What is it that’s so special about fermented vegetables and foods?
Fermentation simply refers to an ancient technique and preservation method that naturally alters the chemistry of foods. People have been using fermentation to preserve valuable vegetables and other perishable foods for long periods without the use of modern-day refrigerators, freezers or canning machines. I think that most of us, when ﬁrst starting to experiment with home ferments, wondered if we were going to do something terribly wrong and kill off our family with the results of our experiments. We just are no longer used to the idea of fermenting things in our home.
Before we had the technology of keeping food fresh with a refrigerator, we had to preserve our food by pickling. In fact, fermenting food is the original food preservation method. However, you may be wondering why someone might go through the work of pickling veggies.
With the right equipment on hand, it’s not a time-consuming task at all. Just mix the right amount of salt in some water, submerge the food you wish to ferment, and wait. That’s it!
Fermenting vegetables is the healthiest method of food preservation. Beneﬁcial bacteria and yeast consumes the sugars in the vegetables, leaving behind a potent pro-biotic that, in many ways, is more nutritious than the original vegetable.
Have you ever come across an amazing deal on vegetables, or found that you save a signiﬁcant amount of money buying in bulk? The only problem with this is the food usually spoils before you get the chance to eat it. Gardeners also know all too well the pain of throwing away a bountiful harvest because they couldn’t eat it. Now you can acquire as many veggies as you want through the summer, and have plenty stored up to last you all winter long!
Like many things, man is determined to ﬁx that which isn’t broken. Store bought fermented vegetables may look pickled; but if you’re not careful, you could end up purchasing food that is soaked in vinegar and deprived of all nutritional value. By preserving food on your own, you know the exact ingredients that have gone into the food you’re going to eat and the method that was used.
How much is fermented?
As many as 30% of our foods and drinks are fermented, aged, cultured: yogurt, keﬁr, cheese, chocolate, sour cream, cottage cheese, pickles, sauerkraut. It’s how you got through the winter, by fermenting crops in the fall.
Eating fermented foods is safer than eating raw vegetables. The reason is that while yes, raw vegetables can have E.coli on it, once the fermentation process starts, the lactic acid and the E. coli are in direct competition with each other, and lactic acid is a serial killer of E. coli.
The presence of live growing cells of lactic acid bacteria, which are the ones that ferment pickles and cheese and a lot of things, actually in competition cause E. coli to die off rather quickly, because they produce things other than just the acid. Lactic acid bacteria are highly efﬁcient killers of other bacteria, and they do a marvelous job. This is why vegetable fermentations pretty much always works. It’s been working for thousands of years. It’s one of the oldest technologies known to man and it always works, and the reason is these lactic acid bacteria are very good at what they do.
Traditional cultures didn’t have canning jars or supermarkets. The food they harvested in one season often had to be kept for the upcoming seasons, and their survival often depended on its preservation. Thankfully, they had a simple and effective method of preservation – lacto-fermentation. (By the way, lacto-fermentation doesn’t refer to the use of any milk products, but rather to the lactic acid fermentation responsible for culturing.)
Through fermentation, foods are preserved through the work of healthy bacteria. In a process that seems almost magical, but is easily explained through science, yet with roots going back far into history, not only does fermentation preserve food, but it also transforms food into a pro-biotic supplement and increases digestibility and vitamin content! It’s no wonder that we ﬁnd fermented foods all over the world in traditional cultures!
How are fermented foods good for us?
- Helps us digest — Fermented foods are predigested. The fermentation process actually makes the food more digestible to us by breaking down hard to digest cellulose in food. People who have trouble digesting certain foods can often tolerate them in a fermented form, onions for instance.
- Controls yeast overgrowth
- Balances gut ﬂora — 80-90% of our immune system is in our gut. Good gut ﬂora is what makes vitamin B available to the body. B Vitamins are ‘happy’ vitamins, that help with mental clarity. One of the reasons fermented foods are so great is because the fermentation process increases certain nutrients. For example, sauerkraut has an increased vitamin C content.
- Improves nutrient absorption
- Breaks down proteins
- Rebuilds tissues
- Fermentation is the only type of preparation of foods that cannot destroy certain nutrients, will creates more nutrients and enhances others.
- It removes toxins and harmful bacteria found in many foods.
- It will improve your digestion, especially when consumed before your meal and also allows for your nutrients to be absorbed properly.
- It aids in the preservation and creation of important enzymes.
- Fermentation is a huge supporter to your immune function. It increases your B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, digestive enzymes, lactase and lactic acid that ﬁght off harmful bacteria.
Billie Nicholson, Editor