I must confess. It took me a while to really appreciate the flavors of lacto-fermented foods. The only thing that I did like eating was yogurt, but when it came to fermented vegetables, well, I just didn’t see what all the fuss as about. I usually tossed out the pickles that came with a sandwich, and asked the hot dog vender to go easy on the sauerkraut. But then, something happened when I tried my first batch of live-cultured sauerkraut! It dawned on me that all my previous encounters with sauerkraut and pickles were not “alive.” Because most commercially made vegetables are preserved with vinegar and pasteurized, and as a result there were no active, healthful lactobacilli organisms to thrill my taste buds and make my tummy happy.
Now, almost 15 years since my first batch of sauerkraut, I'm a devotee of lacto-fermented foods, and can’t imagine a meal without a little mound of sauerkraut or other tangy fermented vegetables on the side to perk things up. I even have it with my scrambled eggs in the morning.
Ten Healthy Reasons for Eating Lacto-Fermented Foods
- Choline: Sauerkraut contains choline which is an amino acid needed for good liver health and the production of acetylcholine. This is a neurotransmitter that helps with memory and is protective against Alzheimer’s.
- Vitamin C: Fermented vegetables contain large amounts of vitamin C. This common and over- looked vitamin is one of the most critical nutrients for the immune system, good vision, and to buffer stress.
- Minerals: Lacto-fermentation increases the bio-availability of minerals present in food, such as manganese, calcium, and potassium.
- Bacteriocins: Lactobacilli competes with harmful bacteria such as shigella, salmonella, and e.coli. Therefore eating fermented vegetables on a regular basis protects against these pathogens.
- Vitamins K & B: The presence of lactobacilli organisms in the gut actually creates vitamins K and some B.
- Detoxifies: Fermented foods provide the most bio-available form of beneficial bacteria, and these probiotics are some of the best chelators available, capable of pulling toxins and heavy metals from the body.
- Improves digestion: As people age, the production of hydrochloric acid is reduced, which means that the stomach is less able to properly digest food. Lacto-fermented foods help increase the action of hydrochloric acid, while also protecting the integrity of the stomach lining.
- Prevents cancer: Sauerkraut and other cruciferous vegetables are rich in indole-3-carbinol, a well-known cancer fighter that helps to remove excess estrogen.
- Dietary fiber: A delicious and nutritious way to increase fiber on a daily basis.
- Energy: The presence of lactobacilli microbes facilitates energy production.
Tips on How to Make Lacto-fermented Vegetables
If you're new to fermentation, there are several basic points to follow:
- The vegetables must stay submerged beneath the brine (salt + water solution) because the lactobacilli strains require an anaerobic environment to grow. Anything that floats up above the brine will become exposed to oxygen and start to grow mold.
- As the vegetables ferment, carbon dioxide is produced, and this needs to be released, while new air needs to be kept out.
- Ideal fermenting temperature is between 70 – 75° F (21 – 24° C) and away from direct sunlight.
Admittedly, making your own sauerkraut or other fermented vegetables may seem intimidating or just plain too much work. Traditional crocks require a lot of chopping of vegetables to fill them, and if you're using a mason jar, it’s a challenge to figure out a way to keep the vegetables securely submerged beneath the brine. However, there's a new system using wide-mouth mason jars that simplifies everything: Kraut Source!
Chief Fermentation Officer
Campbell-McBride, Natasha. Gut and Psychology Syndrome: Natural Treatment for Autism, Dyspraxia, A.D.D., Dyslexia, A.D.H.D., Depression, Schizophrenia. New York: Maple Press, 2012.
Cox, Jeff. The Essential Book of Fermentation: Great Taste and Good Health with Probiotic Foods. New York: Penguin Group, 2013.