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Lacto-fermentation - How It Works

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Lacto-fermentation - How It Works

Jars of lacto-fermented foods

Leda Meredith

Lacto-fermentation is the process that produces traditional dill pickles, kimchi and real sauerkraut. It takes nothing more than salt, vegetables and water - no canning, no fancy equipment.

This simple process works because of the lucky fact that bacteria that could be harmful to us can't tolerate much salt, but there are healthy bacteria (think yogurt) that can. I think of them as the bad guys vs. the good guys. Lacto-fermentation wipes out the bad guys in its first stage, then lets the good guys get to work during stage two.

The good guys on the salt-tolerant team are called Lactobacillus. Several different species within this genus are used to produce fermented foods.

The benefits of eating food with live, Lactobacillus bacteria include a healthier digestive system and speedy recovery from yeast infections. They are also supposed to have anti-inflammatory properties and be useful in preventing certain kinds of cancer.

In stage one of lacto-fermentation, vegetables are submerged in a brine that is salty enough to kill off harmful bacteria. The Lactobacillus good guys survive this stage and begin stage two.

In stage two of lacto-fermentation, the Lactobacillus organisms begin converting lactose and other sugars present in the food into lactic acid. This creates an acidic environment that safely preserves the vegetables - and gives lacto-fermented foods their classic tangy flavor.

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