Lacto-fermentation is a way of preserving vegetables with naturally occurring lactobacillus bacteria and salt. This ends up turning the sugar in the vegetables into lactic acid and preserves the vitamins and enzymes in the vegetables as well as rendering them more digestible and keeping them for future eating.
This differs from fermenting with yeast, such as in wine and beer making, where the sugar turns into alcohol. And this differs from pickles made with vinegar, more useful with mass production than home preserving and lacking the probiotic benefits.
The Lacto-fermentation environment has two stages:
First stage - salt brine kills off bacteria, changes the solution to a pH 3, and produces lactic acid.
To process foods for lacto-fermentation, you first wash and then cut or shred the vegetable, like cabbage, and layer it with kosher salt at a rate of 2 teaspoons per pound of cabbage, packing it down as you go with a wooden pounder to remove the air bubbles. This helps bruise the cabbage further and lets the salt enter and draw out the cabbage liquid.
Then you put a weight on top of the cabbage to keep it submerged in the liquid coming out of it and mixing with the salt to make brine. If you don't have enough liquid from the cabbage to cover, add a brine made from 1 teaspoon salt to one cup of water. Make sure the water you use for fermenting does not contain chlorine, fluoride, or chloramines, because they will affect the fermenting process. Keeping the cabbage submerged keeps it out of reach of any molds or fungus or any harmful bacteria. These cannot live in the salty brine. Put the jar in a warm place in your kitchen, such as on top of the refrigerator. This then starts stage 2.
Second stage - Lactobacillus blooms and grows in a salty, moist, anaerobic, dark, room temperature environment. The lactobacillus spore was already in the vegetables when it growing in the field. You do not need to add any culture to start the fermentation. The lactobacillus uses up any leftover oxygen in the solution as well as turns any remaining sugar in the vegetables into lactic acid.
Taste your sauerkraut daily, noting when it starts to fizz, then put into the refrigerator and keep tasting until it is sour enough to your taste buds. Then you can eat it. It will last a long time in the refrigerator and keep getting sourer. It's up to you when you want to eat it. Then start a new batch the same way, this time add a bit of the juice brine from this batch.
For the most part, this is a very safe way to preserve vegetables and is self-correcting because you will know if a batch goes bad, you will be able to tell by the smell alone.
Lacto-fermenting leaves the fermented vegetables broken down and easier to digest by our bodies, It also gives us the minerals, enzymes, vitamins preserved in the vegetables, and probiotics to colonize our gut to further benefit our bodies..
Lactobacillus and the human body's ecosystem
The lactobacillus bacteria was discovered in the fermentation of milk products such as kefir and yoghurt and is how it got the name "lacto" for milk. It is a bacteria naturally found in the human body in the mouth, vagina, and the gastrointestinal tract. It is for immune defense and digestion. When our colony dies back, we become ill and have problems such as acid reflux, IBS, milk allergies, gluten sensitivities, candida overgrowth in the vagina and thrush in the mouth. Our bodies become malnourished because we can't digest food as easily or get the nutrients out of it. We can also have skin rashes, hair loss and more. Probiotics are the first line of defense in our immunity system. We need to replenish them and eating lacto-fermented vegetables is the way to do it.
Almost all cultures have some form of lacto-fermentation. Eskimos ferment seals and fish, African tribes ferment grains into sour porridge, Asian countries have kimchi, pickled vegetables and fermented soybean products like tempeh and soy sauce. We are more familiar with American hotdogs and sauerkraut, from the Germans, and relishes from our forefathers. Try your hand at creating this nourishing food that you can make in your own kitchen.