Fermented Food for Beginners

Freshly made kimchi
One of the bigger steps we took to transitioning over to a whole, unrefined traditional foods diet was eating lactic acid fermented vegetables, fruits, and milk. I had incorporated grass-fed meats and healthier eggs, had started purchasing produce from our local farmers, and had decreased our consumption of sugar, but I just didn't have the courage to begin making and eating fermented foods. Fermenting foods reminded me of the can of sauerkraut my mom would serve for dinner yearly on St. Patrick's day. It would stink up the whole house and had an even worse mushy consistency. Why would I willingly make something like that? Little did I know how different store-bought fermented foods are than homemade lacto-fermented foods. Thankfully, through a group of friends, our palettes were finally exposed to the wonderful world of fermentation. Since then I have been fermenting and experimenting to my heart's content - or should I say stomach's content? :)
Fermenting foods dates back thousands and thousands of years. There are even cave drawings dating back 12,000 years of men obtaining honey from hives and using it to make mead, a honey wine. More recently, during the 19th century, the English explorer, Captain James Cook, had sixty barrels of sauerkraut hauled aboard his ship for his second trip around the world. The kraut lasted for 27 months and fed the crew well. Captain Cook was later recognized by the Royal Society for conquering scurvy, the disease that results from vitamin C deficiency, which had plagued many other sea crews (source). This is because lacto-fermented sauerkraut contains ample amounts of vitamin C. While the Captain got the glory, cultures all over the world had been eating these fermented foods for centuries; it was just part of their daily life, and still is, in many areas, today. The Koreans eat kimchi, cortido is popular in South America, miso, tempeh, and tamari are traditional Asian foods, kefir is a staple in Russia, and the list could go on. Our ancestors were experts at preserving food and drink, and this was done primarily through lactic-acid fermentation. 
You can ferment almost anything: milk, grains, meats, vegetables, fruit, etc; but today, we are primarily focused on fermenting fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. In my opinion, these are the easiest foods to ferment, and so they are great for beginners. Let’s take a look at the process, and then discuss why we would want to eat fermented foods. 
What is Lactic-Acid Fermentation?
Lactic-acid fermentation is a process by which the starches and sugars in dairy products, vegetables, or fruit convert to lactic acid by friendly lactic-acid producing bacteria (source). Making ferments at home is actually quite simple. First, the fruits and vegetables are washed and then cut, chopped, or shredded. Next, they are combined with herbs or spices, sea salt, and whey, and pounded with a meat hammer to release the juices.  Then, the ingredients are pressed into an air tight container, like a mason jar. The tightly sealed containers are then placed in a cabinet for two to three days in order to allow the good bacteria to proliferate. The salt keeps the bacteria from putrefying until enough lactic acid is created, which preserves the food for months. Using whey reduces the time needed for enough lactic acid to be produced. Afterwards the ferments can be stored in the fridge. It is widely known that veggie ferments increase in flavor over time, and can last for many months, but fruit ferments should be eaten within two months.
Sauerkraut ingredients waiting to be pounded
Today, we have things like canning machines and refrigerators, which don't make fermentation necessary, so why would we take the time to do it? Well, for starters fermenting foods has many more benefits than just extending its shelf life. In fact, many scientists today are just beginning to understand what was apparent to the cultures of old: lacto-fermented foods are a gold mine for health. Consider these reasons to start incorporating lacto-fermented foods into your family’s diet.
Six Reasons to Eat Lacto-Fermented Foods
1. The process of fermentation breaks down already present nutrients into more easily digestible forms. You’ll likely absorb more of the nutrients in food when it is fermented. For example, fermenting dairy products, like milk, breaks down lactose into lactic acid. Lactose is a sugar which often causes digestive difficulties in many people. (source)
2. Fermentation can CREATE new nutrients, especially B vitamins, including folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, and biotin. (source)
3. Ferments work as antioxidants, and take care of the "free radicals" that can be cancer precursors in your body by helping to flush them out of your system.
4. Fermentation can remove toxins from foods. For example, grains contain a compound called phytic acid, which blocks absorption of minerals, like zinc, magnesium, calcium, and iron. Soaking grains before cooking them neutralizes this phytic acid, so when you consume the bread the fermented grains will allow you to absorb many more minerals.
5. Eating fermented foods provides a wide array of probiotics for your intestines. Remember, lacto-fermenting foods means that the food is raw, alive, and full of gut-friendly bacteria. Are you having digestive problems? Eating homemade ferments are a great support to your gut. They are much cheaper than your health store’s fancy probiotic supplements. (source)
6. Homemade ferments are a great way to maximize your family’s overall nutrition while keeping within a budget. How great it is to grow or buy produce which is already healthy for you and then be able to multiply its nutritive properties through lacto-fermentation!
Kombucha: a bubbly fermented tea drink
On a final note, it is important to point out that the fermented foods you find in your grocery store are vastly different than the lacto-fermented foods you can make in your home. These store-bought foods, like sauerkraut, yogurt, and pickles are generally pasteurized, which means they are heated to a point at which the enzymes and beneficial microorganisms die. Although yogurt is touted to contain beneficial live cultures, the yogurt is generally pasteurized after culturing, which kills all the natural bacteria; then, a few specific types are artificially added in at the end. This is an incredibly inferior product compared to the yogurt you could make at home. If you want the benefits from lacto-fermented foods, you’ll need to make them yourself, or take the time to scout them out in your area.
Are you ready to take the plunge and make some fermented foods? Join me in a few upcoming posts as I give recipes for making fermented salsa, kimchi (korean sauerkraut), milk kefir, and kombucha. 

This was entered into Kelly the Kitchen Kop's Real Food Wednesday,  Food Renegade's Fight Back FridayNourishing Gourmet's Pennywise Platter, and Real Food Forager's Fat Tuesday.


  1. Very informative! I'm trying to start fermenting veggies (I already ferment several drinks). I've even tried making cucumber pickles twice, but I was afraid I was going to mess it up and make myself sick! I threw them out both times. I'd love to hear tips on how to safely ferment and what to look for/look out for!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Sarah. I must have missed your originally comment, but I'll be working on a post like this! Thanks for the idea!

    2. Hi, Sarah! I got the post up on tips and tricks to successful fermenting. Check it out here: http://nourishtoflourishblog.blogspot.com/2012/02/tips-tricks-to-successful-fermenting.html. Let me know what you think! Thanks!

  2. Thanks for linking your great post to FAT TUESDAY. This was very interesting! Hope to see you next week!

    Be sure to visit RealFoodForager.com on Sunday for Sunday Snippets – your post from Fat Tuesday may be featured there!

  3. Fermented foods are my favorite things to serve ESPECIALLY in the winter time. Kombucha happens to be my personal favorite! Thanks for this wonderful article! :-)

    1. And thank you for your comment! Your blog looks great as well, and I'm looking forward to reading more of your articles. Take care!

  4. If I am doing a yeast free diet can I still eat fermented foods ?? cant Waite to see the recipes thanks Eva

    1. Hi, Eva! Yes, fermented foods are excellent for a yeast free diet. They will help greatly in clearing your body from candida and other yeast issues. Thanks for the question!

    2. A yeast free diet says no vinegar, does home made kombucha count as a vinegar?

  5. "2. Fermentation can CREATE new nutrients, especially B vitamins, including folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, and biotin."

    Wow, that's why my friend is forcing me to eat fermented foods, it has a lot of health benefits, love it!

  6. Hi, I was wondering, how long can fermented foods be stored outside of the fridge, and should the containers be sealed?


  7. Fermentation contains medications, development authorities, Microbial/biological sprays, and RDNA necessary proteins. Fermentation products such as erythromycin and specialized ingredients. Fermentation capabilities include: Antibiotics, growth regulators, pesticides and chemical. http://globalpharmaindustry.com/products-services/contract-manufacturing/abbott-laboratories/

  8. benefits of fermented feed on humans seems nice, but not much to discuss. fermentation of feed for animals has been shown to increase production and animal health. cow or goat and animal ruminants in general