It was the Mediterranean Preserved Lemons that put me in mind of other kinds of pickled citrus. And of course the famous Indian lime pickle recipe–Nimbu Ka Achaar–is what first came to mind. Have you ever had it? It’s pretty great.
Whereas preserved lemon is bright and lemony in a rather smooth and pleasant way, Indian lime pickle is all up in your face with intensely sour, hot, spicy, salty flavors. It refuses to be ignored. If you’re eating anything sort of bland or boring, like lentils for instance, just add some lime pickle and it’ll liven that party right on up.
Preserved Foods and the Gut Microbiome
We like naturally fermented stuff, because it’s good for our gut. Right? Or so everyone tells us. This science of the gut microbiome is still in its infancy, and it’s pretty fascinating. It’s pretty clear that the make up of microorganisms in our gut is related to our health in significant ways. For instance, did you know that:
- Infants born via Cesarian section delivery have significantly lower bacterial richness and diversity in their little baby guts than children born via vaginal birth. Apparently it’s true. You get your first bacteria from your mom, and not just from breast milk and swapping spit. And getting this bacteria is important. For instance, there is demographic evidence that suggests that people born via Cesarean section have a higher incidence of Celiac Disease than the rest of the population. Consequently, some researchers suggest slathering c-section babies with their mother’s microbes to compensate.
- People with a more diverse gut micrbiome tend to be leaner than people with less diverse microbiota? It’s true. Imagine this: researchers take identical twins, one of whom is lean and one of whom is obese. And they insert some gut bacteria from each into some mice. The mice who got the obese twin’s gut bacteria gained more weight and fat than the mice who got the lean twin’s gut bacteria.
- It’s possible to treat and even cure some diseases via gut microbe transplants from another person to import good bacteria into the sick person’s gut. It’s a little nasty to think about (ahem! fecal transplants), but it’s been done.
- There have been rare cases where a person’s gut get’s overrun with Saccharomyces cerevisiae (brewer’s yeast) to such an extent that every time that person eats a lot of carbs that person’s gut literally ferments those carbs into alcohol, making that person drunk! Hey, I’m not making this shit up! It’s called Auto-Brewery Syndrome, and while it sounds like a cheap way to catch a buzz, I bet it sucks!
- The diversity and richness of gut microbiota in humans who have had relatively little contact with the modern world is vastly richer than that of the typical modern American, who eats processed foods, takes antibiotics, and sanitizes the hell out of everything. This is horrible. Many of the critters in our guts are dying out, and a lot of them are beneficial, and this very well may have a lot to do with many modern ailments.
As I think you will agree, this stuff is freakin’ fascinating! And I have a personal stake in it as well. There’s a growing body of evidence that suggests that the make up of the gut microbiome is related to auto-immune inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis (which I have), Crohn’s disease, Celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and type 1 diabetes. It may also be implicated in cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and type 2 diabetes (which I also have). And we already mentioned obesity. These tend to be modern Western diseases, and it’s highly likely that the increasingly impoverished modern Western gut microbiome is a contributing factor. Interesting, huh?
The rub is no one really has a good idea about how all of this works. What microbes are good? What ones are bad? How to they work in combination? How to we attract or combat them? We’ve barely begun to scratch the surface. There’s a lot of research going on, so the next decade or so should be very interesting. And if you’re interested, it’s not too late for you to participate in the American Gut Project.
And sure, there are plenty of people who are more than happy to tell you all about how this supposedly works, and what you ought to eat, and what supplements to take, and so forth–as if they’ve got it all figured out already. But it’s also pretty clear that they’re making it up as they go and don’t really have the evidence to back their claims. I’m thinking about the Dr. Ozes and Dr. Mercolas of the world–or any of the other snake oil salespersons who play fast and loose with evidence-based medicine and nutrition for fame and profit. I recommend you beware of such people. But hey, maybe that’s just me. I’m a “show me the data” sort of guy. I figure this stuff affects my health and my life, so it’s worth taking seriously.
There are some things that are becoming relatively clear, however (and these are just a few examples). For instance:
- Eating a fiber rich diet is probably good for our gut microbiome and ultimately our health. They act as “pre-biotics” that the healthy gut critters like to munch on.
- Fermented foods also seem to be pretty for out gut microbiome too. They act as “probiotics” (i.e., good critters) that take up residence in our gut–assuming they aren’t all destroyed on the way to the intestine. There’s some decent evidence that in large enough numbers they actually survive.
That brings us to Nimbu Ka Achaar and this Indian Lime Pickle Recipe, which is a femented food that is probably good for your gut.
About This Indian Lime Pickle Recipe
Like most traditional foods of this type, there are endless variations to the classic Indian lime pickle recipe. Most entail slicing or quartering limes and packing them in salt to cure in the sun for a number of weeks until they’re brown and well fermented.
Then you coat them in spices and oil and put them in a jar, being hyper-freaked out about keeping moisture away least they begin to mold.
Want to see some other Indian lime pickle recipes? Here is one, and here is another. I added my spices during the salting and curing process, so they’d ferment into the limes. That’s how Onam Sadya does it. Then after about three weeks I brushed off most of the salt and added the oil and spice mixture.
I used Extra Virgin Olive Oil, you know, like I do. In India this would likely be mustard oil. But guess what? Mustard oil is illegal in the United States. No shit! Apparently it’s illegal in the EU and Canada too. Why? Because it contains a good amount of erucic acid, which is linked to cardiac damage in lab rats. You can buy mustard oil for “external use” however (i.e., to use as a massage oil), and a lot of American chefs, who want that authentic Indian flavor, are eating it. Eat at your own risk. Some people think the health worries are overblown. I’ll stick with my EVOO for now, because, you know, I only have this one heart.
Make yourself some lime pickles! And Bon appetit. And wish a bon appetit to your microbiota for me too.
- 5 - 7 Limes (whatever fits in a quart jar)
- 2 Tablespoons Turmeric Powder
- 1 Tablespoon Paprika
- 1 Tablespoon Cayenne
- 1 Serrano Chili, chopped
- 1 Cup Kosher Salt
- 1 Tablespoon Mustard Seeds
- 1 Teaspoon Cumin Seeds
- 4 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1 Tablespoon Cayenne
- Sterilize a quart sized canning jar.
- Wash, and completely dry the limes. Keeping moisture off of the limes from now on is key. They’re not submerged in a brine like other pickles. Rather, is the high salt content that inhibits mold and other spoilage.
- Cut the limes in half, then quarter each half (i.e., you’ll get 8 segments out of each lime).
- Lay the lime sections in a glass casserole dish and sprinkle with two tablespoons of salt. Then sprinkle on the spices and the chili. Mix well.
- Place a layer of limes in the canning jar (or crock). Layer on a thin layer of salt. Repeat with layers until all the limes are in the jar.
- Seal the lid loosely and leave the jar in a warm place where it gets sunlight for three weeks. Shake the jar daily to mix the lime. The limes should begin to turn brown by the end of the three weeks.
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and add the mustard and cumin seeds. Cook until the seeds begin to sizzle and pop.
- Add the pickles to the skillet and cook for an additional 2 - 3 minutes.
- Place in another clean, sterilized jar and refrigerate. If everything is sterile they’ll keep for six months to a year. You can leave them unrefrigerated if you are willing to eat them within the next two or three months.