Lacto-fermentation allows us to more easily digest many foods. If one looks at the digestive systems of herbivores, you will find multiple stomachs able to hold and ferment difficult-to-digest plant foods. This allows the ruminants (cows, goats, etc) to live off of grass where we cannot. We can imitate this process by fermenting our food before we even eat it. Then many of the complex portions of the food are already broken down and there are more beneficial bacteria available. The process also creates lactic acid, a wonderful nutrient for the digestive tract, and enzymes to aid digestion. These bacteria also greatly increase the amount of essential vitamins present in the food.
Lacto-fermentation typically requires 3 basic things:
- Inoculating agent (typically whey)
- Enough liquid to submerge all solid foods
- Sugar (simple or complex)
Things that can be fermented (almost anything):
- Dairy – yogurt, kefir, cheese, crème fraiche, butter
- Vegetables and fruits – sauerkraut, kimchi, relish, chutney
- Grains – sourdough, fermented cereal
- Meats – not done in our culture, many cultures of the world, especially the Inuit, eat lots of fermented meat
- You will need quality yogurt (preferably home-made or Seven-stars brand)
- You will get much more quantity and quality from home-made yogurt
- Put a clean dish cloth over a strainer which is over a jar or bowl.
- Pour the yogurt into the dish cloth.
- Gather the sides of the cloth into a bundle and tie together.
- Hang over the jar or bowl at room temperature for several hours until the bundle stops dripping.
- The liquid in the jar is whey and will keep in the fridge for about 6 months
- The solids portion in the cloth is yogurt cheese and is delicious—enjoy!
Equipment and Ingredients:
- Large bowl
- Vegetables of your choice
- Any herbs and spices you would like
- 1-3 teaspoons of sea salt
- 4 tablespoons of whey
- 1 quart wide-mouth mason jar
- Wooden masher – this can be a large sanded dowel, a piece of wood from the yard that has been carved clean (be sure it is not a toxic wood such as rhododendron or laurel)
- Shred, grate, or chop vegetables into the bowl (cabbage is fool-proof)
- Almost any vegetable will do (cabbage, carrots, turnips, corn, green beans, onions)
- Add whey and 1-2 teaspoons of salt
- Wash your hands well and then begin massaging the vegetables with your hands breaking them down and you can also use the masher to pound the vegetables.
- As vegetables start to become broken down and more liquid is produced, add herbs and spices and more salt to taste.
- Finish breaking down until liquid squishes out of the vegetables when squeezed.
- Put the mixture into the jar.
- Press the solid vegetables down into the bottom of the jar so that they are submerged in their own liquid. You can also place a smaller jar of water into the jar to keep the solid vegetables from rising.
- Leave a few inches of space in the top of the jar for expansion (very important!!)
- Put the top on tightly and keep at room temperature for 3 days.
- Check in 24 hours to be sure the lid is not bowing out from pressure after the first day; release pressure if it is.
- Also check to be sure the vegetables are staying submerged in the brine.
- After 3 days, open the jar and taste. It should taste sour and sharp. Leave out another day if it is still bland. Mold may form if the vegetables were not properly submerged. This is a surface phenomenon so just scrape off the top layer if this happens.
- Do not eat if it smells bad; the wrong bacteria have taken over.
- Store in the fridge. You can eat it now but it gets even better with age. This will last months in the fridge.
Put your fermented vegetables on almost any dish to add delicious flavor. Never heat your fermented vegetables as you will kill the probiotics.
This process preserves, flavors, and adds health benefits including lactic acid, probiotics, important vitamins, and digestive enzymes.