Lacto-Fermentation: The Roots of a Local Food Culture

Lacto Fermented Kholrabi with Red Onions

Lacto Fermented Kholrabi with Red Onions

Keepers of culinary traditions are re-discovering an ancient method of food preservation called lactic acid fermentation or lacto-fermentation as it is commonly called.    Folks are learning that these naturally fermented probiotic rich foods have many potential health benefits.  It is generally agreed upon that lacto-fermented foods have higher vitamin levels than the original foods they were made from and contain numerous healthy enzymes that enhance digestibility of the meals they are eaten with.

With the advent of modern pickling methods lacto-fermenting fell out of favor.  Is there a difference between these two methods of food preservation?  There certainly is.  Let’s take a quick look at the differences. 

Modern Pickles 

In the past hundred years or more modern pickling has been developed to preserve foods on a large scale.  Large, centralized manufacturers popularized this method because they could produce a consist product that has an indefinite shelf life and the ability to be shipped long distances.  Vegetables are washed in a diluted chlorine solution to destroy or inactivate any naturally occurring microflora that is present on the food.  Then the vegetables are packed in a solution of acetic acid (the main component of vinegar), salt and water to preserve them.  Most are then heat processed or pasteurized.  

The oldest cookbook in my collection dates back to 1905.  It has only recipes for making vinegar based pickles.  The exception to this is traditional sauerkraut which is a lacto-fermented product. 

Lacto-Fermentation 

Lactobacilli which are present on the surface of all living things, convert the starches and sugars of fruits, veggies and some meat into lactic acid.  Lactic acid inhibits the growth of putrefying bacteria.  Lacto-fermenting creates food that can be kept for many months in cold storage. 

About twenty years ago I introduced to Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon.  In this book about traditional diets I was introduced to lacto-fermenting.  Most of us are very familiar with yogurt or cheese which are lacto-fermented products.  But it is mind boggling how many more foods can be preserved using this method.  If we look back prior to the advent of vinegar preservation we will find an abundance of lacto-fermentation foods. 

Are you new to fermented foods?  Or are you an old hand at them.  Tell me about your experiences with lacto-fermented foods in the comments below.  

Join me again next week as we explore lacto-fermentation and its many benefits.

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