Lacto (or wild) fermentation depends on the naturally occurring micro-organisms (lactobacilli – aka probiotics) that feed on the natural sugars in the vegetables or fruits being “fermented.” All you need to create this reaction is filtered water, unrefined sea salt and your favorite produce (one that would taste good fermented, that is!) The result brings out a delightfully briny flavored vegetable that has a variety of health benefits and is naturally a probiotic food (like yogurt!). The leftover liquid can be taken as a digestive tonic for an upset stomach or just a pro-biotic boost - a great tonic for kids who can't yet chew a crispy vegetable.
Lacto-fermentation is a craft that has been used for literally centuries to not only preserve food but also to increase nutrient content and improve digestion. Recently, wild fermentation has made a comeback into the modern nutritional landscape by both the health-conscious community and in food manufacturing. Think of the kombucha, beet kvass, lacto-fermented saurkrauts and pickles that you can now find in the refrigerated section of most grocery stores. This is such a great thing for our health!
Fermenting a food in this way brings out certain nutrient availability in the food, while adding a host of probiotic enzymes to aid in digestive health. Much like yogurt or kefir, lacto-fermented vegetables add different probiotic strains to your diet and are perfect for individuals avoiding dairy.
The importance of pro-biotic foods are crucial to the health of your entire body. The organisms that live in our gut are responsible for how well the food we eat breaks down, and ultimately how much nutrition is absorbed. They also play a role in our intestinal permeability – helping vital nutrition get into the blood stream and leave toxic substances behind. Poor gut health will sabotage this process and can lead to not only digestive complaints but to all sorts of systemic symptoms such as mood changes like depression or anxiety, hormone imbalances, fertility problems and even auto-immune disorders.
What About A Probiotic Supplement?
You can buy various strains of probiotic supplements at most health food stores, and many of those brands are reputable and provide healing benefit. But there is nothing more potent than food! After all, probiotic organisms are healthy, living bacteria. Just like fresh produce has more nutrients than canned, fresh probiotics are optimal for efficacy, potency and absorption. They also offer greater variety in probiotic strains, an important factor when restoring gut flora imbalance. Many stores are starting to carry lacto-fermented vegetables and beverages in the refrigerated section – though you will often pay a pretty penny for the convenience of not making it yourself.
How to Incorporate Fermented Foods
Enjoy the crisp, tangy fermented veggies alongside most of your meals. Depending on the produce you choose will depend on how it pairs with your meal. And don’t forget to drink the leftover briny-liquid as a probiotic tonic. A little goes a long way due to the high salt content – start with sips of the liquid and work up to a generous sized shot glass, or dilute with filtered water. Just a few of the symptoms lacto-fermented foods can help alleviate include:
- Any digestive distress
- Nausea during pregnancy
- Reflux during pregnancy
- Gas and Bloating after Meals
- Digestive Upset in Kids
Is Fermenting Safe?
I will admit that when I first started experimenting with fermentations at home, I was a little nervous. How would I know if the ferment sitting on my counter for 7 days went “bad” and what kind of harm could this have on my family that was consuming it? It took me a while before I really felt comfortable preparing and consuming wild ferments on my own. The truth is, it is nearly impossible for produce preserved in this way to become harmful and it is so easy to make. The lactic acid bacteria (the good guys!) are great at destroying any harmful bacteria that might try and proliferate alongside them. Additionally, the salt-content provides an inhospitable environment for any harmful bacteria. According to the US Department of Agriculture, fermented vegetables are actually safer to eat than raw vegetables. And the typical concerns that come with “canning” don’t apply here as the jars are not sealed with pressurized canning methods.
Still skeptical? For a great article on the safety of lacto-fermentation, click here.
How to Ferment At Home
Lacto-fermentation is remarkably easy to do at home, affordable and you can cater the produce you ferment to your family's tastes. I like to ferment thinly sliced butternut squash with cinnamon sticks, kholrabi spears with fresh thyme, carrot rounds with dill and asparagus spears. There is (almost) always a quart-sized mason jar on my counter-top fermenting whatever inspired me at the farmers market that week. Other ideas of produce you can ferment include string beans, radishes, cauliflower, cabbage or onions. Below, is the generic recipe for lacto-fermentation so you can begin your creative experimentation at home. Let me know what you come up with!
Lacto-Fermentation Basic Recipe
- Produce of choice, chopped, sliced, diced or shredded as desired (there is no size requirement for the vegetable pieces, you can also mix up veggies to make a medley!)
- 1 Garlic Clove, peeled, whole
- Fresh/Dried Herbs, if desired
- 1-2 Tbsp Unrefined Sea Salt (like this one)
- Filtered Water
- Pint or Quart sized Glass Mason Jar with Lid
- Place the Garlic Clove, Herbs (if using) and all the produce chunks/pieces into the right sized mason jar so the jar is full, with about an inch of room at the top
- Add 1 T. salt to pint-sized jar or 2 T. salt to a quart sized jar
- Fill the Jar with Filtered Water to cover the produce completely
- Screw on the lid tight and shake well
- Leave on counter at room temperature for 3-7 days, depending on the warmth of your kitchen. The warmer the environment, the quicker it will ferment. Begin tasting the liquid in the jar at about 3 days to determine when your batch is done – it should be pleasantly sour and slightly effervescent.** Occasionally certain veggies can create a “pungent” odor in addition to the sour taste – this is normal for cruciferous veggies like cauliflower or radishes due to their sulphur content.
- Once the ferment is complete and to your liking, store in fridge, and consume within two months.
**You can’t leave the veggies on your counter for too long as far as safety is concerned, but the longer they ferment on the counter the more pungent and sour they will become. This is why it is important to taste and simply slow the fermentation process by moving the jar to the fridge once the flavor is to your liking.
Books to Check Out:
Lacto-Fermented Food Makers: