Fine Fermented Foods

You may know that yogurt was one of the only sources of probiotic bacterial left in the diets of most North Americans. Today I’m going to tell you how to make some dishes, mainly condiments and beverages, that will provide another source – lacto-fermented foods!

Now don’t freak out here. I know that many of you are probably thinking that lacto-fermentation doesn’t exactly sound delicious. In fact, fermented sounds like rotten and lacto of course brings to mind milk. Rotten milk. I don’t think so.

But fear not – lacto-fermentation has nothing to do with spoiled dairy products. If you think about fermentation in terms of something like beer or wine, suddenly it doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

Lacto-fermentation is the natural process traditionally used in making pickles, sauerkraut and many other pickled vegetables. Today, industrialized processes kill all the beneficial bacteria and much of the other nutrients naturally found in preserves, but back in the day sauerkraut was so good for you it was used as a medicine by German doctors.

Different types of lacto-fermented juices were also used as remedies against typhus and other such illnesses in days gone by and recent research has found that lactic acid, the by-product of lacto-fermentation, is useful in preventing cholera bacterium from establishing itself in the intestine.

The acidic byproduct of this lacto-fermentation, lactic acid, is what allows for the preservation of foods. Vegetables or fruits treated to the lacto-fermentation process will last for months on end because the acidic environment is inhospitable to the bacteria that would normally spoil foods.

But on top of preservation, lacto-fermented foods are incredibly good for you. The fermentation process makes nutrients more available, supplies mineral ions (electrolytes) and increases vitamin levels (hello vitamin C!). Is it any wonder these preserves were a staple of our ancestors?

So now that I’ve convinced you of the amazing properties of these foods, I’m going to tell you how to make a sample. The process requires the use of whey. You know the watery liquid that sometimes collects on the top of your yogurt before you stir it? That’s whey. Do not use powdered, dried whey. You can sometimes get fresh whey from health food stores or farmers markets. If not, don’t fret – simply get organic plain yogurt and strain it through a dish towel overnight. The liquid that strains out is whey, the creamy solid mass left in the dish towel is cream cheese! (and far superior to commercial cream cheese, I might add).

This recipe for lacto-fermented ginger carrots comes from Sally Fallon’s book Nourishing Traditions.

Take four cups of grated carrots (tightly packed), 1 tablespoon of freshly grated ginger, a tablespoon of unrefined sea salt and four tablespoons of whey. Put all the ingredients into a bowl and pound them with a pounder to release the juices. Place them in a wide-mouthed mason jar and press it down firmly until the juice comes up to the top of the carrots. Make sure the top of the mixture is at least an inch bellow the top of the jar, seal tightly and let it sit at room temperature for 3 days. Transfer it to the fridge and enjoy any time after that. This condiment is recommended to accompany rich or spicy foods, but you should experiment with it – maybe it’s good on nachos.

I am vegan. Can you recommend other ways I can make my fermented veggies without using dairy (whey)?

Whey is a good way to ensure that the product ferments and doesn’t go bad, but it is possible to ferment without it. Fallon recommends doubling the salt if you eliminate the whey. Lactobacteria live on the surface of all living things so you should be able to ferment without adding the whey. However, extra salt is needed to keep at bay the bacteria that would normally cause the food to go off.