Lacto-fermentation is one of the oldest forms of food preservation. Aside from preserving foods for longer shelf life, lacto-fermented foods are also hugely beneficial to your health, especially your digestive system.
Lacto fermentation is the process of encouraging the growth of lactic acid-producing bacilli. These functional foods are even considered to be probiotics- promoting the growth of intestinal bacteria and aiding digestion. As the food cultures and the bacilli proliferate they produce lactase and lactic acid, B vitamins and enzymes are created, proteins are pre-digested, phytic acid is broken down and in milk products the sugars are consumed- all serving to make lacto-fermented foods a rich source of beneficial bacteria and a superb digestive aid.
In her book Nourishing traditions, author Sally Fallon writes:
“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 anti-carcinogenic 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”.
Common lacto-fermented foods
Labne (a cheese made by straining yoghurt- can be served plain, savoury or sweetened)
Pickled fruits and vegetables (traditionally prepared, not commercially prepared with vinegar), kimchi
You can even make lacto-fermented condiments- tomato sauce, salsa, mayonnaise, mustard etc. great for replacing sugar-dense commercial varieties as well as adding more foods rich in good bacteria to your diet.
Keep in mind lacto-fermentation is essentially an artisian craft- it doesn’t lend well to industrialization as results are not always predictable. To encourage predictable results and a longer shelf life most commercial varieties use vinegar to pickle (vinegar’s acidic pH can slow or halt the fermentation and enzymatic processes) and are generally pasteurised, effectively killing all the lactic acid-producing bacteria (and nullifying the health benefits). Basically commercial varieties are not the same- hence why we encourage you to have a go at making your own!
While is sounds intimidating, it’s really easy to do at home without any special equipment. Click the link below for a few recipes to get you started and there are some wonderful books around on the topic too.