Meet Real Food Rockstar: Kitsa Yanniotis

I first met Kitsa through a cookie – her luxurious coconut and sour cherry macaroon to be precise. Then, I moved into her cultured veg – my go to brand when I haven’t got the time to make my own. Then, we became friends. I have so much admiration and respect for Kitsa and her talents. She is an incredible source of information for allergy sufferers and food intolerance, as well as a wonderful sharer of useful, helpful information. She was the pioneering woman in Australia to bring back cultured vegetables for tummy health. Her commitment to health, both for her family and for others is beautiful. Enjoy learning from the lovely Kitsa, with these few questions I asked her recently, Alexx.

Kitsa logo

Being of Greek heritage I grew up eating traditional foods with an emphasis on fruit, vegetables, salads and organ meats. My mum is a great cook and reinterpreted a lot of the heavier Greek recipes into healthier versions. However as I got older I was influenced by other cuisines and the various dietary theories of the time and dabbled in low fat eating, vegetable oils, detoxes, cleanses and reheating with a microwave for convenience. I had some food intolerances which became more apparent once I’d finished university and went to work as a lawyer. This meant that due to working long hours I missed meals or my meal choices were not always ideal. So over time the stress of a demanding job took a toll on my health and I started to have issues with my digestion with lots of other vague symptoms due to being run down and nutritionally deficient. In my late twenties I started researching and trialling other ways of eating. By the time I was in my mid thirties I had created a diet for myself which worked but it was based on a lot of avoidance of the foods which would trigger my symptoms.

Fast forward half a dozen years and my son is born. Of course as a mum you want to give your child the best possible start in life so I enthusiastically put into place all I’d learned to raise my gorgeous boy. However as we know our children are often our best teachers and mine was no exception. When I started to introduce solids it became apparent that he was having trouble digesting solid food so I continued to breastfeed him exclusively until he was 12 months and tried again. Β It was a little easier but things were still not right – in hindsight when I look at his baby photos knowing what I know now I can see all the symptoms of allergy in his face ; flushed cheeks, red ears, some darkness under the eyes but all I could see was a happy baby full of love.

He started waking up every night in pain and would take hours to resettle and get back to sleep- we were told it was probably teething, to give him panadol and that he’d grow out of it. The next few years passed in a sleep deprived blur as I kept trying various things to help him.

What was your AHA moment; your move into discovering traditional foods, or have you always been a traditional foods lover?

My ‘AHA’ moment came when I went to a seminar one night put on by the MINDD Foundation featuring Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride of the Gut & Psychology Syndrome Diet (GAPS) and Donna Gates of The Body Ecology Diet (BED). Suddenly I could make sense of my son’s symptoms as well as my own. We were definitely a GAPS family with a history of digestive issues, low stomach acid, constipation, gallbladder problems and lack of good flora on both sides of the family going back a couple of generations. My son had cleverly restricted himself to pretty much the GAPS Diet apart from buckwheat and chickpeas which are seen as too starchy. What I found fascinating was that despite the differences in their dietary approaches both Dr Natasha and Donna promoted the use of fermented foods for gut healing. So I started to research and discovered that fermented foods are eaten all over the world as part of traditional diets, the difference being that in more modern times the traditional preparation techniques had been abandoned for the sake of convenience and the sauerkraut that you could buy from the supermarket or health food store that was stored on the shelf had been pasteurised so there were no beneficial live enzymes left in the product at all.

You’re famous now for your fermented veggies. What attracted you initially to fermented foods?

Honestly, initially I wasn’t attracted at all as it all seemed so overwhelming that I kept putting it off as it was so out of my comfort zone and I wondered how my son would take to eating something so tangy but I kept getting this niggle that it was the missing link….I was also worried about poisoning him/us – what if I got it wrong and made us really sick? I kept reading of all the benefits- aiding digestion by helping to break down the foods eaten with them, helping re establish our inner ecosystem by crowding out the bad bacteria and replacing with the good guys, that the nutritional benefit of a food is increased one hundred fold once cultured, that they strengthen the immune system, they are alkaline and very cleansing, they aid with constipation, are natural chelators of heavy metals. The list goes on for these powerhouses of probiotic nutrition! In a twist of fate I met a lovely lady of German origin at a seminar who offered to show me the ropes and that’s what pushed me to get started.

kitsa jarKitsa’s delicious traditional cultured veggies. A lil’ tablespoon with every meal for your tummy is oh so good!

How did you find it, moving to preparing all your foods yourself for your family in busy modern life?

I’d always loved cooking – I was the teenager in the library reading French cookbooks and Vogue Entertaining magazine instead of Dolly! So despite having been hands on in the kitchen, it was a very humbling moment when I went into my pantry and realised it all had to go (if we were to take our health to the next level) and only the fresh produce in the fridge remained. What made it easier for me I think was that I didn’t try to create gluten free, dairy free, egg free, nut free etc replicas of what we were eating as it seemed a waste of time when the final result would never be the same anyway. It also meant I didn’t get seduced by the gluten free aisles at the supermarket or health food store as a lot of the replacement ingredients are often worse. I also had to become even more organised and prioritise my time so that I could get all the cooking done. Initially though and this is going back now about 12 years, the most time consuming thing was sourcing all the food – it would often take a couple of days of driving everywhere as things were not so bountiful in the organic scene back then. Cooking big batches and freezing, using a slow cooker and my oven often daily, spending time on the weekend to get all the food prepping done for the week by roasting trays of vegetables in healthy fats, making stocks, meatballs for snacks and then storing in glass pyrex containers so they could be added to meals through the week. It is definitely time consuming but I made a decision early on that I’d rather spend time in the kitchen than be up every night with a child in pain. My hidden asset was and still is my husband – I definitely couldn’t do it all without him.

At what point did you decide to turn it into a business?

4. Turning this into a business was one of those times when synchronicity comes into play. It started by friends asking me to make some vegetables for them and their families and soon word spread until practitioners started asking me to make it for their patients – so really by word of mouth. It’s a great sign of the changing times that I now have a number of doctors referring their patients.

If you could share 3 nutritional things with other mums and dads, that you’ve learned about how best to feed your little one, what would they be?

5. (a) Prepare their bodies pre conception. Better nutrition, fresh air, sunshine, good sleep and movement and being aware of our thinking as toxic thoughts can be just as debilitating as eating bad food. Plan to make maintaining a nourishing diet whilst breastfeeding a priority without your eye on the scales or your pre baby jeans. So much time is spent during pregnancy planning for the perfect birth (which rarely goes to plan anyway) – instead focus on preparing for breastfeeding and filling your freezer with home cooked meals to get you through those early sleep deprived weeks adjusting to motherhood.

(b) Give a lot of thought to introducing solids to your child. Start babies off with real nutrient dense foods like homemade meat stocks, freshly pressed vegetable juices, fermented foods like sauerkraut, soups, egg yolks and good fats like coconut oil, olive oil, butter, ghee, sour cream and yoghurt as we want to nourish their brains and bodies. Children lucky enough to be fed this way develop a wonderful palate and are more adventurous in their eating habits as they get older, as well as possessing a much more even temperament. Β If your child displays signs of fussy eating or food intolerances take action early. Instead of just removing foods which they can’t tolerate look at the source of the problem. Investigate the GAPS Diet which heals the gut, so in time a wider variety of foods can be tolerated www.gaps.me. Too many times I’ve seen in my GAPS Nutrition practice, children who’ve been on exclusion diets for a long time and instead of getting better they start to tolerate less and less foods.

(c) Be organised with meals and shopping. Make it a family affair – my son still loves going to the Farmers Market every Saturday morning as everyone knows him and he gets to eat his way around the stalls. Plan ahead as meals come around very quickly and little ones have no patience when they’re hungry. Make friends with your food suppliers, investigate the provenance of your food and you’ll always get the best quality produce. Get together with your friends or mothers’ group and do some big batch cooking and fill your fridges and your hearts.

Look beyond food as well – explore how your environment could be contributing to ill health and question everything you put on yourself and your baby’s body and find toxin free alternatives for your everyday items.

What’s your favourite item in your online shop?

That’s an easy one! My favourite item would be my cultured vegetables. I can’t imagine a meal without them – on the odd occasion that we eat out I’ve been known to smuggle them in my handbag.

Your 5 dessert Island ingredients?

Only 5? You obviously haven’t seen all the food I pack to travel! Sea salt, coconut oil, eggs, and an endless supply of cultured vegetables and meat stocks.

 

So there’s a little window into Kitsa’s background and life. You must check out her order list, which you can do by enquiring online through her site here.

Giveaway time! Β This comp is now closed. Thanks to everyone for entering! Awesome to see so many cultured people out there πŸ˜‰ Winner will be announced on Monday, 18th February.

If you’d like to dabble in a little fermentation fun, all you have to do is say what fermented veggies you’d love to have a go at making right here in the comments section, to win a fantastic, specialist Picklit jar & 2 delicious Kitsa’s Macaroons, totalling $50 in value. Winner will be announced on Monday.

picklit jar

Real Food. Happy Bodies

Disclosure: I wasn’t paid nor given free product for publishing this post. The people and businesses I feature in the Real Food Rockstar / Low Tox Legend series are people I seek to share their story as something I want to bring to you all, Alexx.

Comments 56

  1. I’ve been meaning to make my own fermented foods for weeks, but I too have felt a little overwhelmed about it – and what if I get it wrong and make myself sick?? But I am really keen to make my own sauerkraut and something with beetroot, I think it would be delicious!

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      It is delicious Brooke. We’ve been terrified into hating all bacteria. Without the good stuff though, we’ve far less defence against the bad ones. I love my Picklit jars, sterilise them well between uses, and wash my hands well when preparing ferments. Super easy and never had an issue! You’ll love it πŸ™‚

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  2. I would love to try to make my own cultured vegies also – i have been reading up on it lately- just not tried it yet (though years ago i did make my own saurkraut once). I too worry about doing something wrong for my young kids and we all get sick but i suppose you have to give it a go and put aside your fears (i will eat it first and worse case i get sick lol). I would love to try a combined one of cabbage, beetroot, kale and carrot (and possibly add a bit of ginger or garlic to it if that is possible). If i win this jar i will have to give it a go and try making some as no more excuses lol (even if i dont win this jar i will still have to give it a go anyway one day soon) πŸ™‚ awesome article – i enjoyed reading it πŸ™‚

    1. forgot to add – bring on winter vegies in my veg patch – hoping to grow lots of cabbages , kale, carrots etc this year again. cucumbers have just about finished so dont know if i can try them but maybe if i have one or two spare (we eat them so quickly or juice them) i can have a try with them πŸ™‚

  3. I have made 2 batches of sauerkraut, they turned out ok but the second batch was too salty. However saved it by adding water and a little vinegar and letting it ferment a little longer. Just eating it raw but people tell me it’s good cooked with other foods, which I’d like to try. I think kimchi would be too spicy for me at this stage so currently no plans to ferment more until I am happy with the sauerkraut recipe and more confident with different ways to prepare and eat it. Very interested in kefir though, that will be my next project with my raw milk, of course!

  4. I’ve only tried sauerkraut and kimchi but never made them myself; I’d like to make veges like kale that’s abundant in my garden, we also hope to have lots of carrots, leeks, ginger and garlic so would love to use my own produce as much as possible. I wonder if one could ferment pumpkin and sweet potato, they are the other abundant crops we have.

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      From what I know Cecilia, starchy veg don’t ferment well – might end up with vodka from the over activity! hehe. Good luck in the comp. Hope that garden of yours is going well!

  5. I always have a few Fidos fermenting in the cupboard with different veggies but would really love to try and replicate a spicy curry vegetable medley with kraut, carrot and cauliflower they serve in Israli pubs with your beer! It had a great kick and very unique flavoure.

  6. I would like to give sauerkraut a try I have been told it is great for our digestive system and helps people with IBD and also other fermented vegetables so I be so interested in fermenting other vegies as well like carrots, cucumbers, califlower and chilli just to name a few

  7. For a very long time I have wanted to introduce fermented foods into our family diet but have felt overwhelmed by it all. This post has inspired me.

  8. I’d like to ferment zucchinis as I have had such an abundance of them in the garden πŸ™‚ I have tried but with no success…perhaps I really need the Pickl-it jars?!
    Great interview by the way.

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  9. fairly new to the world of fermented veges but would love to start off with cabbage and work my way up. definitely somethinh i aim on including in my familys diet on a daily nasis.

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  10. What a truly fascinating and motivating interview – you have shed so much light on the topic and I will definitely be introducing fermented vegetables to our family and neighbours to include in our daily diet from now on. Now, where to start? I’m thinking fermented beetroot and cabbage would be a great, nourishing combination. Thank you again for ‘educating’ me in my quest for great nutrition for our family – I am stoked!

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  11. Very interesting article about someone I admire and whose products I love and swear by. I’d love to try pickling my own vegetables and some kimchi. One day when time allows. In the meantime I rely on Kitsa!

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      Thanks Claire – It’s awesome finding so many devoted Kitsa fans out there through this piece! Have a beautiful weekend πŸ™‚

  12. I’ve been trying to gently introduce the Paleo/Primal diet to my family for around 6 months now and my hubby and 6 year old girl are on board, but my 4 year old son is having none of it! In a desperate attempt to introduce more probiotics, I’ve tried making a cabbage/carrot cultured veggie mix (not too awful) and a beetroot & clove relish (disaster). In hindsight I’ve realised that I’ve never really eaten good cultured veggies, so I’m off to see if I can search out Kitsa’s products so I know at least what they should taste like! Thanks Alex for even more inspiration, I need all the help I can get!

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      Super welcome Niamh! A very easy spot to sneak them in is berry smoothies if you’ve got a fussy one. Because they’re tangy and ever so slightly sweet, they go under the radar! πŸ™‚

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  13. I want to try cucumbers again. I did them once but they were slimy yuk. Saurkraut turned out fine and also ginger carrots and beetroot. Am thinking the pickleit jars would be foolproof. LOVE LOVE LOVE to try them.

  14. I would love to find something spreadable like a red pepper/onion mix or something. Or! let’s get away from veges and do it to liver! SOOO nutritious! I bet the bitterness would disappear without soaking it too! You could make fermented pate! Sorry, I probably freaked everyone out! lol!

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  15. I’d love to try beetroot. It is so good for you but I don’t love it raw. We roast it but still not my favourite. I actually like the canned version which I don’t eat now but I suspect that fermented would give it a bit of that kick. Like others I have been meaning to try fermented foods, it’s on my health to do list for 2013, but it feels too hard so I need a little push. Being at home with Thyroid and Adrenal issues that have led to Chronic fatigue I am slowly working my way through different health changes to improve my situation and get back to normal (or nearly normal). I am now soaking and dehydrating my nuts, next to get in the habit of doing my grains and seeds too. I body brush and oil pull now and I’m off gluten and soy and am taking good quality probiotics. Next step….. fermented foods and drinks! yay!

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  16. Great interview. Having been on a strict elimination diet for 4 years due to breastfeeding both my allergic and intolerant children, we are now discovering the GAPS way of life. Have just started introducing Kitsa’s traditional cultured veg which is well loved and surprisingly tolerated. So nice to be able to have some flavour with our meals! Would really love to try to make a red sauerkraut with the Pickl-it jar.

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  17. i’d like to recreate a lacto-fermented version of my friend’s silician mother’s very garlic pickled eggplant – that doesn’t go squishy. and i’d LOVE to win a pickl-it! thanks for the great interview, alexx & kitsa.

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  18. My husband & I have been making sauerkraut in our Harsch crocks the past 3 years. We were a bit scared at first, but honestly it is more crisp and tangy than anything in a store! Not to mention the health benefits πŸ™‚ I would like to try fermenting cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower or even brussels sprouts! My husband’s liver is in need of serious help and I read these are good for him. And, the added benefit of fermenting them…perfect!

  19. I would like to try fermenting veggie sticks such as carrot and daikon, so that I could pack them in the school/kinder snack boxes.

  20. I very nervously tried a batch of sauerkraut with Kitsa’s help and it turned out fabulous.
    I would now like to try other fermented veges, whatever is in season at the time.
    It would be good to try both winter veges as well as summer veges.
    I’m about to try my second batch of sauerkraut and hopefully it will be as good as the first one, but without the stress! (and panicky emails to Kitsa, haha)

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  21. Hi, having dabbled a little in sauerkraut, water kefir and kombucha I would love to move onto fruits, I have heard cherries and plums are amazing fermented but have yet to find a recipe and get the confidence to do it. I would love to win a pickle-it jar, may give me the push I need.

    For those that have not tried it yet, kefir water is really nice, my 5 and 4 year olds love, they call it lemonade as they know no different it and it is sooo easy to make.

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  22. I love my own freshly fermented sauerkraut. It wasn’t nearly as hard as I had originally thought it was t make. I’m yet to try making kimchi. I also want to be more adventurous with berries and other fruits. If you haven’t made your own sauerkraut yet, you will be amazed at how delicious it is. Give it a go.

  23. I really want to try making fruit ferments using paw paw and mango and ginger and chili and fennel and apple. I have been making fermented veg in a bottle and using a bag of water to weight it down and it never tastes the same as my GAPs practitioner’s does. It also seems to attract a mass of fruit flys too so I’m keen to try the pickl-it jars. Thank you for the opportunity Alex and generosity Kitsa.

  24. Hi, I am a huuuge fan of kitsa & would totally love to be taught by her (I think that’s what the offer is). I’ve read quite a bit about fermenting & had quite a few slightly unsuccessful attempts. Some of my sauerkraut wouldn’t stay submerged, so don’t think it turned out as well as it could have. Then I bought a big crock pot for the sauerkraut, but don’t think it was really water proof- the terracotta seemed to absorb the water, or release it, so the kraut went mouldy. Then I got some amazing beautiful water kefir grains & a kombucha mushroom, as my boyfriend at the time liked tea & I was going to surprise him with some fermented tea. But then a few days after I got the mushroom, he broke it off with me- I was completely not expecting it. Then I didn’t feel like making ferments, so I didn’t use them & very sadly the cultures died. But now I’m excited about doing more pickling, so would love to try any pickles again! πŸ™‚

  25. It has been 26 years since I visited my childhood country. I miss my cultural foods, authentic style. I’d make Sayur Acar. Main vegetables, carrots, cabbage and cucumber. It includes loads of turmeric, some ginger, garlic and chili. I’d also choose water kefir (ACV or any vinegarised kefir flavours). The Sayur Acar would be a food to include with any foods.

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    Thanks so much to everyone who entered! Fabulous to see so much interest in cultured foods. Yay πŸ™‚

    Kitsa couldn’t decide based on your stories – she couldn’t bare to pick the ‘best’, so all names went into a hat and the winner is MEL TREBILCOCK – Congrats Mel. Email Kitsa at [email protected] and enjoy the fab picklit jar & cookies! xx

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