Lacto-Fermentation and Foods Made Using Lacto-Fermentation
Many of our ancestors used fermentation as a method of food preservation. It was a way to preserve vegetables for long periods of time … without the use of our modern canning equipment and freezers. Many of our ancestors had lacto-fermented sauerkraut, cucumber pickles, beets and onions tucked safely away inside crocks in their root cellars.
The process of fermentation is almost as old as life itself. At some point in history, humans learned how to ferment food as a way to preserve it and to improve its flavor. This preservation method was handed down through the generations as a proven way to provide nutritious food at times well beyond the typical growing season.
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What is lacto-fermentation?
So what is lacto-fermentation?
The term “lacto” refers to the Lactobacillus bacteria. This is the beneficial bacteria that is often advertised as being present in yogurt. It is also a common bacteria found in all probiotic supplements.
Various strains of the Lactobacillus bacteria can be found on the surfaces of plants, especially those growing in close proximity to the ground. It is also one of the good bacteria strains common in the healthy gastrointestinal tracts of humans.
Lactobacillus bacteria are able to quickly and easily convert sugars and starches, such as those found in milk and other dairy products, into lactic acid. However, lacto-fermentation is not limited to dairy products alone. Other common fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, cortido, kombucha and kefir are all produced using the natural processes of lacto-fermentation.
Acting as a natural preservative, lactic acid inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria while at the same time preserving and often increasing the bioavailability of the enzymes and vitamins of the foods being preserved.
Lacto-fermentation creates a super-food that is easily digested and full of the probiotics needed to maintain a healthy digestive system.
Sauerkraut – An Example of Lacto-Fermentated Foods
All it takes to make sauerkraut is finely shredded cabbage, water, salt and time. The salt acts as a preservative for the cabbage until the process of lacto-fermentation begins - the Lactobacillus bacteria begin to grow and do their magic. These probiotic bacteria are the mechanism that converts the lowly cabbage into a super nutritious food that is extremely beneficial for our digestive system.
Unlike its commercially produced counterparts, naturally fermented sauerkraut does not contain vinegar. The sour taste is achieved entirely from the natural process of lacto-fermentation. The naturally occurring sugar found in cabbage is converted into lactic acid. This process is what gives the kraut its characteristic sour flavor. The lactic acid also preserves the cabbage and prevents it from spoiling. As long as it is stored at a cool temperature, properly fermented sauerkraut can be safely stored for years without refrigeration. Containers or crocks of lacto-fermented foods such as sauerkraut were often buried underground or stored in caves and root cellars for long periods of time.
You may be surprised to find that many different cultures have included lacto-fermented foods in their diets. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, dairy products, grape leaves, root vegetables and herbs are eaten in traditional European homes. The Alaskan Inuit consume fermented fish and sea mammals. Kimchi, pickled vegetables and sauces are served throughout the Orient. And porridges made from soured grains are eaten by farming societies in central Africa.
Lacto-fermented pickles and relishes have long been a part of the traditional foods served in many countries. After the advent of the industrial revolution, however, most pickling processes were achieved through the use of vinegar since it provided more predictable results.
But the process that provided these predictable results also robbed us of all of the nutritional and health benefits provided by lacto-fermented foods.
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Sally Fallon's book Nourishing Traditions
Health Benefits of Lacto-Fermented Foods
In her book, Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon states:
“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 but also promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout the intestine.”
Lacto-fermented foods contain a powerhouse of benefits.
- Fermentation does not destroy certain nutrients that are often destroyed by other preservation methods. In fact, lacto-fermentation actually increases and enhances the nutrients found in the final product.
- Lacto-fermentation can remove toxins and other harmful bacteria present in many foods.
- The consumption of lacto-fermented foods will improve your digestion, especially if consumed before meals.
- The fermentation process creates and preserves important enzymes that are beneficial to your digestive system.
- Consuming lacto-fermented foods helps to stimulate and build up your immune system helping to fight off many diseases, including cancer. It increases your B vitamins, digestive enzymes, omega-3 fatty acids, lactase and lactic acid and various strains of probiotics, all which help your body fight off harmful organisms.
It should be noted that in order to obtain the health benefits provided by these superfoods, the food must be consumed raw. Only raw naturally fermented foods contains lactic acid and the living probiotic microorganisms that gives fermented foods their healthy one-two punch. Pasteurization, canning and/or fully cooking these foods kills the beneficial organisms these foods contain.
Natural Doctors Understand the Health Benefits of Sauerkraut
Dr. Thomas Cowan recommends its use as part of his treatment to effectively and naturally treat acne. His strategy for dealing with acne begins with effective bowel cleansing and the production of healthy gut flora – the cornerstone of all natural acne treatments. The high sulfur content of cabbage is especially valuable in a skin cleansing regimen.
Even in Irish folk medicine, cabbage juice is said to be used to obtain a beautiful complexion.
Dr. Mercola, an osteopathic physician who practices alternative medicine, recommends the use of sauerkraut or cabbage juice to treat acid reflux. He states that “sauerkraut or cabbage juice is one of the strongest stimulants for your body to produce acid … many people have low stomach acid, which is the cause of their gut problems. Having a few teaspoons of (fermented) cabbage juice before eating … will do wonders to improve your digestion.”
As you can see, lacto-fermented foods offer a number of health benefits. Because their probiotic content aids digestion and effectively works to heal digestive tract damage, they should be a part of every healthy diet. If you are unable to make your own, raw fermented foods such as sauerkraut can be found in the refrigerator section of most health food stores. Be sure to read the label … you don’t want to see the word, “pasteurized.” The cabbage should be completely covered with water. Bubbles in the jar aren’t a problem because they’re proof that living bacteria is at work.
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Make your own Kombucha using a SCOBY
SCOBY = Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast
Additional Reasons to Eat Lacto-Fermented Foods
Aside from all the health benefits that can be gained by eating lacto-fermented foods, there are several other great reasons to incorporate them into your diet.
- Probiotics abound in lacto-fermented foods and drinks. Foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi and drinks such as kefir and kombucha introduce beneficial bacteria into your digestive tract and work to balance the bacteria in your digestive system. These natural probiotics improve bowel health, aid digestion, slow or reverse disease and improve your immune system.
- Lacto-fermented foods can be stored for long periods of time without any loss of nutrients.
- The proper balance of bacteria in your gut and having enough digestive enzymes in your digestive tract will enable you to absorb more nutrients from the foods that you eat. Pair this with a clean healthy diet and you won’t need as many vitamins and supplements to keep your body healthy and strong.
- Lacto-fermented foods are budget-friendly often costing only pennies per serving. Additionally, by adding them into your diet, you will be able to reduce the number of supplements needed to maintain your health which will benefit your budget even further.
Are You Ready to Create Your Own Lacto-Fermented Foods?
Lacto-fermentation is easy to learn. With a little patience and a few supplies you could be well on your way to eating your own healthy lacto-fermented foods.
One important thing to remember is not to be intimidated by lacto-fermentation. Lacto-fermented foods produce a familiar sour smell (think sauerkraut); so, unless it smells unmistakably putrid, it is generally safe to consume. You will generally know when a batch has gone bad.
Once you start to enjoy the flavor and health benefits of lacto-fermented foods, you will find great satisfaction in being able to create these health-producing foods for yourself. You may also find that you want to keep a few jars/crocks going in your pantry or root cellar for year-round enjoyment.
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