As you may or may not already know, all vegetables and fruit harbor bacteria on their surfaces referred to as lactobacillus bacteria that have the ability to convert sugars from food into lactic acid in an anaerobic environment.
What does that even mean?
Well, for starters, lactic acid is an awesome preservative that inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria and allows you to be able to store the food you’re fermenting for longer periods of time. It’s also what allows you to ferment those fruits or vegetables on the counter for a couple of weeks without anything molding. How do you think our ancestors ate fruits or vegetables during the winter months before grocery stores?! This concept has been utilized for thousands of years!
Why else are lacto-fermented foods good for us? Not only does lactic acid preserve food, but it also increases and helps preserve nutrient bio-availability and enzyme content, as well the digestibility of the food you are fermenting. On top of that, it’s an incredible probiotic! All that beneficial bacteria is mucho-excellent for your gut, and may help with common digestive issues such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, acid reflux, and other digestive complaints when eaten in moderation.
Can I get the same benefits from vegetables pickled in vinegar?
While foods pickled in vinegar taste like they have been fermented, that is actually not always the case. Commonly, foods that have been pickled were preserved in an acid medium, such as vinegar. And while vinegar is a by-product of fermentation, it does not do the fermenting. So you are basically getting the flavor without the added benefits of true fermented foods. On top of that, store-bought foods that have been pickled are often prepared using high heat and pressure, something that can kill the beneficial bacteria.
Lacto-fermented foods on the other hand create their own acid medium that preserves the food and is chock-full of all those beneficial bacteria, enzymes, and even sometimes increased B-vitamins!
What to look for when shopping for fermented foods at the store…
Ingredient labels that contain:
- Vegetables or fruit
- Filtered water or pure vegetable juice
- That’s it!
To make your own lacto-fermented vegetables, you need…
- Vegetables that have been grated, shredded, chopped, or even left whole
- You can ferment fruits too, but just know that they ferment faster than vegetables
- A starter culture such as Himalayan pink salt or sea salt
- Use 1 – 3 tablespoons of salt per quart jar
- Filtered water or freshly juiced vegetable juice
- A glass jar
- Cheesecloth or loose-fitting lid
- Place chopped vegetables in a bowl and sprinkle salt on top.
- Mash the salt into the food using a wooden spoon.
- Pack vegetables into the jar tightly so there is very little extra space and the jar is full almost to the rim.
- You may use fruit too, but just be conscious that they ferment faster than vegetables!
- Pour the filtered water or fresh vegetable juice on top of the vegetables, making sure everything is fully submerged.
- If you leave anything out of the brine, it has a high likelihood of molding. If this occurs, simply pick out the molded piece and continue with the fermenting process – everything under the brine will still be completely fine and healthy to eat. I find that using a cabbage leaf holds everything under the brine well.
- You may also skip the step about pounding the salt into the vegetables, and simply dissolve it in the water. I just prefer to mash it into the vegetables because it helps bring out more of their juices.
- Using freshly juiced vegetable juice in place of water is ideal if you’d like to intensify the flavors, but it is not necessary.
- Cover the jar with either a cheesecloth or a loose-fitting lid. If using a lid, you may have to burp your jar daily to let any fermenting gases escape so your jar doesn’t blow! I like to simply put the lid but not tighten it so it’s on loose enough that air is allowed to pass freely but not so loose that fruit flies or other insects can get in.
- Let jar sit on the counter for a week.
- Taste the vegetables after a week to see if they are the desired flavor you’d like. If not quite there yet, let ferment a little longer until they are to your satisfaction!
- When fermented to your liking, seal lid tightly and place in the refrigerator.
- They should store for several months.