Homemade lacto-fermented vegetables—my new big love—are my superfood heroes. They are a win-win for at least seven reasons.
First, they taste delicious. There is something about their pleasant tartness that makes you want to eat them every day.
Second, lacto-fermentation is the only food process that actually enhances the nutrient content of the original produce. The vitamin content can increase tenfold.
Third, lacto-fermented vegetables have probiotic properties. They provide an abundance of friendly bacteria of the lactobacillus family. These bacterial good guys replenish our beneficial gut flora and balance out the bad guys—the harmful gut bacteria that produce toxins and fight the good bacteria. The helpful flora curb our cravings for sugar and processed carbohydrates, de-stresses our liver and other cleansing channels in the body and promote clear, radiant skin.
Fourth, lacto-fermented vegetables, a “live food,” offer helpful digestive enzymes produced by their friendly bacteria. They also contain antibiotic and anti-carcinogenic substances.
Fifth, they also boost digestive force by populating your gut with bacteria that facilitate nutrient absorption and prevent partially digested food particles from crossing into the bloodstream and causing havoc in your body. The good bacteria also strengthen your immune system.
Sixth, they store well. Lactic acid, which imparts that tart taste to the vegetables, is the by-product of carbohydrate breakdown by lactobacillus bacteria. It is a powerful natural preservative that prevents putrefaction, enabling you to store lacto-fermented foods for a very long time. But why store them when you can make a new batch every week and enjoy them daily?
Seventh, lacto-fermented vegetables are easy to make at home.
Most traditional cultures have their own versions of lacto-fermented vegetables. Sauerkraut (cabbage) is well known in Germany and Eastern Europe. Pickles (cucumbers) are popular in Middle, Northern and Eastern Europe. Kimchee (spicy napa cabbage) is everyday fare in Korea. Curtido is the Central American cousin of sauerkraut, a lightly fermented cabbage condiment including onions, carrots and sometimes lime juice. In Japanese cuisine, you find lacto-fermented soybeans in the form of soy sauce, miso, tempeh and natto. There is also the umeboshi plum, lacto-fermented with shiso leaves (an herb also called beefsteak leaf). Several fermented root vegetables such as daikon, burdock, turnip, carrot and lotus root are served as a daily condiment with a Japanese meal.
Lacto-fermentation is an anaerobic process that is similar for all dishes except traditional sauerkraut made from cabbage. For all other vegetables, you make the brine with water and salt. For cabbage, you make the brine with salt only—no added water. Shred cabbage and layer it with sprinkles of salt. Then, pound the cabbage down with a potato masher to break it up. You can also massage the cabbage with your hands. During this step, the cabbage releases enough of its own juice to create the needed brine. See the recipe for sauerkraut here.