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You may have noticed my latest recipe additions – Sauerkraut and Fermented Carrots - are fermented. Being on the GAPS Diet and reading about the health benefits of probiotics, I have purposefully added them to our family’s diet. One way to get probiotics is through fermented foods. But, not just “fermented” as in pickled, I mean “fermented” using the lacto-fermentation process. So, what is lacto-fermentation and why is it so healthy?
The result of lacto-fermentation is the proliferation of lactobacilli which increase the vitamin levels and make the fermented foods more digestible. These beneficial bacteria, lactobacilli, produce helpful enzymes, as well as, antibiotics and anti-carcinogenic substances.
Lactic acid is the main by-product of lactobacilli and has two important jobs:
- It helps preserve vegetables and fruits.
- Promotes the growth of healthy flora (or bacteria) throughout the intestines.
Lactic acid is a natural preservative that inhibits bacteria which putrefies. Vegetables and fruits contain starches and sugars which are converted into lactic acid by the lactic-acid-producing bacteria. There are many species of these bacteria. One species, lactobacilli, are present on all living things and can be easily encouraged to grow.
Basically the lacto-fermentation process uses good quality produce, sea salt and water. Good quality produce provides the nutrients necessary for the lactobacilli to work. Sea salt is used to inhibit the growth of putrefying bacteria until enough lactic acid is produced. Once a sufficient amount of lactic acid is produced, the vegetables can be preserved for many months. Fermented food starter (where to buy starter), kefir (where to buy kefir grains) or whey are often used to “jump-start” the lactic-acid producing bacteria’s growth and help to make the fermentation process more consistently successful.
You might wonder why, if lacto-fermented vegetables are so nutritious, the process is not used on a large scale for profit. The answer is simple – the lacto-fermentation process did not yield consistently predictable results when converted to an industrialized process. Changes were made to produce a more uniform product but unfortunately, that does result in a more nutritious one. Examples would be the addition of vinegar and pasteurization (which kills all the lactic-acid-producing bacteria which benefit the digestive system).
With the recipes I have posted utilizing the lacto-fermentation process, as well as any others you might find, there are a couple of important things to remember.
- Lacto-fermentation is an anaerobi process and once fermentation begins, the presence of oxygen will affect your results. During the sauerkraut fermentation, if you do not have something weighing the cabbage down below the surface of the liquid, you should push it down into the liquid using a clean spoon, morning and evening. If you do not, a mold may grow on the surface which is exposed to air. This mold normally can just be scooped out and thrown away with the remaining sauerkraut being fine. But, if your fermented vegetables taste or smell rotten – throw them out and start over. I have made many batches of both sauerkraut and fermented carrots and only one batch of sauerkraut went awry – there was no question that something was wrong and I threw it out and started over!
- The vegetables will expand slightly and may even become bubbly during the fermentation process. Make sure to leave a 1 inch space between the top of the vegetables and the top of the jar.
While there are a few brands of lacto-fermented vegetables available through health food stores, they tend to be rather expensive. I have enjoyed the adventure of learning the process and trying new recipes. I encourage you to give them a try also. I have several others I will be experimenting with and will let you know the results. You can find fermented food starter Here and kefir grains Here.