Historically people have used fermentation as a means of preservation, and this is still true today. You can preserve vegetables when they are at their seasonal peak, and then enjoy them for months after. Fermentation harnesses the activity of lactic acid-producing bacteria to create desirable changes to food and beverages, while preserving the food and allowing it to be safe to eat for many months. Fermentation can turn relatively indigestible foods into something edible. Olives, coffee beans and cacao beans are all fermented before we consume them! Fermented foods are part of most traditional diets: cheese, yogurt, sauerkraut, miso, kimchi and even beer are all naturally fermented. When a food is fermented, it is left to sit and steep until the natural sugars in the food are consumed by bacteria. In the case of yogurt, this sugar is lactose. In lacto-fermented vegetables, many plant sugars and other compounds become the fuel for bacteria. Lacto-fermenation changes the taste, texture and nutritional profile of foods, making them tangy and more flavourful. Here are some reasons they are so good for you:
Easier to digest: Lactic acid-producing bacteria “predigest” food during fermentation, creating enzymes that break down sugars and fibres in the plant. This makes them easier to digest.
Higher levels of nutrients: Fermentation increases the bioavailability of nutrients in our food. In fact, the fermenting organisms actually generate Vitamin C, B complex and Vitamin K. Calcium, iron and zinc are more absorbable from fermented foods. And eating fermented foods with a meal helps absorb nutrients from the rest of your plate, through the action of enzymes.
Produce beneficial metabolites that are so good for us. For example, lactic acid-producing bacteria metabolize polyphenols, those natural antioxidants in plants, and increase the level of these important compounds. These bacteria also make many beneficial metabolites that help us deal with gut pathogens (unhealthy bugs) by creating an environment that is unfriendly to them.
Benefit our microbiome: A 2021 study published in the journal Cell demonstrated that a diet rich in lacto-fermented foods increased microbial diversity and reduced inflammation in the gut. This effect was noticed after ten weeks of daily consumption of six servings of naturally fermented foods. That may sound like a lot but it included yogurt, kefir, miso, and fermented vegetables.
Supports immunity: Fermented foods help build a stronger immune system and provide some antimicrobial compounds that shield against harmful bacteria like Salmonella, Staphylococci, H. Pylori and the yeast Candida albicans.
Lacto-fermentation is easy to do at home. All you really need are fresh vegetables, salt and a clean glass jar. A weight to keep the food submerged in brine, as well as a one-way airlock to release gas bubbles as the food ferments, are also good to have, but not absolutely necessary. If you don’t have an air-lock you will have to “burp” the jars every couple of days to release the gasses fermentation produces. As for salt, chose natural sea salt or Himalayan salt, as they do not contain other ingredients that may alter your finished product. Cucumbers, carrots, cabbage, green beans, cherry tomatoes, radishes and beets are all good to try. Most ferments take seven to fourteen days to bubble away, so you will need some patience as well! Lacto-fermented onions: an easy, tasty recipe These have a soft texture and a deeply nuanced flavour. They are packed with probiotics and enzymes, and many people find they are much more digestible than raw onions. 500 grams fresh onions, peeled and sliced 10 grams sea salt Optional spices: turmeric, coriander seeds, cumin, black pepper, garlic cloves……it’s your choice! Put your sliced onions in a glass bowl, and mix thoroughly with salt and spices, squeezing with your hands. Let sit for 20 minutes. Transfer to a jar and pack the onions in, to remove any air bubbles. Add a clean weight to keep the onions submerged in the liquid that has formed. If you need more liquid you can add a splash of filtered water. Ferment for 10-14 days before eating. * Keep them in the fridge once opened
* Always remove pickles from the jar with a clean utensil: they will last a lot longer
Note that pasteurized pickles and pickles made by submerging vegetables in vinegar do not provide the same health benefits as naturally lacto-fermented foods, as they don’t have active bacterial cultures.
Doctor Baron’s son loves lacto-fermented vegetables so much that he founded the company Masontops.com, a great resource for equipment and recipes for home fermentation.