ON FERMENTED FOODS
Alternate Title: On the Definition of Living Foods - Prelude
by Tom Billings
This article deals specifically with the topic of fermented
foods, and whether they are really living foods. The significance of this article is that
it was the spark that made me address the topic of trying to develop an actual definition
for the term living foods (a term that means different things to different people.) There
are two more articles, to be published in future, that will address that topic more
Fermented raw foods, such as raw sauerkraut, pickles, seed
"cheese", rejuvelac, sprout milk yogurt, and even raw miso, raw soy sauce, are
important foods for many raw fooders. On the other hand, some raw fooders refuse to eat
fermented foods, or limit their consumption of fermented foods to one or two specific food
The object of this article is examine the topic of fermented
foods, and their role in raw food lifestyles. To save typing, will use FF as an
abbreviation for the term: fermented foods. Will begin by specifying some of the positive
and negative points of FF, with questions noted. Note that only lacto-bacillus based FF
are of interest; yeast based FF (e.g., alcoholic drinks) are ruled out and are not
Positive: + most FF contain lacto-bacillus (Acidophilus) and
promote good intestinal bacteria populations + very high in enzymes + reported to be
pre-digested (by bacteria), hence easier for your digestion + most FF, except for
rejuvelac, are considered tasty + seed cheeses and almond cream reportedly help
underweight raw-fooders gain and maintain body weight (see Ann Wigmore, "Rebuild Your
Health", pg. 49, for almond cream recipe; her recipe is FF) + FF are a major part of
Ann Wigmore's living foods program, which has been used by many people in healing and
overcoming serious illness + raw cabbage and cabbage family vegetables can cause severe
flatulence if eaten unfermented. The same vegetables fermented do not cause flatulence.
Negative: - most FF are very acid-forming foods; ref: Gabriel
Cousens, "Conscious Eating", pg. 129. - soy sauce contains about 1% natural MSG,
mono-sodium glutamate; ref: Glutamic Acid, Advances in Biochemistry and Physiology; L. J.
Filer, Jr. et. al. eds., pg. 27. Soy sauce, and possibly miso also, can be 0.5-2% alcohol.
The MSG and alcohol are products of natural fermentation. - except for yogurt (made from
dry culture, not rejuvelac/seed cheese), FF are considered "tamasic" by
yoga/Ayurveda. Here tamasic means that in the long term, the food has a depressing effect.
Yoga recommends avoiding tamasic food. - rejuvelac, if fermented a few more days with
honey added, becomes alcoholic; ref: Ann Wigmore, "Rebuild Your Health", pg. 52.
- although often referred to as "living foods", FF can be seen as "dying
foods". Fermentation is the process of bacterial growth in a base food that
ultimately dies. For example, a pickled carrot or beet will not sprout if planted in the
earth; a raw one will. Wheat sprouts that are decaying in water (rejuvelac) will not grow
if planted, but regular wheat sprouts will grow. In a FF, the base food eventually dies;
ultimately, the only living part is the bacteria culture that is growing on the base food.
It is thus reasonable to ask: does a living bacteria culture on a dead/dying base qualify
as a "living food"?
Q: Is sprout milk yogurt different from other fermented
A: Maybe: * yogurt (dairy yogurt) is considered
"sattvic" - balancing, soothing, by yoga/ Ayurveda. It is the only sattvic FF
recognized in yoga/Ayurveda, all others are tamasic.
* yogurt culture growth time very short; growth of culture
normally stopped, by refrigeration, before culture growth by-products (i.e., acids) are at
level that is toxic to bacteria (that is how fermentation serves as a natural preservative
- e.g., sauerkraut, pickles). Yogurt has the shortest culture time of any FF. * also as a
result of short culture growth time, yogurt is very similar in nature to original base
food - sprout milk. Indeed, the base food may still be "alive" after only 6-10
hours of culture growth. For many other FF, base food is clearly dead.
My personal evaluation of fermented foods is that they can be
useful in a raw/ living foods diet, provided one uses them in modest quantities. Their
primary advantage is that they allow one to eat certain raw vegetables, like cabbage, and
avoid the painful flatulence that can otherwise occur. Additionally, they may be helpful
to people with impaired digestion. Their biggest drawback is that they are acid-forming,
and it is easy to overeat them, due to their taste. They also stimulate digestion, which
is a plus for many people, and a minus for others. Also, they are some work to prepare.
If one is not concerned with whether FF are living foods or
not, then the most important factor in deciding whether to consume them, is how you react
to them when you eat them. If the reaction is bad, avoid them, if it is good then there is
no problem. Here reaction refers to both the immediate effect and longer term effects, as
well as side effects
P.S. those seeking recipes for raw FF are referred to books
by Ann Wigmore, Viktoras Kulvinskas, Gabriel Cousens.
ON THE DEFINITION OF LIVING FOODS - MOTIVATION
What is the precise definition of the term "living
food"? Apparently, there is no single, universally accepted answer to that question,
as I have heard raw fooders give sharply different answers to that question. A search for
written definitions of the term, living foods, did not yield an explicit definition. The
closest to a definition can be found in "Rebuild Your Health", by Ann Wigmore
(pg. 28), where she says: "Living Foods consist of super nutritious young organic
greens, power packed sprouted nuts, seeds and grains, fabulous fermented preparations and
exciting dehydrated foods." She specifically mentions rejuvelac, energy soup, and
However, with great respect, Dr. Ann has not given us a
definition; instead she has basically said that "living foods are defined as the
foods I eat". Such an approach does not provide an informative definition, only a
list of foods. A precise definition would allow one to examine a food and determine if it
qualifies as a "living food".
The problem in using a list, rather than a definition, is as
follows. One can simply define living foods as sprouts and fermented foods (in which case
there are questions about some fermented foods, per my previous article on fermented
foods). On the other hand, if one defines living foods as those foods with highest life
force energy in them (intuitively, a *very* desirable definition), then sprouts qualify,
fermented foods are again in question, and some fresh fruits/veggies consumed within a few
minutes of picking might qualify (but refrigerated, shipped produce has lost energy and
doesn't qualify). Of course, if one defines living foods as the foods with highest life
force, then dehydrated foods would not qualify. To make life even more complicated, some
people using the term living foods, specifically exclude (some) raw fruits/ veggies, even
if picked only a few minutes before eating.
Some brief thoughts on what constitutes a living food are as
* clearly fresh, raw sprouts are alive and growing/active;
hence they are living
* cooked food is dead so it is not a living food
* unsprouted raw seeds, nuts are alive in the sense that one
can activate them by soaking/sprouting. In the unsoaked form they are in suspended
animation, or "asleep". As sleep can be considered philosophically a form of
death, and they are not biologically active, they are clearly alive but probably not
living food in the sense that most use the term. (The life force energy in them is
dormant, until sprouted.)
* vegetables and fruits present some dilemmas. Most raw root
vegetables, if planted in the ground, will grow hence are alive until they spoil in
storage. If alive="living" they could qualify as living, though many raw fooders
exclude them from the term. Things like baby lettuce, greens, are alive and actively
growing at picking time, and if eaten very soon thereafter might be considered living;
however if they are refrigerated, shipped long distances, and eaten 2 weeks after picking
(while still green, before turning yellow or brown), it is unclear how much life energy is
still in them.
* the situation with most fruit is similar to lettuce, but
with the additional complication that some fruits must be picked and ripened off the tree,
an example of which is avocados. Some people include raw fruits and veggies in the term
"living foods", others specifically exclude them and refer to them only as raw
* when one considers liquids, such as honey, sprout milk,
fruit and vegetable juices, the situation is very unclear. Probably the best guidance here
is freshness of the materials used in making the liquid, and also how long the liquid is
stored. Enzymes - so long as one talks about original enzymes present in the food, not
enzymes added as a supplement - are a good measure of freshness. Some raw fooders think
enzymes = life force; that is clearly not true; enzymes are an agent of the life force but
are not the life force. (The life force is an energy; it cannot be powdered and sold in
pill form, like enzymes are.) Getting back to liquids, if the liquid is made from living
foods, and is only a few minutes old, then it should qualify as a living food itself.
* fermented foods present more definitional problems, as the
base food clearly decomposes (dies) in time, such that eventually only the bacteria of
fermentation is alive (and in some fermented foods they produce so much acid that they
literally die in their own acid "waste").
* one more complication - pollen. Is it alive? I would argue
that it is as one can remove pollen from plants, refrigerate it, then brush it on living
flowers and it works. (Talking about fresh pollen, not freeze-dried). So, it is alive, but
should it qualify as a living food?
The topic of the definition of the term, living foods, will
be discussed further in a future article.