Wild Fermentation

Cultures throughout the world have been fermenting foods as a preservation method for thousands of years. This was necessary before the advent of refrigeration. Kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, yogurt and kefir are traditional examples of foods fermented by humans around the globe.

But fermenting foods does more than extend their shelf-life. Today, we understand some health benefits fermented foods have to offer. Hint: some benefits are similar to those expensive probiotic supplements you may take!

Contrary to popular belief, we are not meant to be sterile beings. Bacteria are crucial, even in a COVID climate!

Today, I’d like to discuss a method of fermentation known as lacto-fermentation. This method is used to make sauerkraut and can be applied to nearly any vegetable.

What is Lacto-Fermentation?

Lactobacillus is a type of beneficial bacteria found on the surface of most fruits and vegetables. When placed in an oxygen-free environment (ie: under water), this bacteria multiplies while turning glucose (or sugar) into lactic acid. Lactic acid gives fermented foods their signature tangy flavor.

Benefits of Bacteria

The process of fermentation increases the digestibility and nutrient content of some foods while introducing meaningful amounts of beneficial bacteria to consumers.

The presence of beneficial bacteria gives fermented foods unique health benefits and acts as a preservative by preventing the growth of harmful bacteria.

Beneficial bacteria live alongside “bad” bacteria all throughout our bodies. They can be found on our skin as well as within our digestive, urinary and genital systems. The foods we eat,  medications we take, the environment we live in and the products we apply to our skin impact these fragile bacteria. When in balance, these organisms promote harmony in our bodies.

“Pickled” vs “Fermented” Foods

It is a common misconception that pickled and fermented foods are the same. While both  are sour, this flavor is achieved using very different methods.

  • Pickled foods rely on vinegar. They are most often heated and, therefore, do not contain live beneficial bacteria.
  • Lacto-fermented foods rely on lactobacillus bacteria and its byproduct, lactic acid, to develop a sour flavor. Heat should be avoided during and after the fermentation process as it kills these volatile bacteria.

Methodology

Warning: Sanitary practices are imperative during the fermentation process. Always use clean hands and utensils.

When lacto-fermenting vegetables with a high water content, such as cabbage, it is unnecessary to make a saltwater brine. Instead, thinly-sliced cabbage (core removed) is massaged with salt (1-1.5 teaspoon unrefined salt per pound of cabbage) until enough water is released to keep it submerged when packed tightly in a jar.

But for most vegetables, a saltwater brine will be necessary.

The Brine Method

Warning: Sanitary practices are imperative during the fermentation process. Always use clean hands and utensils.

  1. Wash ingredients with water.
  2. Cut ingredients uniformly to ensure everything ferments at the same rate. If you wish to peel your vegetables, preserve the peels.
  3. Add ingredients to sanitized glass jars. Start with optional aromatics and any peels you preserved.
  4. Fill jars with saltwater brine, leaving approximately 1″ of headspace. *See brine recipe below.
  5. Keep ingredients submerged with a weight or cabbage leaf. Anything above the water is likely to mold.
  6. Cover jars with a cheesecloth, coffee filter or a clean linen and secure with a rubber band. Do NOT use a lid unless it is a specialized fermenting lid.
  7. Store at room temperature in a cool, dark area. Fermentation occurs more quickly in warm environments.
  8. After 3-6 days, begin tasting until desired sourness is achieved. For a more sour product, continue fermenting! Personal preference, type of vegetable and environmental temperature will dictate how long it takes to achieve desired results.
  9. When veggies are to your liking, remove the weight and store in the fridge with a secure lid. Remember: heat destroys these volatile beneficial bacteria. To reap the full benefits, eat them raw!

For the Saltwater Brine: Dissolve 1-3 tablespoons of salt per quart of purified water. Keep in mind that various salts will measure differently based on their granular size (eg: Kosher salt versus table salt).

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