Fermenting is an age old process that has been passed down through the generations and has made a huge come back over the last decade, becoming a staple once again in the diet of many across the planet. Our ancestores may or may not have known the name for bacteria, lacto baciillis, that is responsible for the transformation in the fermentation process. It converts the starches and sugars in fruit and vegetables to lactic acid (many strains of good bacteria). It was, and is a simple way to preserve the abundance of produce from the gardens to last through the winter. Simple enough, yet it is still can be quite a nerve racking process when you first begin to ferment for yourself. We have been indoctrinated to be afraid of bacteria now for years. And yes, in some situations very rightly so, but in the case of our fermenting if done properly it is easy and safe.
Fermented foods are a great addition to the diet, supporting many aspects to overall health. They alkalising to the body helping to maintain a healthy ph, which in turn keeps us from getting sick, having inflammatory conditions, and becoming mineral deficient. They calm the nervous system through the alkalising as well as the production of B vitamins in the gut and other pre-cursor enzymes that are created there. They boost the immune system through the re-population of the intestinal flora, and digestive support. They are high in anti-oxidants Vitamin C, A, and E which support immune function and anti-inflammatory response. They support digestion and assimilation by helping to break down the food in the digestive system, as well as combat unhealthy bacteria and viruses that would also like to receive the nutrients of the food that you ate. They add fibre to the diet helping to clear the lower digestive tract from accumulated and unwanted toxins.
As mentioned earlier, the process is simple:
Sterilise your equipment with boiling hot water or food grade hydrogen peroxide
2. Process your veggies
3. Pack in Jars/Fermenting Vessels with their own liquid
4. Seal in an airtight container
Why doesn't it go off? The putryfying bacteria need oxygen(are aerobic) to replicate and proliferate. By submerging the veggies in their own brine they are kept in an environment free from oxygen (anaerobic). This allows the naturally occuring good bacteria to grow and certain strains will kill of some of the "bad bacteria. When the fermentation process occurs over it's normal time, the ph of the veggies goes from 4.5 to 3.5, which is quite acid. This highly acid ph is also uninhabitable by pathogens. This is what makes it safe from things like salmonella and E. coli bacteria.
How can you tell if it has gone off? Well, the smell of the puterfying bacteria is very distinct. Even more rotten smelling than the fermented veggies. They will also have a slimy consistency. If you are unsure, it is best to throw out the bath... Compost it.
What if there is mould on the top of your batch? If you have mould on the top of the batch, the batch, or part of it can be salvaged. It happens if air has somehow made it into the container and if there was a portion of the veggies that were pushed up out of the water. Again oxygen is the offender here. Just remove any mouldy and discoloured bits, wiping carefully around the jar to remove as many spores as possible. Transferring your batch to a new sterilised jar is optimal. The part of the batch that was submerged is totally fine.
Starter vs Wild Ferment
What is a starter culture?A starter is some sort of "culture" that can be mixed into the batch of fermented veggies. They are typically added to jump start the process of fermenting. Starter cultures are derived from different sources, and can be from Whey, Apple Cider Vinegar, Kombucha, and others are proprieatary blends created in labs with the intention of adding certain strains of bacteria or increasing the amount of others. Many may be lactose based, with "only 1 true "vegan" culture on the market" according to Gary Caldwell of Caldwell Bio Fermentation Canada Inc. Whom we had the pleasure of meeting in Sydney this year.
Why use a Starter Culture? Using a starter culture is used to systematically control the process and speed of fermenting. Fermented vegetables produced with a starter only take 1-2 weeks before they are fermented.
Why Not use a Starter Culture? Well we believe nature to have a perfect design, so why interfere with something that is perfectly designed? There are so many natural enzymatic and bacterial processes that occur within each stage of fermentation, each one producing specific strains of lacto-baccilli based on the vegetables that are present in each batch. When starters are introduced they override the delicate balance because they rush the process along. There isn't enough research yet to determine whether the natural selection of Wild Ferment produces more diverse strains of bacteria than the starter batches. A lot of starters are used to merely get your ferments out of the jar and onto the table quickly. Totally understandable, because waiting for something you want is hard. And in our opinion, actually creates value in the ferments. Good wine takes time, so do good veggies. The more we align ourselves with the natural flow of time and nature, the more clear our paths, the less stress in our lives. That is our belief at least.
Are Vegetables from a starter culture Safer? No, they get to the same place in the end. Both the Wild Ferment and Starter Culture Veggies have the same or similar characteristics at the end of the fermentation process. Both with an acid ph, both full live pro-biotics.
One more little thing to consider. Once our veggies are fermented, we "culture" them. They sit for another 2-4 weeks to mature. This is what makes the flavours "Marry". The sour flavour slightly softens and the whole batch becomes even more delicious. So each jar of Raw Sisterhood veggies has taken 6-8 weeks to even get to the jar. This final step is one of those secrets to incredible tasting veggies.
Gut Good Health
New research in the health field is pointing to our "micro Biome" as essential to our immune health, mental health, gene activation, and much much more. Even more interesting is the idea that the more diverse your micro- biome is, the more switched on you may be. Diversity is referring to many different bacterial strains that are found inside you. This diversity doesn't come from eating the same sterilised hybridised food, day after day. It comes from eating different foods, from different soils, and letting yourself be exposed to different bacteria. Maybe even eating dirt!!! We are walking eco-systems for bacteria and we share them with everyone we come into contact with. These bacteria speciate in certain ways creating functioning communities(eco-systems) within our bodies playing important roles in our daily functioning.
Whether you enjoy for fermented foods for pleasure or for their health benefits making your own can be a fun and exciting adventure. Before puting on the chemists coat, or the alchemist apron make sure you have a clear idea about what you want, source good organic produce and off you go. Build your inner health through this simple knowledge, passed down through the ages one crock at a time. Connect to your family roots, or create new ones while you let your eco-system expand and diversify. It brings a fun new perspective to being "turned on".