Prior to the Industrial Revolution, home preservation of vegetables and fruits was accomplished without the aid of canning, refrigeration or freezing.
Even milk was not typically consumed in a fresh state and was usually eaten as yogurt [picture of bowl of yogurt] and cheese [picture of cheese] or clabbered and then separated into curds and whey [picture of jar of whey next to a bowl of cream cheese].
The traditional method for preservation of milk, vegetables, and meat involves a process called lacto-fermentation. In the fermentation of raw milk, beneficial lactic acid-producing bacteria naturally present in the milk initiate the digestion or breaking down of milk sugar, known as lactose, and milk proteins like casein.
When enough lactic acid is produced by these friendly bacteria and fermentation is complete, milk is protected from spoilage for several days, weeks or even years as is the case with aged cheeses [picture of cheddar cheese].
Meat can be preserved by lacto-fermentation as well. Hard, aged sausages, such as traditionally prepared salami, are lacto-fermented foods.
The process of lacto-fermentation works in a similar manner with plant foods, transforming cabbage into sauerkraut [picture of sauerkraut] and cucumbers into pickles [picture of pickles]. While not traditionally lacto-fermented, fruit can also be transformed into chutneys and marmalades using the same process [picture of apricot butter].
Lactic acid preserves food by inhibiting putrefying bacteria. This organic acid is produced by a beneficial bacterium present on the surface of all plants and animals – even our own skin! Traditional cuisines from around the world prized lactofermented foods and beverages for their medicinal properties as well as delicious taste. Most traditional cuisines included at least one fermented food or beverage with every meal, which worked to improve digestion and nutrient absorption [show me pouring a glass of kombucha into a glass].
Regular consumption of traditionally fermented foods and drinks promotes the growth of healthy flora and overall balance in the intestines. A 1999 study published in the Lancet found that consumption of lacto-fermented vegetables in children was associated with low rates of asthma, skin problems and auto immune disorders in general.
Lacto-fermented foods are rich in enzymes as well as beneficial bacteria. Think of lactofermented foods as “super-raw” foods; the enzymes in lacto-fermented foods more than compensate for the enzymes lost in the foods that are cooked.