Sauerkraut is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to lactic acid fermented foods.
What is Lactic Acid Fermentation, and why would we want to know anything about it?
Here's a scientific definition:
Lactic Acid Fermentation is a biological process by which sugars such as glucose, fructose, and sucrose are converted into cellular energy, and the metabolic byproduct Lactate is formed.
So, that's a bit of a mouthful, and not very useful for the non-scientists among us.
How about this definition:
Lactic Acid Fermentation is a process used to store foods (mostly vegetables) long term without using heat, cold, or preservatives, yet retains the nutritional value and original freshness of the food.
Okay, that is better.
Pickles made the original way... far superior in flavor in my opinion.
So what are Lactic Acid Fermented Foods?
Ever had Sauerkraut? Kimchi? Old-fashioned Pickles? Olives? Yogurt? Sourdough bread?
These are all examples of common foods produced through Lactic Acid Fermentation.
How about Magou? Kefir? Laban Zeer? Nham? Balao Balao? Gundruk? Sinki?
Yeah, I've never tried these foods either, but I hope to one day.
Here is a traditional Nepalese meal made with Grundruk... lactic acid fermented leafy greens.
Why should we care about Lactic Acid Fermentation? I have a few reasons:
- It is relatively easy. Seriously. Fresh, clean vegetables. Salt. Maybe some water. And a little time.
- It is pretty cheap. All you needs are the fresh foods and maybe a little salt and/or water. Food prices are rapidly increasing (see my article on the Rising Cost of Food), and the more food we can grow AND preserve will be money saved.
- It preserves our food. When we have a bumper crop of vegetables from the garden, here is just another way to extend the shelf-life of that food. Much better than letting it go bad and (hopefully) just ending up in the compost pile.
- It tastes good! This is a big priority to me. I'm not going to waste my time on something that doesn't taste good. I've only had a few foods that were make with traditional lactic acid fermentation. Most "modern day" foods that were once preserved through lactic acid fermentation are now made other ways (like vinegar preservation) or are killed by heating before storing (hot water canning). But the flavor of fresh yogurt, real sauerkraut, real pickles! It is worth it, trust me.
- It is healthy. More and more research is showing that these fermented foods may, in some cases, be healthier than the fresh food. Mineral content stays the same, but some vitamins increase. The bioavailability of the nutrients in the fermented foods can also increase... meaning, the nutrients found in these foods are more readily absorbed by our bodies after fermentation. Not to mention that the bacteria that ferment these foods end up in our gastrointestinal tract and improve our digestive processes, which also leads to improved absorption of foods, which leads to better health. Now to be fair, these foods may be fairly salty. Lactic Acid Fermented foods should be a part of a well-rounded diet, not the primary component.
- It uses very little energy and resources. No heat from stoves. No electricity for refrigerators or freezers. Minimal water. Just the vegetables we grow and maybe some salt. That's it.
- It provides yet another way for us to be a bit more self-sufficient. Even if food security is not on your radar, as it is mine, having the freedom of just a little more self-reliance is powerfully reassuring.
So, there you have it. That was my quick definition of Lactic Acid Fermentation and my reasons why I am a big fan of learning more about it. I plan on posting some articles on my adventures making these foods in the near future. Stay tuned.