What is Lacto-fermentation?
Fermentation is as old as life itself. At some point, many thousands of years ago, humans learned to guide the fermentation process to preserve foods, and these processes have been handed down through generation after generation. Lactic acid, or Lacto-fermentation is a biological process by which glucose and other sugars are converted into cellular energy and the metabolite lactate, a natural preservative that inhibits putrefying bacteria. Foods that are “preserved” via this method are nutrient-dense, enzyme rich, and contain healthy probiotics.
It is the method used when making fermented foods that most of us are familiar with like sauerkraut, kimchi (a spicy sauerkraut eaten with most every meal in Korea), and yogurt. You have no doubt heard of many of these foods, and may have eaten a number of them yourself. Almost every country around the world uses this technique in some manner to produce their own culturally traditional foods. Europeans consume lacto-fermented dairy, sauerkraut, grape leaves, herbs, and root vegetables. The Orient is known for pickled vegetables, sauces, and kimchi in particular. Farming societies in central Africa are known for porridges made from soured grains.
Here in the United States, pickles and relishes are a part of the American food tradition. In Alaska Inuit ferment fish and sea mammals. Since the onset of the industrial era, most pickling is done with vinegar which offers some more predictable results, and does not employ lactic acid in the preservation process. Fermentation is like modern day pickling without all the work of sterilization. This fermentation process is reliant on the production of some good bacteria to help preserve the food. It is easy to learn the art of lacto-fermentation, with just a little patience, good instructions, and minimal supplies.
The important thing is not to be intimidated. Fermented foods are some of the safest preserved foods and they are easy for even a beginner to prepare. With just a few easy steps you will be well on your way to some great lacto-fermented treats.
Basic Sauerkraut Recipe
1 medium head green cabbage (about 3 pounds)
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
2-quart widemouth canning jar (or two quart mason jars)
- Clean everything: When fermenting anything, it’s best to give the good, beneficial bacteria every chance of succeeding by starting off with as clean an environment as possible.
- Slice the cabbage:. Cut the cabbage into thin ribbons.
- Combine the cabbage and salt: Transfer the cabbage to a big mixing bowl and sprinkle the salt over the top. Begin working the salt into the cabbage by massaging and squeezing the cabbage with your hands. At first, it may not seem like enough salt, but gradually, the cabbage will become watery and limp, more like coleslaw than raw cabbage. This will take 5 to 10 minutes.
- Pack the cabbage into the jar: Grab handfuls of the cabbage and pack them into the canning jar. Tamp down the making sure all the cabbage is submerged under the liquid.
- Cover the jar: Cover the mouth of the mason jar with a cloth and secure it with a rubber band or twine. This allows air to flow in and out of the jar, but prevent dust or insects from getting in the jar. You can also use the lid to your mason jar just make sure that you leave the lid loose to allow air flow.
- Ferment the cabbage for 3 to 10 days: As it’s fermenting, keep the sauerkraut away from direct sunlight and at a cool room temperature when the sauerkraut tastes good to you, screw on the cap, and refrigerate. You can allow the sauerkraut to continue fermenting for 10 days or even longer before refrigerating. If you see any mold, skim it off immediately and make sure your cabbage is fully submerged; don’t eat moldy parts close to the surface, but the rest of the sauerkraut is fine.
- Store sauerkraut for several months: This sauerkraut is a fermented product so it will keep for at least two months and often longer if kept refrigerated. As long as it still tastes and smells good to eat, it will be.