As I often do, I think about how people used to preserve the harvest before electricity. Drying, curing and fermenting are a few ways. While I’m interesting in all of the old fashioned ways of preserving, I have done the most experimenting with fermenting, lacto-fermentation to be exact.
Lacto-fermentation occurs when the starches and sugars in vegetables and fruit are converted to lactic acid by friendly bacteria, called lactobacilli. Lactic acid is a naturally occurring preservative. The science of it all may be complex, but the practice of it is super easy. Basically, all you need to do is provide the right environment for the process to happen and then it does it all by itself.
Lacto-fermented foods are rich in probiotics. You may already know about probiotic rich foods like yogurt. Probiotics are often called “friendly bacteria” or “good bacteria.” The Mayo Clinic’s website states that while more research is needed, there’s encouraging evidence that probiotics may help treat diarrhea, prevent infections, treat eczema, and reduce the severity of colds and flu.
While many ways of processing drops the food’s nutritional value, lacto-fermentation actually boosts it. In addition to helping digestion, fermentation increased the vitamin & mineral content of the food.
In “Nourishing Traditions”, Sally Fallon states that, “The proliferation of lactobacilli in fermented vegetables enhances their digestibility and increases vitamin levels. These beneficial organisms produce numerous helpful enzymes as well as antibiotic and anticarcinogenic substances. Their main by-product, lactic acid, not only keeps vegetables and fruits in a state of perfect preservation but also promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout the intestine.”
The great part about lacto-fermentation is that it is super easy and requires little equipment other than wide-mouth mason jars. Sure you can splurge on a $145 Harsch Gairtopf Fermenting Crock Pot (yes, this is a gift hint for anyone looking to spoil me with an expensive kitchen gadget) but I’ve done just fine with mason jars.
When picking out vegetables, go for organic or naturally grown, without pesticide. Pesticide residue can mess the whole thing up! It’s yet another on a long list of reasons to avoid chemicals on your food.
If you really want to get into fermenting, “Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods” by Sandor Ellix Katz is an excellent resource.
Recently I went a little crazy in the kitchen (nothing unusual). I naturally fermented carrots, beets, sauerkraut and kimchi. I don’t think I’m ready to stop. I’m going to have another fermenting session after my trip to the farmers market Saturday. So little time, so much to ferment!
Whey is often used to jump start the fermentation process. If you are a cheese maker, than you have plenty already. If you aren’t, It is super easy to make with yogurt.
8oz plain whole milk yogurt with live cultures (Around here RonnyBrook is a good choice and easy to find)
- Line a strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth.
- Set over a bowl and pour in yogurt into strainer.
- The liquid collected is whey. You’ll get about 2-3 tablespoons from each 8oz yogurt. The left over yogurt will be nice and thick.
Lacto-Fermented Ginger Carrot Sticks
You can whip this up in a flash. I’m guessing it will take you less than 10 minutes; if you are quick with a knife, maybe less than five.
This is the easiest way to ease into lacto-fermentation. The tasty and tangy carrots make an easy and healthy snack. I always try to keep a jar on hand.
3-5 medium carrots, peeled
1 tablespoon whey (homemade if you don’t have any, use extra salt; do not use commercial whey or dried whey)
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
Filtered water, enough to cover the carrots
- Cut carrots into sticks. Size them so that they fit in a pint size jar with about an inch of headspace at the top. Place the carrot sticks into the jar. Make sure they fit snuggly. They should be wedged in tightly enough so that none float when the water is added.
- Add the rest of the ingredients and enough water to cover the carrots. Leave about an inch of space at the top of the jar.
- Put the lid on tightly and keep it at room temperature (72 degrees) for about three days. If it is cold, you may need to leave it out longer. You can taste to tell if they are done. If they aren’t as sour as you would like them, leave them out a little longer. The fermented carrots will last in your fridge for several months and will get better with age.