Eric Satie, that eccentric Parisian who penned a couple of our most haunting tunes once said, “Show me something new and I’ll start all over.” I feel a little like that concerning fermented – or cultured – vegetables.
Its now been several months that I’ve been experimenting with cultured vegetables. Its high time I chronicled it all on the blog. But so much has happened that I’ve decided to break it down into more ‘digestible’ chunks.
It all started this spring……and the annual wild onion harvest…. Vegetable fermentation had been on my back burner for several years. Michael Pollan’s chapter in Cooked still unread, a friend at my coop who said she’d show me not yet called. A combination of wondering what to do with an immense pile of wild onion leaves, and my butcher’s first release of cultured veggies got my ball finally rolling on this.
I thought I’d start off with how fermentation works with vegetables and why these things are good for you. I’ll credit the sources as I go.
The fermentation process
All vegetables have small amounts of lactobacillus bacteria – among many others. Once exposed to water, they begin to feed on the sugars and starches on the vegetables, and do as all living things do: reproduce and excrete. In this case, they produce lactic acid and carbon dioxide. They are also very tolerant to salt – which is good, because the harmful bacteria which would lead to molds and spoilage, really can’t tolerate a high acid, high salt environment.
In making fermented vegetables, you are either going to add a brine (2-5% salt per weight of water) or add salt (2-4% by vegetable weight) then massage and pack down the vegetables, ensuring they are fully covered in the brine juice, then leave them at room temperature for a few days. That’s it, basically.
But not quite – though you don’t need to do much else. In the fermentation process, 3 different species of lactobacillus eat, reproduce, release and finally die off. They succeed each other as the acid level rises and they can no longer live in that environment.The first lactobacillus that goes to work is Leuconostoc mesenteroides. Once it raises the acidity to .3% it dies off and in its place, Lactobacillus plantarum carries acidity to 2%. Finally Lactobacillus brevis kicks in until its final acidity level of between 2.5%-3.4%. It would carry on fermenting and developing stronger and stronger tastes – so this is when it goes into the fridge to slow it all down to a more dormant state.
What happens when it hits your tummy: You are what you eat
Our stomachs – indeed our whole digestive system – functions as a microbiome that is home to thousands of microbial species. Many of them are in the lactobacillus genus and are responsible for secreting chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine which affect our moods, appetite, sense of fullness and well being. Clearly what we introduce into our digestive biome is going to affect and alter it – for better or worse.
In the case of our fermented vegetables, its for the better. The lactobacillus interact with and complement the digestive work of our own bacteria – improving digestion, regulating mood, and generally getting our whole system in balance. Claims have been made that fermented vegetables help with conditions such as diarrhea, yeast infections, urinary tract infections, colitis, food addictions, autism, and addictions.
The expert resources
This has been but a very brief layman’s overview, and does not truly do it justice. I would strongly recommend reading these sources for more detailed and expert information:
Also check out the Wild Fermentation Facebook page – its very active and has a mine of information. https://www.facebook.com/groups/WlidFermentation/
And… Definitely buy Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation book
To a couple of market vendors who got me really rolling on this journey. These weren’t really long conversations – but enough to get my own internal fermentation going on this.
- Cathy at http://www.countrymeadowmeats.com/ who rolled out her first cultured vegetables the same weekend I did my first go at fermented wild onion leaves. If you are up in Owen Sound – definitely visit them.
- Dina who runs Mighty Fine Brine who turned me on to brined pickles, and to the wild fermentation facebook page!