Note: This is an AIP (autoimmune protocol) recipe but even if you’re not doing the AIP and are simply interested in enhancing your gut health and natural probiotic intake, you’ve come to the right place. A separate, traditional vinegar-based fire cider will also be posted in the near future. You can also take “gut shots“ from things like fermented pickle brine, kraut brine, and beet kvass.
I will give sports drinks this: they taste better. Whereas my normal recipes need to be both healthy and delicious, the purpose of this drink is to support your health and digestive tract in a major way. Don’t let the beautiful color deceive you. (I actually don’t mind the taste at all but I just wanted to throw this caveat out there up front.) So if we’re talking about the primal, probiotic electrolyte drink your body was built for, this is it. I’ll discuss some ways to enhance the flavor at the end.
Fire cider has been becoming increasingly popular. It is a traditional folk remedy with practically unlimited variations. The liquid used is normally an organic apple cider vinegar, filled with potent antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory components like onion, garlic, horseradish, ginger and turmeric, citrus fruits, and hot peppers. Peppers of course contain capsaicin, which you may be surprised to learn is anti-inflammatory on the digestive tract for a number of people. However, this is often not the case for those with chronic digestive conditions.
After at least a month sitting at room temperatures, the vinegar draws out a large number of the minerals, vitamins, and nutrients to create a potent tonic. The final vinegar concoction is often consumed as a shot, frequently with honey included in the tonic or added when served. It creates a fiery feel (in a positive sense for its loyal fans) in the mouth and gut. It also quickly stimulates blood circulation.
Although there are fermented versions to be found (which of necessity must be prepared with a saltwater brine rather than vinegar), it’s not that common. When thinking of the needs of someone doing the AIP, however, I arrived at the conclusion that a lacto-fermented fire cider is preferable. What’s more, studies are showing that heavy, regular vinegar consumption damages your teeth and esophagus, and potentially your gut as well.
While there can be some benefit of limited vinegar consumption to the digestive system (it can kill unhealthy bacteria for one thing), I can’t imagine someone with ulcers or other stomach inflammation wanting to take spicy vinegar shots in the morning. (That said, vinegar is permitted on the AIP and you certainly can give it a “shot” if you want; pun intended. However, nightshades, including hot peppers, are not allowed on the AIP, so be careful about what’s in your fire cider.)
Fermented foods in general are good for those with gut health issues. They make the nutrients in food easier to absorb and the food easier to digest. Furthermore, the probiotic bacteria helps keep harmful bacteria at bay by supplanting them. Did you know that in many countries shots of pickle juice (fermented, not vinegar) are taken after meals or sips between bites? I experienced this firsthand in Egypt.
Of course, while cucumbers could be added to this recipe, I went with a variety of other fruits and veggies with differing benefits on the digestive system. If you are a fermented pickle maker/eater, I do recommend drinking the juice rather than wasting it, or using it in things like salad dressing or marinades.
As with all my recipes, this really just serves a template or set of guidelines. If the thought of drinking something with fermented onions and garlic (or adding it to your smoothie, etc.) sounds gross, or you have bad digestive reactions to onion, for example, then omit those and make up the difference with AIP fruits and veggies that you do like or which you know your digestive system responds well to.
It is important to maintain a healthy balance between fruits and veggies. Using only fruits will make the cider more prone to producing alcohol or kahm yeast, which can give an off flavor. Consider adding carrots, celery, beets, or other AIP veggies.
Although there is ginger in this recipe, a known gut anti-inflammatory, more can certainly be added (same goes for turmeric). Also, a great variety of hard and soft herbs are AIP-compliant and can be added.
This recipe uses three cups of saltwater brine per a half gallon jar. This is heavy on the brine side for a ferment, but the reason is to create a large quantity of liquid. I go easier on the salt level in this recipe too compared to other ferments, in order to speed up the rate of fermentation and make the “cider” more palatable (less salty tasting).
However, salt is not a bad thing even if it gets a bad rap. If you think about a drink like Gatorade, although I don’t consider it a healthy drink, the reason it was developed for athletes was to help replace electrolytes lost in exercise.
Therefore, unless you are at any risk for consumption of salts, I recommend using a high-quality, mineral rich salt. Normally this isn’t really a priority for me in my recipes and I personally use and advise any standard non-iodized canning salt. In this case, however, I’d recommend you up the intrinsic health value by using a salt rich in minerals such as pink Himalayan salt, which has 84 minerals, or Celtic sea salt, the salt lowest in sodium and highest in calcium and magnesium.
If you have a health condition in which salt is to be avoided or minimized, I do not recommend a salt-brine-based fire cider like this. However, you can always consult a licensed physician.
If you’re new(er) to fermenting: a note concerning flavor and fermentation. Given the ingredients like cherries and pineapple, for the first few days, you may really enjoy the smell that will emanate from the airlock and assume that the final product will be some delicious gatorade-flavored godsend. The salt, onion, and garlic notwithstanding, the flavor will probably still be pretty sweet for a couple days. But the fermentation process is such that healthy bacteria like lactobacillus will multiply and increasingly consume these sugars and convert them to CO2 (your fun fizzy bubbles) and lactic acid. This is actually what you want. So while I won’t advise you to wait months (at which point the lactobacillus populations will actually start to decrease), I do recommend fermenting for at least 1-2 weeks before refrigerating. Remember, you are drinking something like the ultimate probiotic gut shot, not soda pop. That said, hopefully you can enjoy it and I will offer some ideas at the end to improve the flavor or experience.
You will need: knife and cutting board; measuring cups and spoons; half gallon fermenting jar (or two quarts) with airlock lid or other fermenting vessel. A weight to submerge the produce is strongly recommended.
Unlike some other ferments in which a lid can be used and “burped,” this ferment tends to get extremely active and gassy. Use of an airlock is strongly recommended. In any event, the jar can be placed in a bowl which will catch any overflow. Just take a look at this video of my AIP fire cider ferment with a regular lid and no burp for 24 hours.
Ingredients: Organic produce is recommended to whatever extent possible
- 3 cups filtered or distilled water
- 15g non-iodized salt (just shy of a Tablespoon); a mineral rich salt like this is recommended; if fermenting in the summer and your home tends to be warm, you may opt to use 1 heaping TBSP
- 150g halved & pitted dark cherries (~15-20 cherries), or 150g mixed or other berries. (Note that I kept the stems in the ferment as they are a potent source of LABs, lactic acid-producing bacteria. Similarly, strawberry tops can be retained.)
- 1/2 pineapple, cubed (skins and core removed) (~300-350g)
- 1 hand of ginger, sliced (~80-100g), or more
- 3 fingers of turmeric root, sliced (~40-50g), or more
- 1 orange, sliced, the peel removed (peel can get bitter but is good for you, consider adding some zest)
- 1 lemon, sliced, peel removed (optionally add some zest)
- 1 medium onion, sliced (if organic, consider including peel but wash first)
- 9-10 cloves garlic (~40-50g), quartered (if organic, consider including peels but wash first)
- 2-5 lemongrass stalks, chopped into 1″ pieces
- Dried hibiscus, 5g (optional)
- Any herbs as desired (e.g. cinnamon stick, rosemary, thyme, lemon verbena, lavender, parsley, mint, etc.) – they are excellent for digestion – keep whole
1.) Dissolve the salt in the water either by heating in a clean saucepan (and return to room temperature) or shaking vigorously in a jar.
2.) Lightly wash all produce with cool water.
3..) Cut all the produce as described in the ingredients section above.
4.) Place the smallest and most debris-prone items into your jar first, aiming to have them covered by larger pieces such as the pineapple chunks, which can go at the top. (However, any added herbs are advised to be placed at the top and be removed when you eventually refrigerate your ferment.)
5.) Slowly pour the brine solution into the jar, reaching to within an inch of the shoulder of the jar (this may use up all the brine you have).
6.) Add a fermentation weight to submerge all the veggies and raise the brine level to reduce air space.
7.) Cap the ferment with the airlock/lid. Allow to ferment at room temperatures anywhere from 1-2 weeks. Note that the longer you wait, the more sour and pungent it will be. At the chosen time, remove all the veggies, herbs, and fruit. These may still be eaten. They are probiotic rich and full of fiber which isn’t in the liquid.
More notes about consumption below.
- Different types of healthy bacteria will predominate at different points. You might even wish to start one ferment a week or two after the other, then begin using both of them after the younger one has fermented a week. This will give you a week old fire cider and a 2-3 week old fire cider. They will both be teeming with healthy probiotic bacteria but the exact varieties will differ somewhat.
- If you want to try sweeter, less pungent version of this drink, you can also opt to just ferment for a couple days before refrigerating. While the flavor may be much more to your liking, it will have considerably less probiotic bacteria and activity.
- Just as with vinegar fire cider, you may opt to take this drink as a shot, including with honey added, such as in the morning after eating. I recommend adding the honey to the shot when it’s time to drink it and not mixing them beforehand in the fridge. Be aware that adding honey to a cold liquid will harden it and make it difficult to mix with a spoon. You either will want to wait until the cider comes to room temperature, or if you’re using the cider in blender smoothies the honey will mix right in.
- To change things up or to make it more palatable, you could also add the shot to your regular morning smoothie or mix with fruit. It can also be added to salad dressing or poured over veggies.
- Using it as a brine or marinade or in soups may be flavorful and have some benefits to gut health, but heating probiotic bacteria kills them and will largely reduce their anti-inflammatory properties.
- What to do with the fruit chunks (i.e. cherries, pineapple, etc.)? Certainly you can eat these too and they are good for your health. They are full of fiber which is not present in the liquid, which is also essential to good gut health. Like the cider, you can blend it into your smoothie. They will of course taste much different than those fruits do fresh, and much more sour.
- If you’re interested in more AIP recipes, please check out my AIP Garlic Pickles and Beef Bone Broth. More coming soon.