Sunday, August 29, 2010

Fermented Vegetables and Fruit

The art of lacto-fermentation is a lost tradition with ultra nutritional impact.  

Last week I tried lacto-fermented dilly carrots.  Super easy.  I only had enough carrots to make two jars, but I just wanted to try it out as a test.  
One jar turned out beautifully - these carrots are so delicious. They tasted exactly like dill pickles, only they are carrots!  The other jar was a little scary looking.  I determined the problem was an ill fitting lid.  I can't wait for next week's farmers market so I can get some more organic carrots!

Recipe for Lacto-Fermented Dilly Carrot Sticks

  • 6 medium carrots, peeled and cut into sticks
  • 1 tablespoon whey
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill, or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 3 cloves of garlic, quartered (optional)
  • Filtered water
Place the carrot sticks into a quart mason jar (or other quart sized container with a lid that fits snugly) and add the rest of the ingredients, shaking gently to settle the carrots if needed.  Fill to within one inch of the top with filtered water.
Cover tightly and allow to sit at room temperature for 4-7 days; you can try them at 4 days and see if you want them to be more sour or not, to get them more sour/soft leave them out at room temperature longer. Because the carrots are more dense, they take longer to ferment than other lactoferments like sauerkraut or pickles. After fermenting at room temperature, keep in your fridge- they last for months!
In earlier times, people did this as a method of survival - they knew how to preserve vegetables for long periods of time without using freezers, canning machines, or vinegar.  The process of lacto fermentation did all the preserving for them!  Lactic acid is a natural preservative that inhibits bacteria.  Starches and sugars in the vegetables and fruit are converted into lactic acid by many species of lactic-acid producing bacteria called lactobacilli.  These tiny organisms are present on the surface of all living things, especially on plants and roots growing close to the ground.  The proliferation of lactobacilli in fermented vegetables enhances digestion and increases vitamin levels.  They have anti biotic and anti cancer effects.  And my favorite benefit is that the lactic acid in these foods promote the growth of healthy flora throughout the intestine. 

The practice of lacto fermentation is universal around the world.  In Europe the principle lacto-fermented food is sauerkraut.  In Russia and Poland you'll find pickled green tomatoes, peppers and lettuces.  In Asia, kimchi is the primary example, a pickled preparation of cabbage and other vegetables eaten on a daily basis.  

The whole pickling process became industrialized to produce predictable results.  The final product was more uniform and more saleable but definitely not more nutritious.  Using vinegar for brine results in a more acidic product which is not beneficial when eaten in large quantities.  And the final product is pasteurized, effectively killing all the lactic acid producing bacteria, taking away all of the benefit on digestion.  

So, why eat fermented foods? 
Lacto-fermented foods promote the growth of healthy intestinal flora.  A common way to get that beneficial gut flora is to supplement with probiotics.  Most people have some degree of imbalance, what we refer to as dysbiosis, in the gastrointestinal flora. Especially because of the widespread use of antibiotics, which kill the beneficial bacteria along with the bad bacteria, probiotics are more necessary than ever. 
Research has shown that people who have had multiple rounds of antibiotics are prone to an overgrowth of "bad" bacteria that can cause diarrhea and other imbalances in the intestinal tract.  Research has been done with allergies, eczema and colon health suggesting that supplementing with probiotics is beneficial.  Those who have trouble digesting milk and other dairy products have also been benefited by use of probiotics. 

Why are these good bacteria so important for my health?
When a person's intestinal tract is lacking the good bacteria, the intestines have a hard time digesting and absorbing essential nutrients.  In addition, it puts more stress on the liver, gallbladder and other organs in doing their jobs.
Probiotics act as a first line of defense in protecting the body from pathogens that enter through the intestinal tract.  There has been evidence that certain species, such as bifidobacteria actually help stimulate the immune system when detecting these pathogens.  Animal studies have indicated that probiotics may also help reduce or prevent cancer by breaking down cancer-causing chemicals.  There is also research that evaluates the effect of proper gut flora on hormonal health.
Clearly, the health of the intestinal tract has important effects on overall health.  It is essential that we maintain a proper balance of bacteria.  

I think we all need a healthy dose of fermented foods!  Tap into the plethora of health benefits, save money on probiotic supplements and start fermenting!

The Nourishing Gourmet
Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon
Probiotics:  Nature's Internal Healers by Natasha Trenev