Societies throughout the ages have fermented food as a means of preservation. Before refrigeration, fermentation was necessary to make foods last in the heat and during fallow times or drought. Even today, fermented foods are cultural staples in societies around the world. However, many of us are unfamiliar with the wonderful benefits of making and eating fermented foods. Now is the time to change that. Not only will fermented foods save you money on groceries in the long run, but you’ll be amazed at the undeniable health benefits to your whole way of life.

What is Fermentation?

sauerkraut

photo: marksdailyapple.com

Fermentation (or lacto-fermentation) is a microbial process of converting raw food into easily digestible components full of increased nutrients and gut-healthy enzymes for digestion. Beneficial bacteria, lactobacillus, and yeast help break down the raw food, promote nutrient growth, and help to stabilize those nutrients for consumption.

Basically: Lactobacillus + Sugar (naturally present in the vegetable/fruit) + Salt + Time = Lacto-Fermentation.

Pickling vs. Fermentation

photo: betsylife.com

photo: betsylife.com

However, there’s a difference between pickled foods and fermented foods. Pickled foods are preserved in a brine that typically consists of water, sugar, salt, and vinegar. Fermented foods are preserved only with salt, which causes the vegetables to produce lactic acid to prevent purification. Pickled vegetables are not unhealthy, but they do not provide the boost in enzymes and anti-carcinogenic agents that fermentation provides.

Fermented Foods You Should Be Eating

Kimchi

Photo: inspiredeats.com

Kombucha: a lightly effervescent, tart beverage made from fermenting black tea (it’s delicious, seriously)
Sauerkraut: fermented cabbage; make it from home and avoid all the unnecessary preservatives and added sugar
Pickles: yes, pickles can be pickled, but they can also be fermented yielding a much healthier result
Miso: a fermented soybean paste consisting of millions of microorganisms that give us strength
Tempeh: another product of fermented soybeans similar to tofu; used as a substitute for meat
Kimchi: fermented cabbage mixed with a variety of spices

This list is just a start. Any fresh fruit or vegetable can be fermented!

Equipment

photo: blog.wheatgrasskits.com

photo: blog.wheatgrasskits.com

Though you can make fermented vegetables with just some salt, water, veggies, and a jar, you might consider investing in some inexpensive pieces of equipment designed specifically for fermentation. The jars with special lids shown above allows the by-product gasses to release without letting in oxygen (which leads to purification or spoiling). You can also invest in fermentation crockpots and more higher-end pieces if you get serious with your fermenting.

Fermentation with Cultures

photo: foodrenegade.com

photo: foodrenegade.com

Using a starter culture for fermentation isn’t necessary. Salt will promote fermentation entirely on it’s own. However, using a starter culture promotes and speeds up the production of lactic acid and other beneficial bacterial. Salt will do this on it’s own, but the process will take longer and may not produce as much lactic acid and beneficial bacterial. Using a starter culture ensures the healthiest product possible. With a starter culture you’re adding a known set of bacteria.

To learn more, read Cultures for Health’s article on the difference between curing with salt, whey, and cultures.

Health Benefits

photo: rebootwithjoe.com

photo: rebootwithjoe.com

The main by-product of fermentation is the production of lactic-acid, which packs huge benefits for the digestive system and the gut. Lactobacilli aids in promoting healthy flora throughout the intenstine as well as aids in producing vital enzymes and anti-carcinogenic agents. Fermented foods also help symptions of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, coughing and the common cold, bloating, constipation, flatulence, reduced blood pressure,

Make Fermented Salsa

Additional Resources:
Cultures for Health How to Ferment Vegetables: The Basic Culturing Process
Nourshing Days Fermentation for Beginners: Lacto-Fermentation
Cultures for Health Resource Guide for Fermentation
BodyEcology Resource Guide for Fermentation and Starter Cultures