Yes, I really did title that Tasty Bacterias. Happy little tasty bacterias. Ok, so now that I have officially grossed you out…let me use a more politically correct word for these happy little dudes. Probiotics. There, now do you feel the warm and fuzzy feelings. Maybe “hey I’ve heard those are good for you”?? They are all the rage. Yogurt, Kombucha, Kefir, Lacto-Fermented Salsa, Sauerkraut…have you heard these things floating around the internet? Well, I thought I would help you break it down.
Fermentation is an age old art. You probably eat and drink more fermented things than you think you are. Beer and wine? Yup, fermented. I’m not going to go into the whole beer and wine making story (sorry) as its a bit beyond my knowledge right now. I just wanted to reduce your fear of the word fermentation.
What is Fermentation?
We’re going to focus on fruits and vegetables in this post. Before the days of freezers and canning jars, people used a method of food preservation called lacto-fermentation. In a nutshell, it is a process by which “starches and sugars in vegetable and fruit are converted into lactic acid by the many species of lactic-acid-producing bacteria” (from Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon). Lactic acid is a natural preservative and kills off any of the bad bacteria. There is bad bacteria, and we don’t want to mess with those. However, if you follow proper instructions and take care to observe your ferments, you should never have an issue with bad bacteria! The good bacteria in the spotlight here is called lactobacilli and is present on the surface of all living things. By the process of lacto-fermentation you are basically giving these bacteria an idea environment for them to thrive and proliferate. From Nourishing Traditions “The proliferation of lactobacilli in fermented vegetables enhances their digestability and increases vitamin levels. These beneficial organisms produce numerous helpful enzymes as well as antibiotic and anti-carcinogenic substances.” The lactic acid they produce keeps the produce perfectly preserved as well as promotes healthy gut flora formation.
What is Needed to Lacto-Ferment something?
As complicated as it sounds to ferment something, it is really not. In your very very basic recipe you will see fresh produce (organic only), salt and filtered water. Many recipes will call for the addition of whey which is a starter culture that helps your ferment along. With the addition of whey we can reduce the amount of salt needed so you will end up with a less salty and in my opinion, better tasting product. Whey is already rich in lactic acid and lactobacilli so it reduces the amount of time you need to ferment your produce as well as acts as in inoculent for any bad bacteria that might be trying to linger around. We will get to talk about whey in a minute. For now, the rest of what you need is some wide mouth mason jars, lids and wooden spoons. There are specialized containers designed for fermenting that you can purchase, but I have yet to do so.
What is Whey?
Little miss muffet sat on her tuffet eating her curds and whey? She was basically eating yogurt or some other cultured dairy product! Ever opened a container of yogurt and saw a yellowish liquid on top of the yogurt? That is whey! It is a milk protein that can be separated out from milk. By some sort of (over my head) process, this whey can be processed to produce the protein powder found in body building products. Please note that it is through high heat and chemical processes that this is derived. Some day I will do a post on the dangers of protein powder. However, for now, we are not worried about the powdered whey form. We are looking for the RAW and ALIVE form of whey that is strained from yogurt. Whey strained from yogurt or other cultured dairy (kefir, raw milk, etc) is teaming with happy little bacteria. We call it a starter culture because you can add it to something (ie-vegetables) in a jar with a little water and it “starts” the lacto-fermenting process because some of the lactobacilli we talked about above are already strong and ready to multiply in your ferment.
Why are Lacto-Fermented Foods So Important?
Eating home prepared lacto-fermented foods is so healthy for your gut (intestines, digestive system). In a day and age where our gut gets so much damage from bad foods, antibiotics, over-sanitization, chemicals, etc we are desperately in need of something that can help restore our gut. We have millions of friendly bacteria present in our body at any given time which help with digestion, fighting disease, etc. However, with the problems listed above, these bacteria can get quickly wiped out and our immune system compromised. Eating a diet that includes fermented foods is a great way to build up your protective forces in your gut. Fermenting foods also increased vitamin and mineral content. Additionally, many digestive enzymes are released, making it even easier for your body to absorb all the nutrients. For more info check this out Fermented Foods: Top 8 Reasons to Eat Them.
Can Things Go Wrong?
Yes, things can go wrong. If you EVER see mold on anything you have created, do NOT eat it. Don’t even try to pick it off. The best thing to do is to start over. There are a few other things that can go wrong but they are rare and I haven’t ever experienced anything like that. I had one Kombucha scoby mold on me, not sure what I did but I freaked out and tossed it in the trash. Oh well. Next time. The biggest thing to remember (and this is always listed in the directions of a recipe) is to keep vegetables under the brine (liquid) level (like when making carrots). That will keep oxygen out and prevent mold. Also making sure all of your equiptment (jars, spoons, etc) are cleaned well in hot water! Like I said above there are fancy contraptions to make it even safer, and maybe someday Ill have the money to buy some, but for now I just follow the basic rules and everything has been fine!
Some of My Favorite Lacto-Fermented Food Recipes!
Homemade Sauerkraut (Note that sauerkraut doesn’t require the addition of whey, just be sure to follow directions!)
That should get you started…if you are confused about all this, because there really is so much information and I am trying to keep it short…ask me in the comments and I will answer to the best of my ability! 🙂
Go, on, make some tasty bacteria now. Don’t be scared!
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