Fermented Foods: Real Food, Real Health
Lacto-fermentation is a process by which beneficial bacteria such as lactobacillus convert the natural sugars in foods such as cabbage and beets, or in milk, to lactic acid. This process renders the foods inedible by other bacteria and molds, as it drops the pH of the foods beyond the biological limits of the bacteria that are responsible for spoilage. These bacteria are present naturally on the foods, and just need a little jump start to outpace other bacteria. Added salt (or sodium) is generally the way in which the growth of harmful bacteria is slowed.
Historically, this process was a method (pre-preservatives) to extend the lifespan of foods. This was also a way to add flavor to day-to-day common foods. Now, fermentation does both of these things and is becoming increasingly popular as a way to add probiotics to the diet.
Yogurt and cheese are probably the most commonly consumed lacto-fermented foods. Kefir is a specialized type of yogurt, containing more than a dozen probiotic bacteria. Kombucha is a beverage that is made with a symbiote of a yeast and acetobacter bacteria, forming a probiotic tangy vinegar rich beverage. Sourdough bread is also a lacto-fermented food, and this explains its reduced glycemic index over ordinary bread.
Many other fermented foods are available, all offering flavors, colors, and textures that are different than the average run of the mill American diet. They are a part of the often recommended Mediterranean diet, an ancient component of the food of that region and many others, as this is the easiest and most nutritious method of preserving a seasonal crop that was known to man before refrigeration.
Giardiniera is a commonly known lactofermented pickle from the Mediterranean region, and a tasty one at that.
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