The Basics of Fermentation – And How To Ferment At Home
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Fermentation is an age-old process that has recently increased in popularity. Fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir and kombucha are often thought of as health promoting due to their active probiotic content. Fermenting vegetables, as well as grains in the case of sourdough, can also make foods more readily digestible and nutrient dense because they are essentially “predigested” by microbes during the process of lactofermentation.
What is Lactofermentation?
Lactofermentation is a type of fermentation that utilizes lactic acid bacteria to preserve and transform food. Unlike alcoholic fermentation, which involves yeasts, lactofermentation is a microbial process that relies on naturally occurring lactic acid bacteria. These bacteria metabolize glucose, converting sugars into lactic acid. This creates an acidic environment that prevents the growth of harmful bacteria and preserves food, while also imparting that characteristically tangy flavor and effervescent sensation.
The Benefits of Fermented Foods
Fermented foods offer numerous health benefits for both the body and mind. Because fermented foods are rich in probiotics, they may support the beneficial microbes that promote a healthy gut microbiome. A balanced gut microbiome is associated with improved digestion, a stronger immune system, and a reduced risk of various digestive disorders.
As discussed in many previous articles, emerging research also shows a connection between gut health and mental health. Due to the probiotic content in fermented foods, consumption may contribute to a healthier gut microbiome, potentially leading to better emotional well-being.
Fermentation may also enhance the bioavailability of certain nutrients in foods. For instance, the fermentation of cabbage in sauerkraut can increase the availability of vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C and calcium. In general, microbial fermentation “reduces or neutralizes tannins and phytates,” which are anti-nutrients that can inhibit nutrient absorption. The process may also create an increased rate of antioxidant potential.
How to Ferment at Home
Fermented foods are widely available in most grocery stores, however it is important to ensure that they are truly fermented for the most health benefits. Many fermented dairy products such yogurt are pasteurized, which effectively destroys the microbial populations. Another simple option is to make your own lactofermented foods at home that require no added cultures or store bought yeast.
To ferment your own vegetables, you will need a kitchen scale, a large mason jar, salt and filtered water. Simply add the produce you would like to ferment to a sterilized jar, making sure to pack them in tightly. Cover the vegetables with filtered water, then add 2-3% of the weight of the vegetables and water in salt. For instance, if the weight of the vegetables and water is 100g, add 2-3g of salt. You will want to make sure to subtract the weight of the jar during this step.
If the vegetables float, use a food-grade weight such as a sterilized glass weight to fully submerge them. Put the lid on and place the jar in a cool, dark spot and allow it to ferment. If the lid is airtight, you will want to unscrew the lid every day or two to prevent an explosion from the CO2. Depending on the type of vegetables you used and the temperature of your home, it can take a few days to several weeks to ferment.
Once the vegetables have fermented, move them to the refrigerator to slow the fermentation process and enjoy!