When you think of preserving the harvest do canning, freezing, and dehydrating come to mind? Have you wondered how our ancestors preserved food before the days of modern refrigeration and canning? One method they used was to preserve vegetables through lacto-fermentation in stoneware crocks.
When canning was found to be more shelf stable and easily shipped, lacto-fermentation fell by the wayside. So why would we even consider fermenting vegetables today? Canning preserves food by destroying bacteria that causes spoilage. In the process, many nutrients are also destroyed. Lacto-fermentation, on the other hand, preserves food by growing the good bacteria present on all vegetables–lactobacillus.
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Salt is also used in the process. Harmful bacteria do not tolerate salt and are kept in check by the salt until good bacteria increase in number and take over the process of preserving the food.
Fermented vegetables contain lactobacilli which actually increase the vitamin content and make the vegetable more digestible. And in the process, not only are your vegetables preserved, your intestines benefit from the healthy flora.
Making Fermented Sauerkraut
To make sauerkraut, fresh cabbage is shredded and salted. After sitting for a while, allowing the salt to release some of the natural juices, a wooden kraut pounder or your hands are used to mash the cabbage.
To add flavor and variety, other ingredients may be added as well. I particularly love fresh grated ginger in my fermented sauerkraut.
Using great ingredients is the key to success. Beneficial bacteria is naturally present on cabbage and fresh vegetables, so you want your produce to be as fresh as possible. And pesticides can inhibit bacterial growth, so be sure your produce is grown without them.
For further reading and lots of recipes, I recommend: Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, The Complete Idiots Guide to Fermenting Foods by Wardeh Harmon, and Real Food Fermentation by Alex Lewin. These go into lots of detail and include sections on fermenting dairy, beverages, grains, and meats.
Other Great Lacto-Fermented Recipes and Tips: