Vegetable fermentation intro

I never though I would get obsessed by microbes in my life,.. But I guess it has just happened!

In 2022 I got my hands onto the bible of Fermentation. “the Art of fermentation” by Sandor Katz. Intrigued from A to Z, I couldn’t wait to get home and start my fermenting journey.

Showcase of fermentation jars

In this INTRO I just want to get a basic intro on fermentation. As this is a subject which definitely has to be included on my website. Hopefully soon I will be able to find the time to write some more detailed posts, and share some of my experiences.

Where to start?

Basically everything is ferment-able, but obviously some ferments will please you more than others. You probably already use many ferments in your daily life. Think of coffee, sourdough bread, cheese, chocolate or vanilla. For many of us fermented products are consumed on daily bases.

Many of those fermented products don’t actually have ‘living’ microbes still within them. This is because in some cases certain process (think of high heat during sourdough baking) is needed. Or because of the pasteurization process which is done in most industrialized products. In the latter, the stability of a product for transport and the ‘war on bacteria’ created over-sterilized products. Unfortunately most of us have grown up with these.

The good news is; It is super easy, cheap and quick to make your own ferments. Enjoying all the benefits from consuming live bacteria.

Benefits of lacto fermentation

I am not a microbiologist, nor scientist. So I won’t go too much into the scientific details here on Haricoco. But there is an amazing amount of info to be found on internet on this subject. I have followed an online (basic) course with future learn about the microbiome, and an online (in-depth) food fermentation course with edX HarvardX. Both extremely helpful and informative. Further I read many books from the great, international well know fermentation revivalist Sandor Katz (aka Sandorkraut). I also really enjoy the informative and fun way of education done by Alixis of Edible Alchemy. With whom I share the interest of Epicurean philosophy.

Going back to the Benefits. The greatest and most important one for me personally is the taste! I just love the taste! As a plant based chef I am always looking for adding layers of flavor without the use of animal produce. With lacto-fermentation I have finally found that what I was missing before. The puzzle finally has found some of it’s missing pieces. Delicious pieces!

Secondly the nutritional and the digestible benefits are a very welcome extra! Lacto fermentation can make certain nutrients in our food more accessible and absorbable. The bacteria do already part of the digestion for us, which makes digestion in most cases easier for our bodies. For example, some people who are gluten intolerant, experience a tolerance for sourdough bread. Here, the live bacteria and yeasts in the sourdough starter break down many of the difficult to digest compounds of grains. They do the work for us! This is the same for the lacto bacteria in our vegetable ferments. Personally i don’t digest raw cabbage too well, but give me any fermented kraut at any time a day! No problem.

Another very important benefit, is the facilitation of a no (low) food waste policy. I often find myself with a surplus of produce in certain seasons. Using lacto fermentation creates new solutions for food surplus. Enjoying summer foods during winter (or vice versa).

Cooking with microbes

The fun part, How are we using all this delicious goodness in our cuisine. I will start posting more detailed recipes and usages. But in general we can use our fermented goodness in and on many dishes as a condiment. Most people who cook often know that you can really lift up any dish by adding salt and acidity at the end. So, yes, You guessed it! Salt and acidity is exactly what fermented vegetables will give you. Not only that, it adds beautiful complex flavors to your dish. And in many cases a nice little crunch! So basically I often just add chopped up vegetable ferments as a topping. As a topping it will remain below the 48C degrees, so all these good bacteria’s will stay alive and help our gut microbiome.

But of course you can cook with it as well. Think of the cooked Alsatian chou crout (saurkraut). The lacto bacteria will be killed, but they have still done the pre-digestion for us. There is no limit to using fermented vegetables in our kitchen. And I can’t wait to share some more detailed posts with you. But for now I will just give you some examples;

Hopefully, when time allows, more detailed posts & recipes soon!!

Equipment needed

  • Fresh Vegetables
  • Salt (non-iodized)
  • Jar with lid

Yes, it is that simple. Nothing special is needed for fermenting vegetables. That is the beauty of this magic! You can use any jar, washed with hot water and soap. But I like to use those jars with a rubber ring. They can release air without letting air in. So I don’t have to worry about too much pressure build up within the jar. If you don’t have a jar with rubber ring, no problem, just use a regular jar and make sure to ‘burp’ it after 2 and 3 days.

When I am ready and have time to write more detailed posts and recipes, I will write a step by step post for a basic lacto fermentation process.

Fermentation & food safety

I have to touch this subject because it is the most asked question.

Again I would like to point back to all the great scientific information you can find on the internet. In my own simplified way I hope to be able to explain briefly why there are no added safety concerns with fermenting vegetables.

Salt or brine (salted water) creates an environment for the survival of certain bacteria. Once these lacto bacteria start reproducing and multiplying they create an acidic environment. Most bacteria can not survive under these salty and acidic conditions. Therefore lacto fermented vegetables can actually be considered more safe to eat than raw vegetables.

And what about botulism?

Botulism is a very rare but very serious disease cause by C.Botulinum. If this bacteria is in an environment in which it can reproduce, the spores produce a toxin. C.Botulinum can only thrive in anaerobic (no Oxygen) conditions. With lacto fermentation we do use an anaerobic fermentation. But C.Botulinum cannot grow (reproduce) with a Ph lower than 4.6 Ph. Basically we cooperate with the lacto bacteria by giving them a favorable environment to thrive in. In return those lacto bacteria will create an environment in which C.Botulinum (and many other pathogens) cannot grow.

Here again, we can actually say that fermented vegetables are safer to eat than raw vegetables. But don’t stop eating raw! C.Botulinum is present on many root vegetables as it is in the soil. But as long as it doesn’t reproduce (doesn’t create spores) it is non-toxic. So there is no need to worry about raw vegetables as the Botulinum only reproduces in anaerobic conditions. Rare cases of botulism have mostly been linked to canned food. With the process of canning we eliminate ALL bacteria in an anaerobic condition. By eliminating all the good bacteria, they cannot fight the bad one. Unfortunately in some countries where fermentation practices have been ‘forgotten’, there sometimes is confusion between canning and fermenting. A very short explanation about the difference. With fermentation we work together with the good bacteria to eliminate the bad, and with canning we eliminate all bacteria. A very big difference.

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