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Fermentation - Part 1: The Basics

Fermentation – Part 1: The Basics

February 26, 2016 |  by  |  Nutrition

What is Fermentation?

An ancient art of preserving food is making a huge resurgence today and it’s called Fermentation. Our ancestors didn’t understand all of the science, but they did follow their taste buds and know that this easy option for preservation could get them through a harsh Winter. Almost every culture in the world has a traditional fermented food or drink that they have eaten for centuries. These fermented dishes have kept people strong, robust, and full of energy and vitality.

Over the next few weeks, we will be putting together a series of helpful blog posts on fermentation. We will cover what fermentation is and what it is not, along with its benefits and instructions on how to ferment at home!

What is lacto-fermentation?

So, let me first explain what fermentation is, or better yet, what lacto-fermentation is? Is there a difference between canned pickles and sauerkraut on the shelf versus raw, refrigerated pickles and kraut that have been fermented?

Lacto-fermentation has a few names it goes by – lactic acid bacteria (LAB, lactic acid fermentation, wild fermentation, and just plain old fermentation. Lactic acid bacteria is a common bacteria that is found on all vegetables and fruits, especially those that grow closest to the dirt.

Lacto-fermentation is simply the production of lactic acid (and CO2) through respiration. As the lactic acid bacteria eat all the starch and sugars in an (anaerobic) environment without any oxygen, it creates lactic acid. Simple enough, right? The lactic acid is what preserves, and transforms, your food into a delicious, living probiotic food packed with vitamins and enzymes!

The Weston A. Price website has this to say:

The ancient Greeks understood that important chemical changes took place during this type of fermentation. Their name for this change was “alchemy.” Like the fermentation of dairy products, preservation of vegetables and fruits by the process of lacto-fermentation has numerous advantages beyond those of simple preservation. The proliferation of lactobacilli in fermented vegetables enhances their digestibility and increases vitamin levels. These beneficial organisms produce numerous helpful enzymes as well as antibiotic and anticarcinogenic substances. Their main by-product, lactic acid, not only keeps vegetables and fruits in a state of perfect preservation but also promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout the intestine.1

The two stages of transformation during lacto-fermentation

Stage 1: Initiation (or Gaseous)

Leuconostoc mesenteries is the first main organism to grow. This bacteria metabolizes sugar and starches and then releases lactic and acetic acid. It also release CO2 and Ethanol, which gives fermented veggies a fizzy taste at times. As this bacteria proliferates, it impedes the growth of harmful bacteria. According to one study, L. mesenteroides die off completely between days 4-6, and another beneficial species takes over. (Oh 2004)

Stage 2: Primary (or Non-Gaseous)

Lactobacillus plantarum and Lactobacillus braves, are the next set of beneficial organisms to proliferate as Leuconostoc die off. When the pH level of a ferment drops below 4.0 and acid levels rise to 1.6%, the only organism that can survive is Lactobacillus plantarum. (Oh 2004) Through this simple succession of bacteria, we can create home grown, wild, probiotics with many diverse strains of beneficial bacteria.

Is fermentation ever considered finished?

A ferment is thought to be fully done when the pH is around 3.4 – 3.6 and the acidity reaches 1.7%. (Oh 2004)

What foods are considered lacto-fermented?

  • Pickles (as in cucumber pickles, of course)
  • Pickled beets, carrots, jalapeño peppers, dill bean, and many others
  • Sauerkraut and kimchi
  • Yogurt and cheese

Fermenting vs. Canning

When you heat, boil or “can” any food item, you kill any and all bacteria (both the bad and the good). While this method is great for preserving food, it does not preserve any beneficial bacteria. Canned sauerkraut, canned pickles and canned jams are not fermented and do not contain probiotics.

I am a fan of canning (I love the taste!), but if I have to decide how I want to preserve my abundance, I will go with the one that gives the most bang for my buck! I want to make my time, food, and money work for me.

Lacto-fermentation is simple, easy, and remarkably safe. I recommend looking up recipes, getting books, and going to local classes (I teach them here on the Central Coast and through online videos), then get started on making your own! You will be joining in a wonderful, cultural celebration, of creating healing foods at home.

Please check back for our follow-up article on “The Benefits of Lacto-Fermentation.”

Work Cited

Oh, Chang-Kyung, Myung-Chul Oh, and Soo-Hyun Kim. “The Depletion of Sodium Nitrite by Lactic Acid Bacteria Isolated from Kimchi.” Journal of Medicinal Food 7, No. 1 (2004): 38-44.

Dr. David Williams.

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Laureen Wallravin, NTP
San Luis Obispo County
(805) 242-3677

is a Certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner specializing in a holistic approach to nutrition and total body wellness. She helps clients with digestive, blood sugar, hormone, immune, and detoxification imbalances. Her methods include a Metabolic Type Diet, functional diagnostic testing, and food sensitivity testing (MRT). Laureen’s practice is located in Grover Beach and she serves the surrounding areas of the Central Coast including Pismo Beach, Arroyo Grande, San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles, and Morro Bay.