Lacto-fermentation and You (i.e. Why Making Your Own Sauerkraut & Sourdough Bread is Important)

March 16, 2012 at 9:42 am 2 comments

Homemade sauerkraut, ready for some lacto-fermentation action!

What comes to mind when you think, “fermented”?

Hopefully it’s not “ewww”, because fermented foods can be incredibly tasty, not to mention they have a ton of health benefits!

Fermentation is the way most cultures all over the world preserved certain foods so they wouldn’t go bad long before refrigerators and freezers were invented. You can find methods of fermenting foods all over the world that have been around for thousands of years!

There are two main types of fermentation:

  • lacto fermentation 
  • alcoholic fermentation (also called ethanol fermentation)

They’re both similar in that they both convert the sugars present in foods (glucose, fructose, and sucrose) into something else via friendly bacteria.

Lacto-fermentation gives us delicious goodies like yogurt and sourdough bread!
picture credit

Lacto-fermentation is the process by which sugars are converted into lactic acid via friendly bacteria (actually, if you want to get scientific, the sugars are converted into cellular energy, and lactic acid is the byproduct, but close enough). Lactic acid is what gives lacto-fermented foods their tangy, delicious flavor, and what preserves the foods so they can be stored without refrigeration for weeks to come.
This type of fermentation is seen in the creation of things like yogurt, sourdough bread, sauerkraut, kimchi, and a wide range of fermented vegetables and fruits. Even some condiments like ketchup and chutney are traditionally lacto-fermented foods!

Without alcoholic fermentation, there would be no wine or beer! OR yeast bread! *gasp* Terrifying thought, I know.

Alcoholic fermentation is the process by which sugars are converted into alcohol and carbon dioxide via friendly bacteria, in this case, yeasts.
This type of fermentation is used to create wine, beer, and yeast bread (in case you’re wondering why your yeast bread isn’t alcoholic, the alcohol is burned off when the bread is baked. Tragic, I know).

Lacto-fermented fruits and vegetables are very easy to make.
You simply add salt (and sometimes whey and/or spices) to vegetables and fruits, pound them a bit so they release their juices (this is more common with vegetables than fruit I believe), and store them in airtight containers. Then you wait for them to ferment before eating them. Easy.

So why is all this important?
Besides keeping foods preserved without the use of a refrigerator, freezer, or canning; lacto-fermented foods have many health benefits as well.

Health Benefits of Lacto-fermented foods:

Those friendly little bacteria in lacto-fermented foods that create the lactic acid, known as lactobacilli, help us not only to digest those fermented foods better, but they also increase the vitamin content of those foods.
In human intestines, we have a wide range of friendly bacteria all the time, known as intestinal flora. These flora are extremely important in helping our bodies digest foods better, absorb nutrients better, fight off dangerous bacteria and pathogens, , get rid of dangerous carcinogens, develop our immunity, and help prevent allergies.

Although we already have some lactobacilli in our intestines, when we eat lacto-fermented foods we get more of these helpful bacteria, and they, in turn, help produce other useful bacteria in our intestines (in addition to helping with the things I mentioned above). It’s a win win situation!

Unfortunately, when food began being mass produced in factories, they started pasteurizing (heating at high temperatures for a specific length of time) traditionally fermented foods, which kills all of those helpful lactobacilli.

Some people believe that it is the pasteurization of so many of our foods that has led to a severe decrease in the helpful bacteria present in our intestinal flora, which has, in turn, led to an increase in things like allergies and dangerous deseases in our society.

Disclaimer: I do not have a scientific background or published studies to list as references for all this. I’m sorry. I wish I did. This is just what I’ve read over a long time in a wide range of well documented books and websites, particularly, Nourishing Traditions and The Weston A. Price Foundation. Their information is very well referenced, and I recommend reading their information on the topic if you want more in depth information.

If you want a bit more scientific info about fermentation and intestinal flora (and who wouldn’t, right? Afternoon coffee reading right there), here are some links to the handy dandy site we know and love, Wikipedia.

Next week, I’m going to be introducing you to some easy homemade lacto-fermented foods (that are not scary. I promise) that you can make and enjoy.
Here are some of the recipes I’ll be introducing you to:

  • sauerkraut
  • ketchup
  • Making a Rye sourdough starter (and making bread with it)
  • ginger ale

I’m hoping to also try my hand at making homemade yogurt next week, so I’ll let you know how that goes. 🙂


Entry filed under: Nutrition & Health. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. John Estick  |  April 15, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    A very nice introduction to fermented foods. I do all I can to encourage anyone who takes an interest in this important and health promoting area.

    The value of gut bacteria, which is well summarized in your article is not widely know. It is also not widely known that processed foods, and antibiotics kill off our good gut bacterial and allow pathogens and toxin bacteria to proliferate.

    In times past we would all be eating lots of probiotic foods like the ones listed in your piece as well as raw milk, unpasteurized cheese and soil from our gardens that would cling to vegetables.

    All these sources would top-up our good bacteria or replace them if they were lost.

    Today people can suffer for years from problems caused by bad bacteria in the gut, because most people never eat probiotic foods.

    The work of Natasha Campbell-McBride brings this into sharp focus. She discovered that gut bacteria are passed from mother to baby. If the mother has bad gut bacteria, the baby will inherit them.

    This can cause childhood illnesses, allergies and autism. She successfully cured her own son’s autism and her protocol has been used around the world to cure many other children as well as treating adults for a host of gut bacteria related problems.

    Great article. I look forward to the follow ups.

  • 2. Magda  |  October 28, 2012 at 6:55 pm

    I fermented carrots a week ago and opened up the jar to skim the “scum” off the top. However, the carrots had an alcoholic smell to them rather than a sour one. Why is this so? Should they be safe to consume after another week of fermentation?



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About Me

My name is Rachel. I'm a small-town girl born and raised in Oklahoma, currently living in Japan, who likes cooking, baking, reading, working out, and traveling. Join me in my culinary adventures, my domestic doings, and the story of my life, one day at a time.

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