Lacto-fermentation has gained a lot of traction in recent years, but it is actually a practice that was used for centuries by many cultures. Not only is it a great way to get probiotics and nutrients in your diet, it is also a way to preserve food for long periods of time!
Most often, lacto-fermentation is thought to just pertain to vegetables. However, there are many foods that traditionally had been soaked and fermented.
What Is Lacto-Fermentation?
Most plant foods, especially vegetables and grains, contain defense chemicals. The process of lacto-fermentation helps break down some of these defense chemicals which allow more nutrients to be absorbed. Additionally, it inhibits the putrefying bacteria that cause vegetables and fruits to go bad which will preserve them for months!
The defense chemical found in nuts and grains is phytic acid. When consumed raw, the phytic acid in grains, nuts, and seeds binds with calcium, magnesium, copper, iron, and zinc in the intestinal tract and blocks their absorption.
Besides breaking down defense chemicals which permits the absorption of more nutrients, lacto-fermentation also generates trillions of beneficial bacteria. That beneficial bacteria lines the digestive tract and has been shown to aid with a variety of health conditions including autoimmune disorders, IBD, IBS, strengthening the immune system, and inflammatory conditions. For example, the fermented dairy product kefir contains up to 30 different strains of bacteria, 1.5 trillion beneficial bacteria. That’s 100x more than any probiotic supplement!
Vegetables are the most popular type of lacto-fermented food. They are easy to make and help to preserve the freshness of your vegetables for weeks rather than the few days they would last fresh straight from the garden or store.
There are two key ingredients when fermenting vegetables. They are as simple as salt and water. You can ferment any vegetable with these two ingredients.
All you need to do is mix a solution of salt and water and pour it over veggies chopped up and placed in a mason jar. I use a ratio of 3 cups of water to 1 tablespoon of salt for the saline solution.
If you’re making sauerkraut, you don’t even need the water. The juices from the crushed cabbage along with the salt do the work of fermenting.
Once you have your saline solution, you can add whatever flavors you like based on what vegetables you are fermenting. One of my favorite combinations of flavors is 1 garlic clove, 1 bay leaf, and 3 peppercorns for a one quart jar. This flavor is great for vegetables like beets, carrots, and kohlrabi or any mixture of the three.
Dill is obviously a great option when making pickles. The possibilities are endless, and it can be fun to play around with different flavor combinations. Other common flavors that are used with vegetable fermenting include:
Lacto-Fermented and Soaked Grains
Sourdough has made a comeback as the most popular way to ferment grains such as wheat for making breads, breakfast pastries, and desserts. However, there is another simple way to ferment grains, that doesn’t require you to keep a sourdough starter alive and well fed.
Lacto-fermented or soaked grains is an easy method for breaking down the defense chemicals in grains and allowing access to more of their nutrients.
The best and most flavorful way to soak grains is with raw dairy. Buttermilk, whey, kefir, and even cultured milk or cream can all be used to soak grains. Depending on what type of liquid is needed for the recipe, mix it with your flour and soak for 12-48 hours. The longer you let them soak, the more the defense chemicals will break down, giving you access to more of the grain’s nutrients.
If you have dairy sensitivities or don’t use raw milk products, you can also substitute a solution of two tablespoons of lemon juice or vinegar for every 1 cup of water. The acidity of the lemons and vinegar will also work to soak and lacto-ferment the grains. While this method may not produce the same results in terms of taste and texture, it will effectively ferment the grains and break down the defense chemicals.
There are a number of ways to lacto-ferment dairy. In the United States, we are most familiar with yogurt, but there are many other fantastic options for lacto-fermented dairy products.
Fermented dairy products are a great option for those who are sensitive to fresh milk products because the lactase produced during fermentation breaks down lactose making fermented dairy a lower lactose product. Additionally, if your dairy is raw, it naturally contains more lactase which is destroyed in the heating of pasteurized dairy. For this reason, many people with dairy sensitivities have no trouble with raw fermented dairy products.
Like vegetables or grains, lacto-fermented dairy creates and allows access to more nutrients. In the case of dairy, both vitamins B and C increase during the fermentation process of milk.
While yogurt is a great option that most people are comfortable with, there are plenty of other ways to include fermented dairy in your diet.
Kefir is one of the favorites in our home. If you’re not familiar with it, I would compare it to a drinkable yogurt. Not only is it tasty but also much easier to make than yogurt. All you need are kefir grains and milk to make your own in a couple of days!
Cultured butter, cultured milk, buttermilk, cultured cream cheese, whey, and cultured cream are also fantastic options for adding fermented dairy to your daily meal routines.