Lacto-fermentation

Throughout history people have employed a variety of techniques to preserve food. Attempts to stretch foods past their usual growing season resulted in a variety of preservation methods worldwide including salting, canning, drying, and lacto-fermentation. While some of these methods are still considered commonplace today, others have lost popularity over time and are only recently regaining their place at the table.

Lacto-fermentation is one such preservation method. While lacto-fermented foods are still popular in many cultures worldwide, they are unfamiliar to most people in the United States. In recent years, however, lacto-fermentation has gained more public interest as its numerous health benefits became more apparent.

The making of sauerkraut and other lacto-fermented food products relies on promoting the growth of a family of bacteria called lactobacilli, which is already present on most foods, though in small amounts. As lactobacilli grow and reproduce they create a substance called lactic acid, which kills of other, unhealthy bacteria and gives the food its vinegar-like taste. The presence of lactobacilli and lactic acid in fermented foods provide several health benefits such as supporting healthy gut bacteria, reducing the likelihood of developing candida (a yeast infection of the intestine), and potentially reducing the risk of cancer.

The lacto-fermentation process is simpler than you might expect. All you need to create your own lacto-fermented vegetables is your veggie(s) of choice, non-iodized salt, boiled water, and a canning jar. Unlike some other fermentation techniques, which require a starter culture, lacto-fermentation relies on the lactobacilli that is already present on the vegetables and in the environment to get the process started.

Here are two of our favorite lacto-fermentation recipes:

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Making sauerkraut at the Tommy Thompson Community Teaching Garden

Sauerkraut

What you’ll need:

  • 2 lbs of cabbage
  • 1 scant tablespoon of salt (MUST be non-iodized or the good bacteria will not grow)
  • 1 cup cooled boiled water
  • 1 medium sized bowl
  • 1 quart sized mason jar and lid
  • A spoon (and tamping stick if desired)
  • A cloth

What you do:

  1. Cut cabbage into shreds like you would for coleslaw
  2. Mix the cabbage and salt in a bowl, stirring to make sure the salt is evenly distributed
  3. Cover the bowl with a cloth and let sit until the cabbage has let go of some water (about 20 minutes)
  4. Spoon the cabbage mixture into a mason jar, pressing down or tamping every few scoops to pack down the cabbage and remove air bubbles
  5. Fill jar to no more than 1 inch from the top
  6. Add the cooled boiled to cover the cabbage mixture by a little over half an inch
  7. Screw on the lid, but leave loose enough to allow air to escape during fermentation
  8. Leave the jar on the counter at room temperature for 2-5 days (the time it takes for the fermentation process to really get going can vary greatly) making sure to set it in a dish or baking pan to catch any liquid that may bubble out of the jar during fermentation
  9. Once the mixture stops foaming (1-7 days) pour more chilled boiled water to again cover the mixture by a little over half an inch and place the jar in either the refrigerator or cellar

Unopened, the jar will stay good for up to a year. Once opened, put the jar in the refrigerator and use within a month or two.

***IMPORTANT NOTE: DO NOT eat any lacto-fermented vegetables that take on a strange color or develop mold. This is a sign that something went wrong during the fermentation process and the food could very likely make you ill. As heart breaking as it is to throw away your hard-earned vegetables, it is truly better not to risk it.

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A fresh batch of Pickled Ginger Carrots

Pickled Ginger Carrots

What you’ll need:

  • 1 lbs of carrots
  • 1/2 scant tablespoon of salt (MUST be non-iodized or the good bacteria will not grow)
  • 1/2 cup cooled boiled water
  • 1 medium sized bowl
  • 1 pint sized mason jar and lid
  • A spoon (and tamping stick if desired)
  • A cloth

What you do:

  1. Shred the carrots and ginger
  2. Mix the shredded vegetables and salt in a bowl, stirring to make sure the salt is evenly distributed
  3. Cover the bowl with a cloth and let sit until the cabbage has let go of some water (about 20 minutes)
  4. Spoon the carrot mixture into a mason jar, pressing down or tamping every few scoops to pack down the cabbage and remove air bubbles
  5. Fill jar to no more than 1 inch from the top
  6. Add the cooled boiled to cover the mixture by a little over half an inch
  7. Screw on the lid, but leave loose enough to allow air to escape during fermentation
  8. Leave the jar on the counter at room temperature for 2-5 days (the time it takes for the fermentation process to really get going can vary greatly) making sure to set it in a dish or baking pan to catch any liquid that may bubble out of the jar during fermentation
  9. Once the mixture stops foaming (1-7 days) add more chilled boiled water to again cover the mixture by a little more than half an inch and place the jar in either the refrigerator or cellar

Unopened, the jar will stay good for up to a year. Once opened, put the jar in the refrigerator and use within a month or two.

***Again, DO NOT eat any lacto-fermented vegetables that take on a strange color or develop mold. This is a sign that something went wrong during the fermentation process and the food could very likely make you ill. As heart breaking as it is to throw away your hard-earned vegetables, it is truly better not to risk it.

Resources for additional information:

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