Lacto-fermented foods have devotees, and for good reason. Fermented foods are an absolute treasure trove of goodness. Full of promise, they are a helping hand for our microbiota and immune system, among others…
Lacto-fermented foods go through a, well, lacto-fermentation process, i.e. one that preserves the food via maceration without oxygen supply. During this stage, which takes between two days for fruit and five for vegetables, friendly bacteria (called lactic bacteria) proliferate. False friend alert – they have nothing to do with milk or lactose. Mixing the plant matter with salt and water, or even with the bacteria responsible for the fermentation reaction, results in lacto-fermented foods. The airtight seals of the food containers prevent oxygen from escaping. Because while oxygen causes oxidisation, it is of no use to the fermentation process. Quite the opposite – it prevents lactic bacteria from developing. When deprived of oxygen they soon enter starvation mode. As a survival mechanism, like any other living creature, they start breeding. They have to live on sugars (which are naturally present in fruits and vegetables), and turn these same sugars into lactic acid. So then, are these foods just going to get more and more acidic? No, and that’s where the magic of nature comes in! Because once a certain level of acidity has been reached the process stops, leaving the food with a shelf life of up to several months. So go for those gherkins, sauerkraut, miso, kefir, kombucha, pickled garlic and other fermented pickles, either homemade or shop bought (in organic or health food shops).
Lacto-fermentation is very much alive!
1- Lacto-fermentation boosts the immune system
The intestinal flora consists of several billion bacteria that are vital to the proper functioning of the body. While it is often kept in order with short-term courses of probiotics several times a year, you can give it a natural helping hand through diet. The more you help it along, the more probiotics it makes to kick out the hordes of bad bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites that have made their way into the body!
2- Lacto-fermentation upgrades foods
Virtually all foods would be worthy candidates for fermentation. While sterilisation, UHT treatments and freezing are handy ways of preserving foods, at best they leave the nutrients and vitamins intact. They in no way increase nutritional value. Only lacto-fermentation can do that. How? Well, the reaction sparked off by the proliferation of beneficial lactic bacteria increases the amount of certain vitamins in foods (not least B and K). In addition, it promotes the assimilation of zinc, magnesium, calcium and iron. It also improves the quality of the intestinal flora, also reducing the risk of intestinal porosity.
Most naturopaths strongly recommend eating lacto-fermented foods, because they are real powerhouses and have a great many positive effects. A bit like sprouted seeds, fermentation has a top spot on the experts’ podium of health-promoting nutrients. To Marielle Alix, a holistic coach and naturopath, and Barbara Tron, a naturopathy advisor and creator of the Jolies Tripes website, lacto-fermentation is almost second nature! To the point that Alix, the creator of “Échappées méno-glam” (wellness getaways aimed at menopausal and peri- menopausal women) devotes a whole program module and workshops to lacto-fermentation and fermented foods. As for Tron, having spent time making sauerkraut, kombucha, kvaz and the like, she decided to set up her Ateliers Jolies Tripes workshops to share her know-how and sell her produce.
Barbara, why do we need fermented foods?
“Fermented foods are alive, and are natural probiotics. A dense and diverse microbial community interacts with our microbiota, and this has a positive effect on our health. Fermentation breaks some foods down into more digestible and assimilable molecules. One example is soya, which is otherwise very hard to digest. Once fermented it yields miso and tempeh, which are very high in rapidly-assimilable amino acids (proteins). The same phenomenon occurs through the fermentation of gluten, which becomes easier to digest. Fermentation also increases the bioavailability of minerals in foods. In addition, it constitutes ‘a form of pre-digestion’. It produces new nutrients like B vitamins (B9 also known as folic acid, B2 AKA riboflavin, B1 AKA niacin and B8 AKA biotin). It’s also a source of vitamin C. Its antioxidant action is remarkable. It eliminates free radicals and thus has a cancer-fighting effect. Lastly, the lactic bacteria produced by the microorganisms responsible for fermentation also produce omega 3 fatty acids. These are essential to cell membranes and the immune system”.
How often do you recommend eating them?
“We must eat a variety of fermented foods to get a diverse array of bacteria in our microbiota. It’s best to make them part of every meal, every day, either as part of a dish or eaten separately. Fermented foods are so flavourful that a spoonful of sauerkraut, a glass of kombucha or kefir are enough to top off your daily diet!”.
What tips can you offer for introducing fermented foods into your diet if you are not used to them?
“I put fermented vegetables, sauerkraut, kimchi, etc. in salads. They are delectable ingredients that make salads more attractive and tasty. They can be used as a garnish for meat or fish, with a spoonful or two on the side being the perfect addition! With the return of fine weather, vegetable poké bowls are back too. With rice or quinoa, they go perfectly with these clever toppings! Or a glass of kombucha, or kefir (in the morning or between meals) is lovely. A glass of kvass before a meal whets the appetite. My other clever trick is to ferment garlic before cooking with it. You can add it to spicy sauces. And to make go-to foods of fermented foods, I put them on the table at every meal. They are about new flavours, and are an acquired taste. After a while, eating them becomes a habit! And to start making your own, it’s best to start with workshops. I’ve put a number of them together on the subject of kimchi, sauerkraut, all kinds of vegetables and fermented beverages like kombucha, beet and sweet potato kvass. You can even learn how to make fermented bread and yoghurt. But the first stages of the workshop are about vegetables and fruit!”
Marielle Alix, why do you recommend eating fermented foods?
“You always hear (especially in Chinese medicine!) that to eat a balanced diet, you have to include spicy, sour, sweet, salty and bitter foods. But we are not really used to sour and tangy tastes. I got acquainted with these flavours with Donna Schwenk, an American woman who claimed to have beaten certain illnesses by regularly consuming lacto-fermented foods and beverages. I was completely won over, and started making my own kefir and sauerkraut. It’s no coincidence that these foods can be found from Eastern Europe (sweet and sour pickles, kefir, cabbage) to Japan (soy sauce, miso, tempeh), and Korea (kimchi). And here in France, we tend to forget that without fermentation there would be no wine, bread or cheese, which are so very emblematic of our country! Beyond this tradition, fermentation is essential to digestion, overall vitality, beauty and skin health (friendly bacteria make for fewer spots!). And something less well known is that lacto-fermentation plays a role in regulating appetite. Because lacto-fermented foods serve as ‘expanders’ of nutrients and vitamins, they make you feel full more quickly.”.
What’s your favourite fermented food?
“Sauerkraut, and also kefir! Kefir is high in lactase and makes it possible to better digest the lactose in dairy products. I prefer it made from plant-based milks, especially coconut milk. Cow’s milk triggers the secretion of mucus, which is a breeding ground for bad bacteria. Whereas kefir triggers the secretion of mucus too, but the good kind! It lines the mucous membrane of the digestive tract with friendly bacteria and boosts the intestinal flora, on which our immune system rests.”
How do you get started?
“You need vegetables or fruit, salt and water. Personally, I add some cultures to make for a variety of types of microorganisms. And while making my sauerkraut, I draw off half a cup of brine to lacto-ferment the next batch! To start with, you can also buy specific probiotics (Bio Kult) or well-fermented sauerkraut from Alsace Saveurs (alsacesaveurs.com). You can also follow the step-by-step guides on my go-to site: Ni Cru Ni Cuit (nicrucicuit.com). To start with, go for vegetables (cabbage, gherkins, carrots, radishes). Next, you need large glass jars, salt and water. Most importantly, introduce them gradually because they are very potent! To begin with, four tablespoons of vegetables is enough. The flora gradually changes, yielding the friendly bacteria that will prompt the synthesis of vitamins C and B. Start off by buying small jars of sweet and smoked kimchi, sauerkraut with dill and cucumber or sweet and sour beetroot (from Les Jarres Crues, available on the website Pourdebon.com).”
- Wash your fruit and vegetables.
- Peel and cut them to whichever size you want.
- Put them in a jar.
- Add your herbs and spices of choice (dill, garlic).
- Add sea salt (two tablespoons), and possibly two tablespoons of sauerkraut brine.
- Add spring water, taking care to leave a centimetre between the water and the top of the jar. Fully immerse the vegetables or fruit in the water.
- Put the lid on the jar and leave it at room temperature for about two days for fruit and at least five days for vegetables.
- The result is a success if it tastes sour yet sweet and pleasant! If it looks iffy (mouldy) or smells bad, throw it out and start over!
To take it further
Sign up for one of Marielle Alix’s Méno Glam getaways. Or for the workshop “bien dans son ventre” (“the happy belly”), where she discusses lacto-fermentation and hosts lacto-fermented food tastings to provide healthy, natural solutions for digestive wellbeing: mariellealix.com. Attend one of Barbara Tron’s workshops – information available at jolies-tripes.blogspot.com – for a “learning by doing” approach!