Preserving Vegetables With Lacto-Fermentation

Preserving vegetables using lacto-fermentation helps provide the best probiotics for your health.

| September/October 2013

Before ample freezers and nifty pressure canners came along, people preserved food through a variety of different means. One of these methods, still effective today, utilizes naturally occurring microorganisms to create a lactic acid rich environment — as in kraut — that slows down the decomposition process. We’re talking about lacto-fermentation.

In addition to preserving vegetables, the process of lacto-fermentation partially breaks them down and makes some nutrients more available for uptake. Take sauerkraut, for instance: Sauerkraut is renowned for its high level of readily absorbed vitamin C. Historically, vats of it were squirreled away in cold cellars for long northern winters, or carried on ships to help prevent scurvy.

Health-wise, many of the live probiotic cultures in lacto-fermented food complement the bacteria in our stomachs. If you have plenty of good bacteria, it’s a natural fighting force against pathogens, helping to maintain your health. Incorporating lacto-fermented foods into your diet can help support beneficial gut flora, and gives new meaning to intestinal fortitude.

Basic biology

Making lacto-fermented vegetables is easy, and since the process promotes and maintains a highly acidic environment in the fermentation vessel, there is virtually no risk for botulism poisoning, even though the process is carried out in the absence of oxygen.

Spores of the botulism toxin-producing bacterium, Clostridium botulinum, are found naturally on most vegetables. Though generally harmless, these spores can be harmful to infants and others with compromised immune systems. The real scare comes from storing foods in a low-acid, anaerobic (oxygen-lacking) environment that hasn’t been properly sterilized – which is what all the fuss is about with canning. Under these conditions, C. botulinum produces a deadly, odorless, tasteless toxin. The biology and physical conditions inside the fermentation vessel are neither conducive to C. botulinum growth, nor to toxin formation, all without heat sterilization.

Fermentation vessel

For fermenting, you need a non-metallic container and a way to keep the vegetables immersed in brine. This might be a crock with a weighted plate on top of the vegetables, a plastic food-grade bucket (although some people have issues with using plastic in this acidic process), or a glass jar. If you use something that has an open top (not ideal), such as an old-fashioned crock or jar, be sure you have a heavy cloth to place over it, or fashion a firm-fitting wooden top to keep out critters. Better yet, use specially designed fermentation vessels that help you keep the entire process safe and sanitary.

7/18/2014 9:56:47 AM

Wow, loved the ferment info. I wish more people were aware of the healthful benefits of lacto fermentation. Great article and I sure hope to win the crock! I can only hope!

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