Aside from freezing and traditional canning methods, there is another way to preserve fresh produce from the growing season to enjoy all year round. It’s called lacto-fermentation, and if you’re interested in your gut health, this is probably the best way to add some fantastic flavors to your plate that will improve your gut flora. So what’s this lacto-fermentation and what is it all about?
Lacto-fermentation, also called lactic acid fermentation, is a method by which vegetables, dairy, and even bread doughs are preserved through the process of fermentation using beneficial bacteria. Different foods require different types of bacteria: common types are Lactobacillus bulgaricus, streptococcus thermophiles, and Leuconostoc. Mostly, when it comes to LF vegetables, the bacteria used are lactobacillus.
It requires no special equipment and you don’t need to “can” the jars using a pressure canner or even by boiling. In fact, it was a common method of preservation in the times before modern canning methods came into play. Women would have crocks for fermented vegetables like garlic, beets, onion, pickles, or sauerkraut (or some of all of the above) in their cellars and a batch of sourdough bread sitting on their counters.
Lacto-fermentation is easy. All it takes is some fresh vegetables or fruit (which is what I’ll address here since Paleo doesn’t really include dairy or bread), some jars or a big crock, some salt, water, some spices, and maybe some whey if you want a bit of extra insurance when you’re just starting out. That’s it.
The process works because the salt you use kills the bad bacteria, while the good bacteria survives and flourishes and starts to turn lactose and other sugars into lactic acid. This creates the acidic environment required to preserve the food. The lactic acid also provides the tangy flavor that you will grow to love.
Why You Should Try Lacto-Fermented Foods
1. The process is much less time-consuming than traditional canning methods. If you’ve ever done any canning before, you’ll know you have to sterilize the jars and lids, prepare your veg or fruit, mix the syrup or brine, fill the jars, and then boil or pressure can the jars for a certain amount of time according to the contents and your location’s feet above sea level.
2. You can do the entire process of LF – and store the results – with zero energy usage. As long as you have a root cellar that stays cool even on warm/hot days, you can prep, make, and store your lacto-fermented foods completely without using any electricity.
3. The resulting product is full of beneficial bacteria (probiotics) and enzymes. If you’re looking to increase your gut health, then there’s no better way than to introduce some LF foods.
Types Of Things You Can Make With Lacto-Fermentation
You can LF pretty much any vegetable and several fruits. Things you might want to try include cabbage, ginger-carrots, salsa, cucumber dill pickles, sweet pickles, coconut milk yogurt, beets, kvass, sauerkraut, kimchi, green beans, watermelon relish, and lemons. You can even make condiments like hot sauce, ketchup, and mayo using these methods!
Lacto-Fermented Ginger Carrots
This is a great recipe to start out with. Kids and grownups alike will enjoy it; just start out small and serve a teaspoon or so as a condiment with dinner.
4 cups of grated carrots
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons of sea salt (or one tablespoon if you’re using whey)
4 tablespoons of whey (optional)
Filtered water as necessary
Wash and grate your carrots using your food processor or the large hole setting on your hand grater.
In a medium-sized bowl, mix together everything but water. Mash it all together to try to get those juices out of the carrots and ginger.
Spoon the mixed ingredients into a quart-sized canning jar or ceramic crock.
Press down on the carrot/salt/ginger/whey mixture as hard as you can using a spoon or the back of your fist. Push it down so that the brine rises up to cover the carrots. If there’s no brine, make some with a bit of filtered water and some more salt (1 tablespoon of salt per cup of water). Pour just enough brine in to cover the carrot mixture.
Seal and let sit at room temperature out of direct sunlight for five to 10 days. Taste test and move the jar to cold storage (or your fridge) once the taste is to your liking.
Basic LF Methods
If you’re doing a basic vegetable LF, all you need is fresh produce, salt, some water, and maybe some whey if you’re hesitant about using just salt. If you’re doing something like ginger carrots, cabbage, or coleslaw, you’ll need a food processor or grater because you need to grate the vegetables first.
One main rule of LF is that the vegetables have to be covered in the salt mixture in order to prevent mold and other bad guys from taking over in the first stage of the process. If mashing the grated vegetables you’re fermenting doesn’t produce enough liquid, you’ll need to make a brine to cover. Generally the ratio is one tablespoon of salt to one cup of filtered (non-chlorinated) water.
For things that you’ll leave in chunks to ferment, like beets or onions, then you don’t need to mash them down to produce brine; instead, you’ll make a brine using water and salt (and whey if you prefer).
To Get Whey
If you don’t have access to liquid whey, then it’s super easy to “make” your own. Get some good-quality plain yogurt from the store (raw is best but if you can’t, just try to get organic). Do NOT buy Greek yogurt as all the whey has already been removed. Spoon the yogurt into a cheesecloth or clean t-shirt and tie it shut. Suspend the ball of yogurt over a bowl and move it to your fridge for about 24 hours. The liquid that drips out of the yogurt is whey. Whey will keep in your fridge in a clean jar for about six weeks. As for what’s left of the yogurt, well, it depends on how much whey came out. You’ll have either a really thick Greek-style yogurt, or a cream cheese-like product that you can then use plain or mix with herbs and salt for a fantastic “cheese” spread. It’s called labneh and you can use it just like you would cream cheese.