Adding fermented foods to your child’s diet (and your own) is one of the BEST things you can do for their health. Breastmilk is made up of high quality fats and good bacteria that support digestion and gut health. Unfortunately, this is not replicated in many typical first foods for babies.
We see fermented foods as a vital part of nutrition, and the emerging research about the gut-brain axis and the gut as the epicentre of our health only reiterates the importance of feeding our gut microbiome and creating as healthy a gut as possible. Fermenting food is an ancient tradition and common practice in many traditional cultures.
Fermented foods predigest food, which allows for easier digestion for your baby, increases immunity through added probiotics, increases the bioavailability of vitamins and minerals in the food and establishes healthy bacteria in the intestine.
And whilst probiotics can be great—specifically for babies suffering eczema, requiring antibiotics, or formula feeding—the strains are limited, which means you’re only adding those exact strains of bacteria. Fermented foods, on the other hand, offer a much more diverse range of beneficial bacteria.
It’s a good idea to expose your baby to the sour and tangy taste of fermented foods from an early age. Most babies will happily eat these soured foods, as if they are designed to eat them!
You can introduce the following fermented foods to your baby:
How to introduce fermented foods to your baby:
Start SLOW with very small amounts so your baby’s system has time to adjust. If you go too hard too fast you can overthrow the good bacteria and end up with some digestive pains such as gas/bloating/diarrhoea.
Start by just dipping your finger or spoon into the fermented food of choice e.g. the brine of sauerkraut or other fermented vegetables, beetroot kvass, coconut kefir, cultured coconut yoghurt for a few introductions.
After a few small introductions can then puree the cultured vegetables/sauerkraut and spoon-feed small amounts. It can be mixed into puree but the puree should not be over body temperature as that can denature the good bacteria! Or for BLW you can pulse/finely chop the fermented foods and allow them to self-feed.
Babies can also gnaw on larger pieces of the cultured vegetables or sauerkraut under supervision.
BUYING GUIDE FOR FERMENTED FOODS:
Sauerkraut and cultured vegetables:
Found in the refrigerated section. The sauerkraut or pickles that are found on store shelves and sold at room temperature are soaked in a vinegar brine or are pasteurised (heat treated) and do not have the same health benefits.
The only ingredients on the label should be vegetables/herb/spices and salt and potentially a starter culture – no sugar or vinegar.
Choose a yoghurt with no flavours or added sugars
The more live cultures listed the better – should at least have the ABC cultures: Lactobacillus acidophilus, lactobacillus casei, lactobacillus bulgaricus
Choose organic when possible
Comes in water kefir, coconut water kefir, coconut milk kefir or dairy milk kefir.
Always should be found in the fridge section – shelf stable means has been pasteurised which denatures the beneficial bacteria.
Only ingredients should be: the type of milk (if milk based), sugar (normal ingredient needed for the fermentation process), water, any fruits/herbs/spices for flavour and a starter culture.
Making your own ferments:
There are a few ways you can create your own ferments – through the use of a culture starter or through traditional methods.
The easiest no-fail option is through the use of a starter culture, which is made up of specific bacterial strains that initiate the fermentation process. Generally the culture you buy you just add to whatever you are trying to ferment i.e adding starter culture to coconut cream to make coconut yoghurt!
Personally I use Kultured Wellness starter cultures as they are really easy to use, and end up being much more cost effective – for example one starter culture of their coconut yoghurt can make around 10L of the coconut yoghurt! It means your yoghurt is actually fermented unlike the ones in the supermarket that just have some probiotics added to them, and it means no nasty or unnecessary ingredients are added! The Kultured Wellness products have an extremely high potency CFU count (more than a probiotic!) – Yoghurt 41 billion CFU per cup and Kefir 27 billion CFU per cup)
With the Kultured Wellness products, the culture will arrive in a simple sachet. Add it to 2 litres of organic coconut cream. Leave it on your bench top for 12-24 hours, away from sunlight, the fermentation will magically occur overnight, and your coconut yoghurt will be ready in the morning. Store in your fridge for 3-6 months or until it’s devoured. Before you finish it, you just keep one cup aside. This can be used to make even more yoghurt. Add it to another 2 litres of coconut cream to create your second batch. This process can be repeated to make a total of 10 litres of coconut yoghurt.
I love their:
Coconut kefir (suitable from 6 months+)
The other option when making your own fermented foods is to wild-ferment the food! This is when you are utilising the naturally occurring bacteria and yeasts in the foods and air to ferment i.e. for sauerkraut it is being fermented through the salt and the naturally occurring cultures on the cabbage, or beetroot kvass is the salt and the naturally occurring cultures on the beetroot!
Whilst once you get started with fermenting it can become easy, it can also a be a bit daunting at first – i’d encourage you to have a look at any local fermenting classes to teach you the basics and then get creative!
In Milk to Meals we have a few simple fermented food options such as lacto-fermented apples, fermented cashew cheese and these fermented quinoa and lentil dosas! Or if you want to give making sauerkraut a try, heres an easy recipe.
Q: When can I start my baby on fermented foods?
A: You can start from when you start them on solids in very small amounts, sauerkraut brine or beetroot kvass are great to start with
Q: How often can I give fermented foods?
A: As a guide, try and include fermented foods once a day in your baby’s diet.
Q: What about the salt content in sauerkraut?
A: Whilst sauerkraut does require salt to ferment it, the small amounts offered to baby are very appropriate. We have a blog on sodium for children here.
Q: If my baby gets digestive pains/issues from fermented foods what should I do?
A: Give them a few days break until symptoms subside, then try again VERY slow, every few days and gradually increase.
Q: Can I add fermented foods to babies food?
A: Yes, but its important not to heat fermented foods past body temperature, as this will denature the beneficial bacteria! So only add to Luke-warm/cold foods. It can be frozen however!