Lacto-fermentation is the process of taking beneficial bacteria that are naturally occurring on vegetables and converting them to lactic acid. Not only are lacto-fermented foods delicious, they are also rich in probiotics. Let’s take a look at how to make these beneficial foods.
You’ll hear me talk about fermented foods quite frequently here, and for good reason. If there is ever such a “health food”, it should be this.
I really dislike the term “super food” because we should really be focusing on eating real foods from scratch. But if a food could be super, well then it may just be the fermented kind.
As we know, fruits and vegetables are good for you; but then you let them sit and ferment and – bam! – now you have a healthier food full of probiotics, taking your nutrition up a notch.
Instead of spending lots of money every month giving my family a probiotic supplement, we take the much cheaper, tastier, and simpler approach by making sure we have fermented foods like sauerkraut, yogurt, kimchi, salsa, etc. at least 2-3 times a day.
I try to sneak it in whenever possible.
Add sauerkraut (or jalapeños) and sour cream to tacos (double serving of probiotics right there), blend yogurt or milk kefir into a delicious smoothie, or even make some probiotic-rich ranch dressing.
There are so many ways to enjoy ferments. All you need is a little creativity.
Before there was modern day canning, people needed a way to preserve their food to last longer; lacto-fermentation does just that.
A few minutes of prep work, and you can preserve food from a couple of weeks to a few months, depending on the type of ferment.
It really is a glorious and delicious way to eat your harvest.
Health Benefits Of Lacto-fermentation
Lacto-fermentation not only helps preserve food, but it also increases the vitamin and enzyme levels, and improves the digestibility of the fermented food.
The main benefits of probiotics are that healthy gut bacteria have been shown to help your immune system, decrease inflammation, and they can help decrease the incidence of certain diseases like heart disease. (source)
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What is lacto-fermentation?
The “lacto” portion of lactose fermentation refers to Lactobacillus, a species of beneficial bacteria which are present on the surface of all plants.
This beneficial bacteria converts lactose or other sugars into lactic acid.
How does lacto-fermentation work?
Basically, you are allowing the good bacteria (lactobacillus) that is already present on vegetables to take over while salt inhibits the bad bacteria. The good bacteria then grow with a little time at room temperature.
After the good bacteria have grown (you can usually tell this by the vegetables tasting tangy – almost a little zippy), then you store it in a cool place to stall the good bacteria growth.
How long does lacto-fermentation take?
Depending on the type of food you are fermenting, it will take a few days to a few months. Follow recommendations on specific recipes.
Once the process is complete, you typically store the foods in the refrigerator to slow down the fermentation process. See below for more information.
How long do lacto-fermented foods last?
Fermented foods that are properly prepared and stored in a cool, dark place (like the refrigerator) can last at least 4-18 months.
Always look for any signs of mold, an even color throughout, and make sure it still looks edible.
Use your nose to see if it still smells as it should, and doesn’t have a bad smell. Check to make sure the texture is still good, and not mushy. You can always taste it to make sure it tastes good.
What if you don’t want to make your own?
I’m all for making your own, but I totally understand how it can be really intimidating. There are some great store-bought options nowadays. Bubbies is a great brand to look for.
Always make sure they contain live cultures.
If they have vinegar in them, then they are not a “real” ferment.
They are easier to find at a more natural grocery store.
Some natural grocers may even have a ‘house ferment’ section. There is a store near us that has a whole refrigerator section of all types of ferments that you can purchase by the pound. This is also a great way to try a bunch of different types to see what you and your family like.
How often should you eat fermented foods?
You should aim to eat 2-3 servings per day.
If you rarely eat them, I would recommend starting out slow with just 1/2 to 1 serving daily, and work your way up to the 2-3 servings per day.
Tools you need for fermenting vegetables:
There are lots of fancy options out there to choose, but – truth be told – you don’t really need them. Just a few simple tools will do the trick.
How To Make Lacto Fermented Vegetables:
Each ferment may look a little different. The process usually involves a brine created with salt and then allowing it to sit for a period of time.
Fermenting cabbage includes massaging salt with the cabbage until a brine forms. Salsa is similar where you just need to add salt, and the juices from the tomatoes create their own brine.
Other vegetables like carrots and jalapeños, that don’t create their own natural brine, need a little assistance with a salt water brine.
Today I’m going to show you how to make a ferment with a brine… carrots.
How To Make Fermented Carrots:
- Measure out a 1/2 gallon of water (I like to do this with a half gallon mason jar).
- Add about 2 cups of water to a pot and bring to a light simmer.
- Remove it from the heat and stir in the salt, until dissolved.
- Add the salt water to the 1/2 gallon of water, and set aside.
- Slice the carrots into long thin sticks. Put them in another half gallon mason jar or a few smaller mason jars.
- Pour the prepared brine over them until they are fully submerged, leaving one to two inches of headspace.
- Add some kind of fermenting weight to keep the carrots underneath the liquid, like glass weights.
- Cover with fermenting lid and loose mason jar ring.
- Allow the carrots to sit in an undisturbed place for 2-10 days.
- The amount of time will depend on the temperature in the house and your taste preferences. You can give them a taste test each day to see if they have reached the desired taste and texture.
- Once the carrots are done fermenting, cover them with a regular mason jar lid or a plastic one, and place in the refrigerator.
Our Favorite Fermented Foods
Fermented cabbage, also known sauerkraut, is one of our favorite side dishes. We serve it with lunch as a side or add it on top of tacos or some grass-fed hot dogs.
Lacto-fermented pickles are another one of our favorites that are difficult to keep in the house. The kids just inhale these. We grow lots of cucumbers every year and it never seems to be enough. Perfect as a snack or a side dish.
Fermented Garlic– adds a ton of flavor to dishes and is super simple to make.
Lacto-fermented Jalapeños are for us and not so much for the kids, but they add a wonderful flavor and spicy kick to many dishes.
Lacto-fermented Carrots Recipe
If you try this recipe and love it, I would love if you gave it 5 stars! Thank you!
- 1 pound whole carrots
- 4 tablespoons salt
- Bring 2 cups of water to a light simmer. Remove it from the heat and stir in the salt, until dissolved.
- Add the salt water to a half gallon glass mason jar. Fill the jar the rest of the way with filtered water.
- Slice the carrots into long thin sticks. Put them in another half gallon mason jar, and pour the prepared brine over them until they are fully submerged. Leave one to two inches headspace.
- Add some kind of fermenting weight to keep the carrots underneath the liquid. This could be a folded up cabbage leaf or a rock in a ziplock bag. If you plan to ferment often, you could even buy weights specifically made for fermenting.
- Cover with a loose lid, or a tea towel and rubber band.
- Allow the carrots to sit in an undisturbed place for 2-10 days. The amount of time will depend on the temperature in the house and your preferences. You can give the veggies a little taste each day to see if the desired taste and texture is reached.
- Once the carrots are done fermenting, cover them with a tight lid and move the jar to the refrigerator.
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