Fermenting Vegetables – Part 1

My Discovery

A couple years ago, on a quest to find local sources for raw milk (more on that later), the incredible world of lacto-fermentation was opened to me. I attended a conference geared for people interested in traditional eating for good health. I heard some new terms, like bone broth, ferments, and I kept hearing over and over again that good saturated fats (like butter from grass fed cows) are healthy. Say what???  Another phrase I learned at the conference was how these things can heal our guts. Heal our guts? I didn’t know that was possible. And a lot of us need some healing in that department. With the onslaught of food allergies, autoimmune disorders, IBS, to name only a few of the disorders that I believe start in our digestive systems, we could all use some help with working towards healing our ailing guts.

I’ve known for a long time the importance of keeping my digestive system healthy and most of us have come to terms with the idea that probiotics can improve the overall health of our digestive systems. But the importance of keeping our digestive systems healthy and balanced with enough beneficial bacteria cannot be overstated.

I’ve been experimenting with supplemental probiotics, digestive enzymes, and cultured yogurts for many years and these things helped some. But keeping it in balance is an ongoing struggle. This is where my education on lacto-fermentation enters the stage.

Naturally Preserved

Ancient civilizations knew how to preserve vegetables for long periods of time without refrigeration or canning them.  They understood how to control the naturally present lactobacilli that exists on all living things, particularly on plants that grow on or near the ground.  They may not have understood the nutritional benefits of these preserved foods, which was, and still is, a bonus. Fermentation enhances the digestibility of the raw foods and increases vitamin levels. The basic goal of our ancestors was to preserve food that was in season using the only method available.

Commitment

Freshly chopped cabbage
Freshly chopped cabbage ready to become fermented sauerkraut

Fermenting raw vegetables at home is not difficult, but it takes time. Time is something we all seem to have too little of. But the health benefits of making this commitment is well worth it.  It requires a shift in mindset and priorities. And it requires a few basic tools.  A small investment in time provides months of tasty nutritional goodness.

Cabbage is generally the best place to start. It is readily available, easy to ferment, and delicious, although many other vegetables can easily be fermented. We call fermented cabbage sauerkraut, but do not be confused by the soggy sauerkraut available in cans and jars in the grocery store. They lack the beneficial lactobacilli that true fermented sauerkraut has naturally.  The stuff in jars contains pasteurized (cooked) cabbage pickled with vinegar and contains little, if any, nutritional value or flavor. So with that out of the way, let’s get to the fermentation process.

An Overview

The basic process goes something like this:

Shred or chop cabbage. Sprinkle salt on it, fairly generously. Press down on cabbage until juices are released. Place in a vessel. Add salted water (if necessary) to cover the cabbage. Place a weight of some kind on the cabbage so that it stays under the liquid. Cover the vessel (more on this in the tools blog later) and leave at room temperature for 3-7 days. Refrigerate and enjoy.

Easy, right?  Stay tuned for Part 2 of the art of fermentation, where I will list resources, recipes, and the pros and cons of purchasing a fermentation crock. If you have questions floating around in your heads now, feel free to leave them in the comments and I will be sure to address them in Part 2.

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