What is lacto-fermentation and why you need it?
What is lacto-fermentation?
Lacto-fermentation is an age-old method of food preservation. India has had a culture of preserving and pickling vegetables. However, these methods may not be done in a way that categorizes them as lacto-fermentation. Foods (fruits and vegetables) have natural sugars and sugars, when these are converted to lactic acid by friendly bacteria, this is when lacto-fermentation happens. The term that comes from lacto comes from the lactic acid that is produced while this process takes place, and has nothing to do with dairy foods. It is a natural preservative that gives pickles their aroma and sour taste.
What happens during lacto-fermentation?
Lacid-producing bacteria on their surfaces. They are washed and mixed with a small amount of non-iodized salt. The salt helps draw out juices, inhibits the bad bacteria and controls the fermentation process. The mixture is sealed in a jar typically a mason jar or sealed jars), or a crock pot, or even barrels and placed in a warm place. Over many days, the lactobacilli begin breaking down the sugars in the vegetables and producing lactic acid. When the pickles have reached their desired sourness, or when you feel they are ready; they are placed in a refrigerator to stop the fermentation process.
Why must our diets include lacto-fermented foods?
Probiotics found in these foods support our gut bacteria. They are known to help strengthen the immune system thereby, protecting us against the common cold, and inflammatory conditions, lowering blood pressure, reducing cholesterol, impacting the parasympathetic nervous system, reducing anxiety and the list is endless. Lacto-fermented foods bring in diverse bacteria and help our inner ecosystem stay in balance. My own experience with my clients for the last 20 odd years (as the Macrobiotic philosophy stresses the inclusion of these foods daily) tells me how it has helped so many of my clients with the toughest of ailments.
The benefits of lacto-fermented foods
- PREDIGEST FOODS: The probiotics and enzymes in these foods are known to predigest the food itself, making it easier to absorb the nutrients from them. The bacteria work like your home mixer, breaking down the cell walls of the foods so that the gut does not have a hard time digesting the food. This is especially helpful for those with weaker digestive systems
- HIGH IN VITAMINS AND NEW NUTRIENTS: These foods are high in vitamins, and an example is sauerkraut higher in vitamin C, made from raw cabbage. They manufacture B vitamins, and vitamin K which help regulate calcium and blood sugar levels.
- NUTRIENTS ARE MORE BIOAVALABLE: The probiotics in these foods, make the nutrients themselves more 'bioavailable' by this we mean the extent to which you can use the nutrient for your body from the foods being fermented is enhanced. For one, they are broken down hence this happens and second the ability to assimilate these is made easier in this process.
- BREAKS DOWN PHYTATES: Lacto-fermentation also breaks down phytates which block mineral absorption. For example, if you eat vegetables that give you zinc and eat fermented food that gives you zinc, the absorption is better and higher than the lacto-fermented food.
- AIDS FAT LOSS: Choline a by-product of the lacto-fermentation process aid fat metabolism, regulates blood composition and lowers blood pressure.
- IMPACTS THE NERVOUS SYSTEM: Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter of the body’s parasympathetic nervous system whose functions are decreasing the heart rate, enhancing the digestion of foods, and regulating the body’s temperature.
- BENEFICIAL PLAY THE ROLE OF ANTIBIOTICS: The beneficial bacteria produced, play the role of natural antibiotics, drowning the growth of harmful bacteria in your gut. Antibiotics kill the good and the bad bacteria. But, probiotic bacteria re-colonize the gut with healthy bacteria making your immune system stronger and helping your digestive health. Many studies have found that consuming lacto-fermented foods will lead to lowering the incidence of skin issues, autoimmune disorders, and respiratory conditions, prevent cancers and help with irritable bowel disease.
When it comes to starting, eat small amounts at first. Start with 1 tablespoon a day at one meal. Then increase it to 2 tablespoons at 2 meals a day. You may experience a bit of gas and bloat at first, but this will subside in a few days. If you experience a lot of side effects then stop consuming them. If you are histamine intolerant, you may not be able to consume them. Check with your doctor to determine if you are indeed histamine intolerant.
Difference between Pickling and Fermentation –
Pickling is a more 'generic' term referring to various ways of preserving food in an acidic medium. Pickling assumes a different meaning in the West versus the word ‘pickles’ used in India. Referred to as ‘aachar' in India. It's my firm belief that while Indian pickles started s healthy, mutated along the way to just please the taste. Some Indian Nutritionists (I say this with the utmost respect) seem to be confusing this with the process of 'lactic acid fermentation.' Our Indian pickles are very different from the process of Lactic Acid Fermentation. Here is the difference –
It’s important to know the process of fermentation to understand the difference between Indian pickles and ‘pickles in brine (salt water)’ or ‘anaerobic fermentation’ like kimchi, brine pickles or sauerkraut. How does a vegetable become a pickle? All vegetables are covered with bacteria. During pickling –
- These bacteria grow while quashing the development of other bacteria that can cause spoiling. They use the sugars in the vegetables leaving none for harmful bacteria to grow. MOST INDIAN PICKLES ADD SUGAR/JAGGERY (done to encourage some bacterial growth. Mostly to add a taste of sweetness) – THE FIRST REASON INDIAN PICKLES NEGATE THIS PROCESS BY USING THE SUGAR (encouraging good+depending on ingredients used some mixed bacterial strains bacteria).
- Saltwater pickles (brine) or sauerkraut or kimchi use salt to encourage the process of 'LACTO-FERMENTATION' encouraging lactic acid bacteria (LAB) to thrive outnumbering the bad bacteria; leaving the vegetable's nutritional quotient intact and encouraging a pool of 'new nutrients.' Lactic acid preserves these nutrients, and also adds a tartness to the preparation. NOTE: Quick pickles in vinegar are classified as 'quick pickles' but not with the same bacterial strains as in a saltwater brine pickle or the fermentation process used for sauerkraut and kimchi. AGAIN, THIS PROCESS IS NOT WHAT AN INDIAN PICKLE FOLLOWS. INDIAN PICKLES — COMMERCIAL OR MOST HOMEMADE use REFINED OIL, TO PRESERVE. REFINED OIL IS NOT EXACTLY THE BEST OPTION, So, change this to cold pressed oil.
- BRINE OR THE METHODS USED IN A SAUERKRAUT OR KIMCHI ARE ‘ANAEROBIC’ i.e, no exposure to oxygen. Usually kept packed tightly, not exposed to light. This method inhibits mould or fungus. A THIRD FACT THAT INDIAN PICKLES DO NOT HAVE. NOT TO SAY INDIAN PICKLES GROW THESE – as they use oil to inhibit this from happening.
- One of the indications of a LACTIC ACID FERMENTATION process is the build-up of carbon dioxide and some alcohol (antibacterial – helps fight the bad bacteria). Seeing bubbles escape your jar, and releasing some gas we call it 'burping' the preparation. Also indicates lactobacillus are thriving. ANOTHER DIFFERENCE BETWEEN INDIAN PICKLES AND LACTIC ACID FERMENTATION.
- The biggest difference is the LAB (Lactic acid bacteria) is needed to keep good bacterial strains in, and prevent the bad ones from spoiling the preparation SOMETHING THAT OIL DOES IN AN INDIAN PICKLE, but NOT GENERATING THE VARIED NUMBER OF PROBIOTICS IN A LACTIC ACID FERMENTATION PROCESS; INDIAN PICKLES DO NOT, AND I REPEAT DO NOT HAVE THE SAME INCREDIBLE HEALTH BENEFITS OF FERMENTED FOODS LIKE SAUERKRAUT, KIMCHI (MINUS SUGAR), VEGETABLE PRESSED PICKLES, BRINE PICKLES, BEET KVASS MADE WITH SAUERKRAUT JUICE, KOMBUCHA, KEFIR, SOURDOUGH BREAD.
Please know the pros and cons of Indian pickles prepared traditionally using commercial oil and table salt
Please know this about Indian pickles, as no one points this out; whether they are homemade or commercial its the use of refined oils, common salt, and sugar that makes them killers as against protectors of immunity. All these ingredients are creating free radical damage, aiding cellular death and causing ailments first. So using cold pressed oil is better, as is using rock salt or sea salt. For all commercial pickles, since flavour is the only objective use bad quality vinegar, better options are apple cider or other homemade vinegar. The plus of an Indian pickle is its use of spices, like turmeric (anti-inflammatory), cumin and cardamom = cooling; cinnamon and clove = warming – so these when used with the right salt+oil+vinegar make for a good pickle. However, they also use way too much sugar (lethal as we all know) and if you need sweetness then organic jaggery is a better option.