A few months ago I finally attempted my first homemade vegetable ferment. I was inspired by my growing collection of baby root vegetables in my fridge from last winter’s CSA box. It was delicious and simple to make. All I did was cut up my beets, turnips, and radishes into a glass jar filled with salted water and let the (good) bacteria do its work.
I have already been culturing dairy, especially raw milk kefir, and created my sourdough starter, but the fermented vegetables was my final break from our culture’s obsessive germophobia where food needs to be sterilized, irradiated, overcooked, and pasteurized.
But as Ken Albala writes in The Lost Art of Real Cooking its time to “reclaim our food heritage” and “dare to make food ourselves when scientists and nutritionists warn us that industry knows best.”
Benefits of Fermentation
“Fermentation organisms produce alcohol, lactic acid, and acetic acid, all “bio-preservatives” that retain nutrients and prevent spoilage.” Sandor Katz
Before canning or refrigeration, cultures throughout the world fermented their foods – it’s the oldest form of food preservation. Many of our favorite foods are fermented; foods like wine, beer, bread, yogurt, cheese, chocolate (cacao nibs ferment in the sun before processing) and coffee, tofu, miso, saurkraut, kimchi, olives, ketchup (at least originally), and other condiments.
But the beauty of this ancient art is that unlike canning, freezing or other modern preservation techniques, fermentation enhances the food’s nutrition.
“Pound for pound, fermented material will have more nutrition packed into it than the raw material it came from because microbes add heaps of nutrients to whatever it is they’re growing in.” Dr. Cate Shanahan
By feasting on starch, sugar, and cellulose, beneficial microbes in fermented foods create new nutrients (like B vitamins). They have enzymes that break down food toxins. In grains, the fermentation process breaks neutralizes phytic acid which can block mineral absorption as in sourdough breads. And especially in soy which is indigestable in its natural form, fermentation transforms toxic substances into nutrient dense foods like miso, tempeh, and tamari.
“Digestive Health Cannot Happen without Healthy Well-Functioning Gut Flora” Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride
Our digestive tract is home to a mass of bacteria, yeasts, viruses, and other microbes necessary for healthy digestion. They produce our enzymes, break down proteins, carbs, and fats, and a myriad of important functions. Fermented foods help keep a healthy balance of beneficial microbes in our bodies by supplying beneficial bacteria produced in the fermentation process. They also make foods easier to digest – for example breaking down lactose, or milk sugar, into lactic acid.
“All Diseases Begin in the Gut” Hippocrates
Most of our immunity begins in the gut. We need healthy gut flora to fight pathogens from our food and our environment. Our gut flora protects us from infections, and carcinogenic and toxic substances. Fermented foods supplies the digestive system with beneficial gut bacteria allowing it to continue its protective duties.
Pickled Mixed Root Vegetables
Adapted from Nourishing Traditions.
3 cups organic turnips, beets, and radishes, peeled, quartered, and sliced (enough to fill a quart-sized mason jar)
1 tablespoon sea salt (iodized salt is a processed product and can inhibit fermentation)
4 tablespoons whey (or an additional tablespoon of salt)
1 cup filtered water (chlorine kills the beneficial microorganisms)
1. Place mixed vegetables into a quart-sized, wide mouth jar.
2. Press vegetables down with a wooden pounder (I used my fists).
3. Mix water, salt, and whey and pour into the jar making sure to cover the vegetables (add more water if necessary) but leave at least one inch space below the top of the jar.
4. Cover tightly and let ferment at room temperature for 3 days.