What is fermentation?
Fermentation is defined as a metabolic process that used microorganisms to achieve desirable food properties in fermented foods or beverages. In this process, chemical changes take place in organic substrates through the action of enzymes. In the absence of oxygen, it is the extraction of energy from carbohydrates.
The activity taking place among microorganisms is what being about change in foodstuffs. Since the Neolithic age, human beings have used this process to make fermented foods and beverages.
Its main use is for preservation, where lactic acid is found in sour foods such as yogurt, kimchi, kombucha, and pickled cucumbers. It is also used in the production of alcoholic beverages such as beer and wine. It is beneficial to ferment food as fermented foods can be preserved longer while being more nutritious.
How does it happen?
In the 19th century, Louis Pasteur used the term fermentation to describe the changes brought about by yeast or other organisms anaerobically (growing in the absence of air). Fermentation occurs in yeast cells. Energy is often released from glucose within the absence of oxygen. Products formed by fermentation include beer, yogurt, cheese, wine, bread, and certain sour foods containing lactic acids like kimchi, pepperoni, and sauerkraut.
For the most optimal use of fermented foods, you need to understand the basic science behind them. Carbohydrates help microorganisms survive by providing energy and fuel. Organic chemicals like ATP (adenosine triphosphate) deliver that energy to every part of a cell when needed.
Microbes, a bacterium causing fermentation, generate ATP using respiration. The most efficient way to do that is Aerobic respiration which requires oxygen. The first step of aerobic respiration is glycolysis. It is the process where glucose is converted into pyruvic acid. Sufficient oxygen present causes aerobic respiration.
Fermentation has similarities with anaerobic respiration, a process that takes place without enough oxygen present. Fermentation leads to the production of different organic molecules, which leads to adenosine triphosphate. The environmental conditions dictate an individual cells and microbes ability to switch between these two modes of energy production, aerobic and anaerobic.
Fermentation occurs in the absence of oxygen, i.e., anaerobic conditions. The presence of beneficial organisms like yeast, bacteria, and mold is necessary, and they obtain their energy through fermentation. Beneficial microbes break down starches and sugar into acids and alcohol, thus allowing fermented foods to be preserved for longer periods of time. Fermented foods are also more nutritious.
Brine is created when juices released by vegetables mingle with salt. You need to grate, slice up, and season vegetables with salt. Good bacteria called lactobacillus covers all kinds of vegetables. In this contained briny environment, lactobacillus starts multiplying. Lactobacillus breaks down the ingredient and digests the natural sugars, which in turn transforms to lactic acid.
It creates a sour environment which keeps bad bacteria at bay, plus the tangy flavour. Kimchi and kombucha have become trendy in recent years, but fermentation has been around for ages. Industrially produced versions are pasteurised and are no longer flavourful or healthy.
The three types of fermenting
1. Lactic acid fermentation
Yeast and bacteria convert sugars and starches into lactic acid. This converted cellular energy requires no heat. ATP is created in the absence of oxygen. This fermentation also takes place in human cells. This bacteria is vital in preserving and producing wholesome, inexpensive fermented foods. This Lacto fermented process includes fermented foods like pickles, kimchi, yogurt, sourdough bread, and sauerkraut. Lacto ferment is also commonly mistaken as including milk.
2. Ethanol Fermentation
This process is also known as alcohol fermentation and is a biological process that converts sugars like sucrose, fructose, and glucose to cellular energy. Ethanol and carbon dioxide are the by-products.
3. Acetic Acid Fermentation
This process is used to make wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, and kombucha. Sugars and starches from fruit and grains ferment into condiments and sour tasting vinegar.
Fermenting foods at home
Fermenting is an easy and inexpensive way to create nutritious and tasty fermented foods you will love. Fermented food contains good bacteria that are sure to boost your health with the right ingredients and veggies. Using a simple mason jar at home can help make delicious, fresh, simple, and homemade foods. The benefits of ingredients such as spices, fruit, ginger, cucumbers, yogurt can reap in your kitchen and pack flavor in jars available at home.
Fermented vegetables are undoubtedly a treat and come with many health benefits. There is a lot of talk about gut health, and it is important to know how important our gut health is to our body as a whole. Try to ferment vegetables for a daily dose of gut health. Carrots, radishes, whole pickling cucumbers, peppers, and green beans are just some of the veggies you can try out. Ginger packs in good flavors. You can pretty much ferment any and all vegetables.
For example, for cabbage and delicate leafy greens, you don’t need the brine that you see in most recipes. They create their brine with just some sea salt since they are packed with moisture. Other vegetables like sliced cucumbers could get mushy during the ferment. These vegetables benefit from ingredients high in tannins like black tea leaves or grape leaves. They taste really good and require little effort.
The vegetables should be cut evenly, make sure the ingredients in the jar are roughly the same shape and size. A whole vegetable can be used. Salt brine is the key factor. Pack the jars with vegetables and cover them with saltwater. Usually, the brine to water ratio is 1 cup of salt to 1 gallon of water.
1. How to make Lacto fermented vegetables
Despite the name, there is no dairy in Lacto fermented vegetables. Fruit and vegetables have naturally occurring good bacteria on their surface. In oxygen-free jars, these bacteria work to turn the natural sugars found in veggies into lactic acid, which acts as the preservative, and you will love the delicious tangy flavour.
Start with grabbing a jar (mason jars work fine) and choose your favourite vegetables. Try finding wide-mouth jars. Cucumbers, carrots, and cauliflowers are great, plus you can add some spices. The chopped vegetable should be roughly the same size. Dried grape leaves and other tannin-heavy leaves can make your pickles crunchy. You can also sprinkle some sea salt. Pour salted water, brine over the veggie stash, and completely cover all vegetables before screwing on the lid.
The pickles are ready when you think they taste delicious. The pickles can take a few hours or weeks to get ready, it depends on how you choose to go about with your recipe. Be sure to keep checking. The key is to keep the vegetables submerged and in an oxygen-free environment. The ingredients can be submerged by keeping a smaller jar in a larger jar and placing a glass weight in the jar. Store your jar in a refrigerator. Cooler places like your refrigerator will slow down the process and keep your vegetables good for a month.
Recipes can often be complicated, and people shy away from fermented foods. Here is a simple and fresh recipe that you will love. To make fermented dishes follow these simple instructions.
•4 cups chopped or whole vegetables
•4 cups chlorine-free water
•2 tablespoons of sea salt
Fill a clean, wide-mouth jar with vegetables keeping at least 1 ½ inch space. Use a one-quart liquid measuring cup to mix 4 cups of water and 2 tablespoons of sea salt. Pour the saltwater brine in the jar and leave an inch headspace. Cover with something breathable, or a lid with an airlock works too. Check daily to see if the vegetables are staying below the brine. Start tasting after 2-3 days, and once the flavor is to your liking, cover the jar tightly and place it in the refrigerator. Homemade recipes are better than industrial packed foods.
Some delicious vegetable combinations are carrots with red pepper flakes, carrots with ginger and garlic, beets with carrots, and fennel. It isn’t exactly a long process, it just depends on what flavor you like. Follow this simple recipe, and be sure to try out different recipes and combinations.
2. How to make sauerkraut
Sauerkraut is another great Lacto fermented food you can make in your kitchen. You can eat 2-3 tablespoons as a snack, use in sandwiches or salads, and even as an aside. Small batches of pickles can be made in mason jars. Shred red or green cabbage by hand or in a food processor. Pack it into the jar up to the ¾ mark and add caraway seeds. Try adding a little sea salt. Screw the lid on and let the process begin.
The cabbage releases liquid during the fermenting process. An active fermentation can push the sauerkraut upwards, so keep an eye on it. Over a few days or weeks, the cabbage turns into sauerkraut. You can also let it pickle to taste. It’s a matter of figuring out what you love.
You shouldn’t overdo the fermented foods in your diet. Think about your health. Start with 1-2 tablespoons a day for a week. Let fermented foods be a new way of life.
1. Choosing a jar
There are special preserving jars available at the markets. It depends on your budget and the needs of you want to invest in these jars. Ceramic fermentation crocks are used for fermenting vegetables or large batches. Porcelain containers can be used only after making sure they are food grade. Lids with an air-lock provide optimal fermentation and are a popular choice.
Tight lid jars have a lesser chance of mold but may need more burping. Exposure to oxygen is reduced. This means you will need to release excess pressure. Cloth covers like a butter muslin or tight-weave dish towel can be used. Cloth covers can cause mold to form but can be easily removed.
You could also use any glass jar lying about your kitchen, and reusing them is a great way of preventing waste. Wide mouth jars such as pickles jars are usually preferred to fit all the ingredients. Mason jars are another great alternative, and there are many recipes available which use these types of jars. Avoid plastic containers as they contain undesirable chemicals which can harm vegetables.
2. Sterilise your jars
After understanding basic science, you will know that certain types of bacteria are necessary for the fermentation process. It’s imperative to sterilise your jars to avoid the growth of bad bacteria. Not only will it destroy your efforts, but it could also make you ill.
Start with heating your oven to 180°C/160°C/ fan/gas 4. The jars should be washed thoroughly in warm soapy water. Leave them to drain, then wipe them off with a clean kitchen cloth or tea towel. Put these jars on your oven shelf for about 15 minutes, then carefully extract them with oven gloves. Once cooled down, these jars are ready to use.
The health benefits of fermenting
Fermented foods are beneficial to your system as they are richly loaded with probiotic bacteria. You add enzymes and beneficial bacteria to the overall intestinal flora, which increases the health of the gut microbiome. Good bacteria also enhance the immune system and digestive system.
1. Digestion and Absorption
Fermented foods are easier to digest as some of the starches and sugars in food are broken down through the process. The acidic products of live ferments are the reason the breakdown of micronutrients and macronutrients, especially lactose, breaks down easily. This digestive aid drastically reduces belly bloat and other GT track distress.
The difficult-to-digest lactose is broken down by fermentation to simpler sugars like galactose and glucose. People who are lactose intolerant can potentially digest yogurt and cheese easily.
Ferments help digested nutrients transform into their most bioavailable form. The body uses bioavailable nutrients easily and quickly for its many functions. The acid from lactobacillus bacteria found in ferments greatly enhances calcium bioavailability. This micronutrient is important for young women to help maintain bone density.
2. Support the Endocrine system
The largest endocrine organ in the body, the GI tract, controls metabolism, immune response, and controls emotion. The GI system stabilises mood, manages weight, and fights colds. Fermented foods help in the functioning of this system.
3. Synthesis and availability of nutrients
Fermentation increases the availability of minerals and vitamins for your body to absorb. It boosts the beneficial bacteria in your gut and promotes their ability to supply B Vitamins and synthesise vitamin K.
4. Immune benefits
Consuming probiotic-rich foods supports the gut lining as a natural barrier. Most of the immune system is housed in the gut. Disease-causing microbes can grow in the gut wall, which causes inflammation. This happens when there is a lack of good bacteria. These foods are particularly helpful in supporting the immune system.
5. Phytic Acid
Fermentation helps remove natural compounds that interfere with the absorption of nutrients. Phytic acid is found in seeds and legumes which binds mineral like zinc and iron. This reduces their absorption while eating. Fermentation helps break down the phytic acid, so the minerals are better absorbed.
6. Mood and Behaviour
The brain and gut are linked through the HPA axis. The gut is lined with neurons which influence our emotions and feelings. A neurotransmitter called Serotonin, involved in mood, is made in the gut. Probiotic bacteria are linked to a healthy gut, so they are linked to a healthy mind.
7. Makes the skin glow
The fermentation process also synthesis beauty-boosting nutrients, which include folic acid, Vitamin B12, and biotin for shiny hair and glowing skin.
Fermented foods are a great way to try out something new. There are many recipes available, and fermented vegetables make a great side dish. Be sure to try out different combinations of pickles. Fermented vegetables can be whole, chopped, and taste great. With little effort and few ingredients to follow, you can try and taste as you go. Brine is a key factor in this process.
There are simple recipes available that taste great and include veggies. Chopped pickles make a great addition to a meal. Try fermented foods and think about the long run.
James Fields is the founder of Gardener to Farmer. His passion for gardening goes back to his childhood days when he would visit his grandfather during the holidays and help him with the plants in the backyard. This has now translated to creating a dependable resource for gardening.