Homemade sauerkraut, ready for some lacto-fermentation action!
What comes to mind when you think, “fermented”?
Hopefully it’s not “ewww”, because fermented foods can be incredibly tasty, not to mention they have a ton of health benefits!
Fermentation is the way most cultures all over the world preserved certain foods so they wouldn’t go bad long before refrigerators and freezers were invented. You can find methods of fermenting foods all over the world that have been around for thousands of years!
There are two main types of fermentation:
- lacto fermentation
- alcoholic fermentation (also called ethanol fermentation)
They’re both similar in that they both convert the sugars present in foods (glucose, fructose, and sucrose) into something else via friendly bacteria.
Lacto-fermentation gives us delicious goodies like yogurt and sourdough bread!
Lacto-fermentation is the process by which sugars are converted into lactic acid via friendly bacteria (actually, if you want to get scientific, the sugars are converted into cellular energy, and lactic acid is the byproduct, but close enough). Lactic acid is what gives lacto-fermented foods their tangy, delicious flavor, and what preserves the foods so they can be stored without refrigeration for weeks to come.
This type of fermentation is seen in the creation of things like yogurt, sourdough bread, sauerkraut, kimchi, and a wide range of fermented vegetables and fruits. Even some condiments like ketchup and chutney are traditionally lacto-fermented foods!
Without alcoholic fermentation, there would be no wine or beer! OR yeast bread! *gasp* Terrifying thought, I know.
Alcoholic fermentation is the process by which sugars are converted into alcohol and carbon dioxide via friendly bacteria, in this case, yeasts.
This type of fermentation is used to create wine, beer, and yeast bread (in case you’re wondering why your yeast bread isn’t alcoholic, the alcohol is burned off when the bread is baked. Tragic, I know).
Lacto-fermented fruits and vegetables are very easy to make.
You simply add salt (and sometimes whey and/or spices) to vegetables and fruits, pound them a bit so they release their juices (this is more common with vegetables than fruit I believe), and store them in airtight containers. Then you wait for them to ferment before eating them. Easy.
So why is all this important?
Besides keeping foods preserved without the use of a refrigerator, freezer, or canning; lacto-fermented foods have many health benefits as well.
Health Benefits of Lacto-fermented foods:
Those friendly little bacteria in lacto-fermented foods that create the lactic acid, known as lactobacilli, help us not only to digest those fermented foods better, but they also increase the vitamin content of those foods.
In human intestines, we have a wide range of friendly bacteria all the time, known as intestinal flora. These flora are extremely important in helping our bodies digest foods better, absorb nutrients better, fight off dangerous bacteria and pathogens, , get rid of dangerous carcinogens, develop our immunity, and help prevent allergies.
Although we already have some lactobacilli in our intestines, when we eat lacto-fermented foods we get more of these helpful bacteria, and they, in turn, help produce other useful bacteria in our intestines (in addition to helping with the things I mentioned above). It’s a win win situation!
Unfortunately, when food began being mass produced in factories, they started pasteurizing (heating at high temperatures for a specific length of time) traditionally fermented foods, which kills all of those helpful lactobacilli.
Some people believe that it is the pasteurization of so many of our foods that has led to a severe decrease in the helpful bacteria present in our intestinal flora, which has, in turn, led to an increase in things like allergies and dangerous deseases in our society.
Disclaimer: I do not have a scientific background or published studies to list as references for all this. I’m sorry. I wish I did. This is just what I’ve read over a long time in a wide range of well documented books and websites, particularly, Nourishing Traditions and The Weston A. Price Foundation. Their information is very well referenced, and I recommend reading their information on the topic if you want more in depth information.
If you want a bit more scientific info about fermentation and intestinal flora (and who wouldn’t, right? Afternoon coffee reading right there), here are some links to the handy dandy site we know and love, Wikipedia.
Next week, I’m going to be introducing you to some easy homemade lacto-fermented foods (that are not scary. I promise) that you can make and enjoy.
Here are some of the recipes I’ll be introducing you to:
- Making a Rye sourdough starter (and making bread with it)
- ginger ale
I’m hoping to also try my hand at making homemade yogurt next week, so I’ll let you know how that goes. :)