You’ve probably heard of sauerkraut, kim chi or sour dill pickles. All these are lacto-fermented foods. Lacto-fermented vegetables are a light, refreshing accompaniment to everyday meals and they help to keep our digestive system in a good working order as they contain live bacteria that are good for our health. We usually think of bacteria as something that causes diseases. But our body is full of bacteria, both good and bad. And lacto-fermented vegetables are full of ‘good’ or ‘helpful’ bacteria.
Lacto-fermentation is a simple traditional process that was used for preserving vegetables for the winter. The process itself might not sound appetising but the health benefits of eating probiotic food with live Lactobacillus bacteria are huge. Sadly in the advent of modern food production this ancient method seems to have been forgotten but the good news is that it is growing in popularity again as more and more people discover the health benefits.
So what exactly is lacto-fermentation? First of all, to dispel the most common myth about lacto-fermentation, it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with dairy. Instead, the ‘lacto’ refers to lactic acid. Lactic acid is a natural preservative that inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria. The “lacto” portion of the term also refers to a specific species of bacteria, namely Lactobacillus. Lactobacillus bacteria have the ability to convert sugars into lactic acid. This strain is named so as it was first studied in milk ferments. The fermentation process releases a large amount of vitamin C, B and K and it also increases the bioavailability of nutrients rendering the fermented vegetables even more nutritious than the raw ones.
Most cultures around the world have some sort of fermented food that is a staple in their diet. Various studies have shown that 80% of our immune system is in our gut. The immune system deals with ageing, infection, disease, and general health. Consuming probiotic and enzyme rich foods helps us to build the immune system and aid digestion.
There are three types of lacto-fermenting: quick (3-4 hours), short term (3-4 days) and longer term (1 week or longer). I tried the middle method and it worked perfectly.
All you need is: a large glass jar, vegetables of your choice and salt (approximately one tablespoon). I chose Shetland cabbage, Chinese cabbage, carrots, beetroots, onions and a red pepper. After chopping and grating the vegetables and adding salt I used a big pot to ‘scrunch’ the vegetables up until liquid starts appearing. I also added some chilli flakes for an extra kick. Then pack the vegetables tightly into the jar and cover with a small saucer and weigh down with a stone. I also covered the jar with tin foil. Leave at room temperature for 4-5 days, then place into a smaller container and refrigerate.