Monday, July 12, 2010

Eating Lacto-Fermented Vegetables

I will be posting a series on lacto-fermentation all week, beginning here with health benefits.

Lacto-fermented vegetables are intended to be eaten in small amounts with each meal, both as a digestive aid and as a nutrient-booster, although some people like a full serving on their plate. It's a matter of choice, but just a few tablespoons daily will improve your health. Put some pickle slices or kraut on a sandwich at lunchtime... and add a tablespoon or two of fermented carrots, broccoli or cauliflower on a dinner salad.

When I was out of high school and dating, my boyfriend always took me to one of the wonderful open-24-hour delicatessens for late-night dessert treat after a movie or a play. I remember there was always a 'relish' tray with perhaps 5-6 small dishes of pickles, kraut, beets, and several other items; Howie said they were to help with digestion. (They didn't go with my cake and ice cream, though.)

I didn't really understand that concept back then, since my family didn't make lacto-ferments and I had not grown up with eating them. It was only in recent years I understood my grandparents couldn't make them anymore due to the year-round warm weather they found in South Florida after moving from the dust bowl during the Depression. Much later, my mother moved to the NC mountains, and she started making sauerkraut and garlic dills for my step-father, who was born in Holland.

I doubt my mother knew the added nutritional benefits of ferments; she made them because they tasted great and my step-father loved them. Once any vegetable ferment has finished over the first 2-4 weeks, all of the ferments will taste great. However, the growth of added nutrients has just begun, and the taste just keeps getting better. The longer they mellow, the smoother the taste and the greater the nutrients (within a reasonable time, which is a variable of months to 2-3 years).

Lactic acid fermentation is a biological process by which sugars such as glucose, fructose, and sucrose, are converted into cellular energy and the metabolic byproduct lactate. (Probiotics) The term probiotics refers to bacteria and yeast found in food that are good for our bodies. Our skin and intestinal tract are completely covered in bacteria and the idea is that inviting the right kind of bacteria into our systems has health benefits. 

The human gut can contain over 2 lbs of intestinal microflora (beneficial bacteria) and they do some pretty important work there. They help digest food and create vitamins, they make it hard for bad bacteria to live there, and they stimulate the part of our immune system (70%) that is in our digestive system. In fact, there is more and more evidence that everything from acute intestinal upset to allergies to autism can be helped by normalizing gut bacteria and using probiotics.

Yogurt, kefir and buttermilk are all very common probiotic foods. These are all fermented dairy products that are eaten while the bacteria are still alive. Vegetables and fruit can also be cultured into probiotic foods through a process called lacto-fermentation. The Old-Timers merely called it 'pickling'.

The lacto-fermenting of vegetables is basically just covering vegetables with a salty brine and letting the bacteria do its work. The brine serves as a protection against the growth of putrefying microorganisms, and allows the growth of the desired of bacteria, Lactobacilli. Fermentation breaks nutrients down into more easily digestible forms. 

Lactobacilli transform lactose into easier-to-digest lactic acid. These cultures then create new nutrients: B vitamins, including folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, and biotin. Lactobacilli create omega-3 fatty acids, essential for cell membrane and immune system function. Some ferments have been shown to function as antioxidants, scavenging cancer precursors (free radicals) from the cells of the body. 

Sally Fallon says, "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 anti-carcinogenic substances. Their main by-product, lactic acid, not only keeps vegetables and fruits in a state of perfect preservation [for a varying amount of time] but also promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout the intestine."
The bottom line is this: Fermentation is tasty, and makes food more nutritious.


  1. This is great information. I learned about lacto fermintation several years ago and I love it. Thank you for all the information you share and the "how to's". You have a wonderful blog.

    1. Thanks. I do more lacto-ferments all the time as they are SO good for us!

      I'm about ready to try making some lacto-fermented mayonnaise, and ketchup. I'll post them if I do, good or bad.


I'd love to hear what you think about my posts! We all learn together.