Our Living World
Every organism carries around and within it the microbes that will eventually decompose it. We can create a selective environment to favor these beneficial bacteria to start fermentation. Bacteria that ferment food also contribute to anaerobic stages of composting.
Meet Lactobacilli spp.
The Lactobacilli family of bacteria does the work of predigesting food for us. They eat sugars and produce lactic-acid as a byproduct of their metabolism. The acidic environment they create inhibits competition from spoilage organisms, making food safe to eat.
Salt + Fresh Vegetables
Adding salt to fresh vegetables draws water from plant cells. This makes the vegetables firmer and surrounds them in a watery brine in which lactic acid bacteria can begin to ferment.
Many fermented foods are started with cultures from a previous batch. A spoonful of yogurt with live cultures can be “backslopped” into warmed milk to inoculate a new batch of yogurt. Some live cultures, as in sourdough, can be created through wild fermentation. Others depend on the use of a symbiotic community of bacteria and yeasts, also called a SCOBY.
What's a SCOBY?
A SCOBY is a collection of bacteria that creates a cellulose matrix where companion yeasts can thrive. The bacteria digests sugars while the yeasts consume the byproducts of lactic acid fermentation. Kefir and kombucha each use a different type of SCOBY.
Fermentation enthusiasts are often happy to share their cultures for yogurt, sourdough, kefir, and kombucha. Starter cultures can also be purchased from suppliers online.
Benefits of Fermentation
Promote Inner Biodiversity
We have more nonhuman than human cells in our bodies. Most of these are beneficial bacteria that reside in our digestive tract. We can bolster our immune system and boost natural “feel-good” serotonin levels by eating live fermented foods, which support balanced populations of beneficial microbes.
By eating fermented vegetables like sauerkraut and kimchi, or lacto-fermented fruits and roots like pickles and carrots, we enjoy increased bioavailability of their nutrients. Unlocked B vitamins promote cellular metabolism. More vitamin C supports growth and repair of tissues. Fermented vegetables also present a source of vitamin K2.
Fermentation of plants can also help to detoxify their natural defense compounds, like phytic acid and oxalates.
Kefir and yogurt are easy dairy ferments to make at home, restoring beneficial microbes to pasteurized milk and reducing lactose that many people have difficulty digesting. If purchasing kefir or yogurt from a store, make sure the products contain live cultures.
Nutrients in real food decrease as they age. Fermentation keeps nutrients intact for longer periods of time.
It takes a lot of work for our bodies to digest food. Fermented foods are predigested, making their assimilation into our bodies an easier process.