Get a (health) kick out of fermenting your own probiotic-rich foods

Gassy foods are trending thanks to being good for the gut, writes Leigh-Anne Hunter

11 December 2017 - 12:17 By Leigh-Anne Hunter
Locally brewed kombucha.
Locally brewed kombucha.
Image: Supplied

"Kefir, kombucha, jun, rejuvelac, kvass." Yes, she can talk "foreign", says Jeanne Rae, listing just a few fermented and cultured foods and drinks out there. These age-old concoctions are making a huge comeback around the world.

With a background in massage therapy, Rae's "Cultured Kitchen" workshops in Hermanus and Stanford in the Western Cape teach people to make their own fermented and cultured foods. Often the workshops are full.

Indeed, these gassy foods are trending globally, particularly because of their health benefits.

"A cultured and fermented food [''cultured" meaning that it uses cultures to ferment] is a food that is rich in good microbes - bacteria that help our gut to flourish," she says. "These lactic acid-producing bacteria [or probiotics] help acidify the digestive tract, creating an environment conducive to the growth of healthy bacteria."

Rather than spend a fortune on probiotics in pill form, social media sites have sprouted worldwide with people doing a swift trade in heirloom Bulgarian cultures ... kefir grains ... you name it. Welcome to the era of fermenting.

More companies are emerging that supply these foods to the retail market.

Theonista is a homegrown company that has produced "craft kombucha" in South Africa for the past five years. Think rooibos and naartjie, activated charcoal, ginger maté, mint pelargonium ... all flavours that "brewmistress" Meghan Werner, who came to South Africa from the US with a background in public health and policy, started experimenting with in her small kitchen when she couldn't find what she was looking for in the market.

She delivered her creations to customers by foot and bicycle. Eventually demand meant moving to Theonista's manufacturing facility in Woodstock, Cape Town. The company employs nine people.

Image: Brewmistress Meghan Werner, founder of Theonista.

"We saw 100% growth in the first year and more than 50% growth annually since then," says Werner.

"We are continually scaling up production to meet demand. The trend towards healthy food, lower-sugar foods and plant-based eating is on the rise worldwide and fermented foods are part of that."

Despite the huge boom, she says they continue to produce in small batches and all by hand. The trend is on the rise in South Africa.

"I was virtually the only person talking about kombucha for a long time and it was initially a ton of work to explain it to people and get retailers to give it a chance. Now there are more than a dozen brands."

The company sells "brew kits" to encourage people to experiment with home brewing.

Traditionally fermented raw kombucha is chock-full of living probiotics, organic enzymes, polyphenols, vitamins, minerals and amino acids, says Werner, leading to enhanced digestion, improved immunity and aiding detoxification.


“The gut is being termed ‘the second brain’, ” says Jeanne Rae. “Ninety percent of the body’s serotonin and dopamine are produced in the gut. You can imagine if you’re sitting with a kilogram of toxins in your stomach, you’re going to be a miserable git.”

Rae, however, cautions that newbies should start by consuming small amounts. “With good bacteria trying to kill bad bacteria, you have what they call die-off.”

During this detox phase, people can experience flu-like symptoms. Since the sugar gets munched up you shouldn’t have to worry about high-sugar content, but Rae says diabetics should be cautious.

Also be aware of contamination risks. “We are dealing with a wild ferment. It’s not a controlled thing. Which means other bacteria could be introduced. So you need to be aware of the signs of contamination.”


This moreish, probiotic-rich pancake recipe from Jeanne Rae will get your day started with a health kick. (It does, however, assume that you know the basics of fermenting. If you don’t, get practising!)

Milk kefir crumpets.
Milk kefir crumpets.
Image: Jeanne Rae



500ml flour (use stone-ground unbleached sifted flour if possible)

2 eggs

50ml honey

1 ½ tbsp cultured butter, melted (see recipe below), plus extra to serve

4 tsp baking powder

⅓ tsp salt

250ml milk Kefir

Mixed seeds, to serve


1. Beat the eggs and honey.

2. Add half of the milk kefir and the melted cultured butter to the egg mixture and stir

3. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together and add to the egg mixture.

4. Gradually stir in the remaining milk to form a smooth mixture.

5. Drop spoonfuls of the batter into a lightly greased heavy-bottom frying pan. Turn once the top is full of air bubbles and cook on the other side till golden.

6. Make a stack of crumpets and a drizzle vanilla butter between each crumpet. Sprinkle a mixture of sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and linseeds over the top.

Cook's tip: The batter can be placed in the fridge and will last a good few days if you don’t want to make all of the crumpets in one go.


  • Ferment a litre of cream as you would milk kefir.
  • When ready, place in a jar with plenty of space. Close the lid tightly and shake (about 45 minutes) until it separates into a solid mass of butter and whey.
  • Pour off the whey and rinse the butter under cold water. Add salt to taste and a few drops of vanilla essence.
  • Refrigerate until you are ready to use it.

• This article was originally published in The Times .