What’s Up with Fermentation?

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I love fermented vegetables.

Maybe that sounds completely normal, or completely disgusting to you. If it’s the latter, believe me, I understand. I felt the same way at first. If you’ve never eaten a fermented vegetable, it’s probably not something you’d try without some hesitation.

After all, why would one take perfectly beautiful carrots and make them bubble and smell for days on the counter in order to make them grow bugs? And these fermenting people- they ferment things like blueberries. And lemonade!!! Why?!? 

What's Up with Fermentation

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What I didn’t realize when I first heard the term “lacto-fermentation” was that I was already making, eating, and enjoying several fermented foods- sourdough, yogurt, and kefir, to name a few.

Wait a minute, those things are fermented? Why, yes, actually. Yogurt is fermented milk. Sourdough is bread raised by a fermented starter containing naturally “captured” wild yeasts.

The more I read on the subject, the more interested I became in the process and the benefits of fermentation. So curiosity got the better of me.

I began trying a few simple projects- kitchen science experiments, if you will. I discovered that while fermented foods certainly have a stronger flavor than their untouched counterparts, they can actually be quite tasty and complimentary additions to your diet. What’s more, they make eating a little more exciting- you’re getting to try new, complex flavors while you’re benefiting your gut and overall health.

Let’s take a closer look at this wacky process.

What happens during fermentation?  Oxygen exposure and the gradual growth of bad bacteria cause the food in your fridge to spoil over time. However, during a controlled fermentation process, you eliminate your food’s exposure to oxygen and discourage bad bacteria with the use of salt. You then create an environment that encourages the growth of good bacteria. That good bacteria eats up the sugar in your food, “burps” out carbon dioxide and lactic acid, and- voila!– preserves your food. Read more on Fermenting 101 here.

How do you actually ferment something? Like any other cooking or preservation process, every recipe is going to be a little different. However, the basic components of fermentation are the same: Put your vegetables in a salt brine or whey solution, trap out the oxygen, and allow for the release of carbon dioxide. Let it sit out at room temperature for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks until it’s bubbly, pleasantly sour, and tastes to your liking. Move to cold storage to slow the fermentation process.

There are many methods to keep out the oxygen and release carbon dioxide, but the most foolproof method I’ve found yet is using an airlock system. I really love my Fermentools weights and airlocks because they work with any sized wide mouth mason jar. And who doesn’t want to do all things food in a mason jar?!? (Read my full Fermentools review here.)

Growing bacteria sounds gross. Why do you want that? In their book, Oh Lardy’s Guide to Fermentation (a wonderful read, by the way), Tamara and Kelly make a fabulous case for why fermentation is so beneficial to your gut, and consequently, to your overall health. Did you know that there are two to four pounds of bacteria living in your gut, and that 80% of your immune system lies in your gut? Did you know that keeping a healthy ratio of good to bad bacteria can affect such health conditions as gluten intolerance, common colds and flus, headaches, autoimmune disorders, and much more?

I personally had no idea that my gut could use so much help. It turns out that eating fermented foods on a regular basis can give my overall health a significant boost. Forget expensive probiotics- you can culture them yourself on your own counter top!

Growing- and eating- good bacteria isn’t gross at all. In fact, most of us could probably stand to do more of it.

Are there any other benefits to fermentation?  Why, yes. I’m so glad you asked. The process of fermentation helps to break down our food and make it more digestible. It can help to create new vitamins in your food. It helps to save money by allowing you to put up your garden’s bounty or great bulk produce sales. And of course, fermentation is probably the healthiest method of food preservation available to us, since it works without killing nutrients through high-heat processing.

I invite you to look deeper into the process and benefits of fermentation. You may be surprised how fermenting can turn nearly anything into a “superfood.” In fact, once you start learning how amazing fermented food is, you may wonder how in the world you haven’t been making it all along!

Here are some places to get started:

Read on, dear friend. I may yet win you over to the world of fermented foods.


7 thoughts on “What’s Up with Fermentation?

  1. Karen

    This is great! I’ve been curious about fermenting as I have heard a lot of great things about it. This answered a lot of my questions!! Thank you 🙂

  2. Michelle

    I was amazed to learn that there are more neurotransmitters produced in the gut than in the brain – serotonin, dopamine, etc, and that having healthy gut flora can help with depression! So glad I started making and eating more fermented foods.

  3. towinky13

    I guess I’m old school. Fermentation is a process that includes the pickling of various foods lIke vegetables. Fermentation is used for breads, beer/wine, yogurt etc. I believe all involve the Krebs cycle. I never realized that the term “fermentation” was new.

    1. Abi Post author

      You’re right- it’s an age-old process. I think it’s just making a comeback now, and it was new to me only a couple of years ago. 🙂 I hope more people start discovering it now!

  4. Jeff

    I am more of an exact weight kind of guy, I weigh everything so I can replicate it in the future. I understand 3 T of salt per 5 lb of cabbage, but do you by chance have weights for your salt.? I did use the recipe but the sauerkraut was not tart like I wanted. What happened? How do you get it Sauer…


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