredding up cabbage and you're putting salt in it and you're creating a brine and you're packing it into a glass vessel of some kind, you're not “starting” it with any type of bacteria. What you're doing is you're relying on the bacteria that's on the leaves of cabbage and that are in the air around us and that happen to be on the knife that you're using to start the fermentation process. This is wild fermentation. This is what that means, is that you're just taking what's in the air naturally, you're taking what's on your produce naturally and cultivating that good stuff. And if you've sanitized and sterilized your environment, that's not going to start, it's going to take a longer time. It might not have a rich colony of bacteria to begin. It might go bad before the bacteria ever take hold of the ferment, and it will not work out for you. So yeah, sanitation, you certainly want your environment to be clean, but you don't want it to be sterilized and devoid of everything because that can work against you, as you said, with your immune system, but also with certain types of ferments, too.

Liz Wolfe: Definitely. We don't want to, I guess, create a vacuum so much as cultivate the right type of bacteria, whether it's in our body, in our environment, or in our food. And this is kind of a cool way to learn to harness good bacteria, I guess.

Jill Ciciarelli: Yeah. Definitely, I agree. Put away the Purell and get your hands a little bit dirty.

Liz Wolfe: I love that. Put away the Purell. I'm writing that down. That'd be a good blog post.

Jill Ciciarelli: Yes!

Liz Wolfe: All right, well, that's that, everyone. Fermented: A Four-Season Approach to Paleo Probiotic Foods by Jill Ciciarelli: is out on August 6. You can pre-order it on Amazon. I've had a sneak peek, and it's really phenomenal. I wouldn't expect anything less from our friend Jill. So definitely pick that up. We will be back next week with questions. Until then, you can find Jill at FirstComesHealth.com, and you can find her book on Amazon. Be sure to visit her Facebook page of the same name. Diane is at BalancedBites.com. Diane, we missed you today. Sorry.

Jill Ciciarelli: Sorry, Diane!

Liz Wolfe: Bye! Sorry, Diane! And you can find me, Liz, at CaveGirlEats.com. Thanks for listening, everyone. We'll talk to you next week.

Cheers! Diane & Liz

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