Perserving the Harvest:
Fermented Foods

by Mary Louise;Town Jaqua, Health Minister

Preservation of food is an ancient practice that has
helped to sustain civilization for hundreds, if not
thousands, of years. The need for man to extend the
life of his food supply, especially perishables, is a basic
survival instinct that has taken many forms, one of them
being fermentation.

History of Fermentation
Historians agree that fermentation of food has been
around a long time, most likely dating back to Neolithic
times. It is believed that the ancient practice of using
salt as a food preservative led to the discovery of
fermentation. While early societies did not know or
understand the process, they relished the transformation
of ordinary foods into tasty variations that lasted for long
periods of time. For many, the process was mysterious,
magical, and miraculous. Some cultures attributed
fermentation to be a gift from the gods and built shrines
at their breweries to honor respective dieties.

Early forms of fermented foods included wine, beer,
unleavened bread, and cheeses. As civilizations developed,
especially in Asia, fermented milk products appeared
(yoghurt, miso, shoyu) as did vinegar (soured wine),
pickles, sauerkraut, butter, and assorted alcoholic
beverages (mead). More recently, fermentation has
been used in industry to produce vitamins B-2 (riboflavin),
B-12, textured protein products, antibiotics, citric acid,
and gluconic acid.

The mystery of fermentation began unraveling in the
1500s with the invention of the compound miscroscope.
With the ability to peer into the invisible world of microbes,
the age of microbiology had arrived. In 1675 the Dutch
merchant Anton van Leeuwenhoek startled the world by
his discovery of what he called "animacules" (now called
"protozoa" ). The study of microbes continued with the
the work of Lavoisier in the early 1700s who studied the process of transforming sugar to alcohol and carbon
dioxide (as in wine) and Georg Stahl (1697) who held that
fermentation was a process of chemical reaction and yeast.
These men believed that the chemical changes resulting in
fermentation were attributed to either the catalytic action
of yeast cells or the molecular vibrations from decomposing
organic matter, i.e. death of the cells. Thus came the
conclusion that putrefaction, spoilage, and fermentation
were all considered to be processes of death, not life.

Fermented foods as living foods, however, was yet to be
discovered. Research into the 'bubbling quality' of the fermentation process ( bubbling, i.e. 'boiling' in Sanskrit ) further advanced in the mid-late 1800s with the discovery of bacteria. This revelation sparked many scientists on new
quests and ignited controversy over whether fermentation
was a dead or a living organism. Chemists maintained that fermentation was attributed to catalytic action or molecular vibrations involving enzymes, but the debate was settled
in 1857 when Louis Pasteur, through a series of
experiments, proved that acid fermentation was caused
by living organisms. In 1877 Pasteur documented his
findings in a work entitled, 'Life without Air', wherein he
declared that specific types of microorganisms cause
specific types of fermentation and end products.

However, German Chemist J. von Liebig believed that
fermentation was primarily a chemical rather than a
biological process. History has since shown, with the
discovery of enzymes, that both men were correct in
that fermentation is both a chemical and biological

Fermentation: What is it?
The above being said, it is asserted that fermentation
is the chemical transformation of organic substances
into simpler compounds by the action of enzymes, complex
organic catalysts, which are produced by microorganisms
such as molds, yeasts, or bacteria. Enzymes act by
hydrolysis, a process of breaking down or predigesting
complex organic molecules to form smaller more easily digestible compounds and nutrients. About eight types
of molds, five of yeasts, and six of bacteria are found
in fermented foods. Some of the most common molds
Aspergillus, Rhizopus, Mucor, Actinomucor,
and Neurospora species; the yeasts are Saccharomyces species; and the bacteria are Bacillus and Pediococcus species plus any or all of the species.

Fermented foods: Why are they healthy to eat?
Apart from extending the life of certain foods, fermented
foods are popular for their taste and proven health
benefits. Fermented foods help the body in numerous

1. Fermented foods detoxify the body, fight
infections, reduce cholesterol levels, and
support digestive and immune systems.

2. Fermented foods act as powerful anti-oxidants
that may help and/or prevent cancer.

3. Fermented foods improve digestion because
they are partially digested before consuming them.
In addition, fermented foods are known to reduce or
eliminate carbohydrates that are believed to cause

4. Fermented foods restore the proper balance
of bacteria in the gut.
They promote growth of
lactase, lactic acid, and other chemicals that battle
harmful bacteria in the intestines. Introducing good
bacteria in the intestinal tract is known to resolve
numerous digestive disorders, including constipation,
irritable bowel syndrome, yeast infections, allergies,
asthma, lactose and gluten intolerance, and more.
All of these conditions have been linked to a lack of
good bacteria in the gut.

5. Fermented foods are rich in enzymes. Enzymes
are the catalyists that help utilize food in the digestive, absorbtion, and assimilation process.
Fermented foods
promote the growth of digestive enzymes. The body’s
supply of enzymes decreases with age, and this fact
causes many scientists to hypothesize that guarding
against enzyme depletion will not only enhance quality
of life but longevity.

6. Fermented foods are a good source of amino
acids, minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, and B vitamins-
especially vitamins B-2 and B-12.

7. Eating fermented food helps the body absorb
Ingesting nutrients is only as affective as
the body's ability to absorb them. Otherwise, they
are useless. Improving digestion improves absorption
of nutrients which ultimately improves quality of life.

8. Fermenting food preserves them for longer
periods of time.
The microbial action inherent in
fermented foods naturally extends the life force in food.
Sauerkraut, pickles, salsa, and other food combinations
will keep for months.

9. Fermenting food is inexpensive. Few ingredients
are necessary and the varieties of foods used are
usually reasonably priced.

10. Fermenting food increases the flavor. The taste
of many otherwise bland, unexciting foods are enhanced
by the fermentation process. Texture, appearance, and
aroma are also known to improve.

Fermenting foods: Engaging the process
Perhaps the most popular and frequently eaten fermented
food is sauerkraut, i.e. cabbage that has succumbed
to the miraculous microbial process. Sauerkraut is
enjoyed as a side dish or a tasty garnish to cooked
as well as raw foods. Nevertheless, many foods other
than cabbage can be fermented. Root vegetables
such as beets, carrots, parsnip, radish, etc. ferment
well as do other vegetable varieties such as onions,
cucumbers, and beans. Surprisingly, fruit can also
be fermented.

Supplies needed
1. Food.
Make your food choices and then wash,
rinse, and dry well. Use perferably unblemished
produce that is organic, because chemical fertilizers
and/or pesticide residues in conventionally-grown
produce are heightened in the fermentation process,
a fact which presents potential health risk. Therefore
choose produce that is as pure as possible.
2. A ceramic crock, bowl, canning or other type
of glass jar.
Plastic containers are not recommended,
since plastic leaches (gasses out) chemicals into food.
3. Good quality salt. Recommended choices include
Celtic, Gray, Redmond, and Himalayan Living Crystal
salt. Medium-coarse or finely ground is best. Avoid
popular iodized salt.
4. Quality water- filtered or spring.
5. Organic herbs and spices for seasoning.

Once supplies are in place, it is time to create!

Making it happen: at The Living Way
Though we began making fermented foods many
years ago, our experience has been limited.
Nevertheless, an over-abundance of cucumbers
this summer inspired us to preserve them by
fermentation. Thanks to a good 'Sour Pickle' recipe
in Sandor Ellix Katz's book, Wild Fermentation',
(see the recipe on line
here), we were on our way
to make sour pickles in our LIVING kitchen. Here
is what we did:

1) In the bottom of a large gallon jar, we placed
a handful of fresh grape leaves (from our backyard
vines). The grape leaves help keep the cucumbers
(or other foods) crisp. Then we added

1 large (whole) bulb of garlic
Dill seed (heads from our garden)
3 Tbsp mustard seed
3 Tbsp celery seed
Few peppercorns

2) We made a salt brine by adding 6 Tbsp. of
Redmond salt to 2 quarts of fresh, spring water.

3) We packed the gallon jar with as many
small cucumbers as possible, leaving about
1"-2" from the rim.

4) We then filled the jar with the salt brine
enough to cover/submerge the cucumbers.

5) To cover the jar, we took a food grade
plastic bag (zip-lock or otherwise) and placed
it open over the jar opening. Then we weighted
the bag down with a smooth (boiled clean!) stones
and/or small, heavy jars. As a final touch, we
secured the plastic bag by placing a large rubber
band over it on the rim of the gallon jar.

6) We placed the finished jar on a solid tray
with a few layers of newspapers underneath
in order to absorb any and all 'over flow' of
the salt brine during the fermentation process.

Our Sour Pickles in the making...

Then we sat back and let the jar 'go to work.'
A few days into the fermentation process, the
brine over-spilled the jars so we took off the
plastic bags, checked the brine level, spooned
off any accummulated mold, topped off the
jar with fresh salt-water brine and then capped
it once again with the plastic bag. Please note
that it is important to completely cover the
fermenting foods with adequate salt brine.
Exposure to air can disrupt/hinder the
fermentation process.

We repeat the above practice daily as the food
is fermenting. The fermenteds can be eaten as
early as 1-2 weeks in the process, depending on
personal choice/taste and what is being fermented.
We began eating our sour pickles in about a week.
They were excellent! Our 'Sour Pickle' success
inspired us to make more. See the finished

An abundance of baby summer squash led to
another fermented adventure. I love these
soft, succulent summer beauties, so I decided
to extend their happy life as fermented foods.
Here is my finished 'work of art', a veritable
'living salad' in a jar: summer squash, carrots,
onions, fresh basil, and fresh parsley.

Beautiful to behold and delicious to eat!

Fermented Foods: Comments and conclusions
Our brief and somewhat limited experience with
fermented foods at The Living Way proves to us
that preserving the garden harvest in this manner is
both fun and easy. If we can do it, anyone can. While
it takes time to 'feel' the process, the learning curve
is relatively short.

The investment of time and effort to preserve food
the 'old-fashioned' fermented way is off set by the
health benefits. Fermented foods are an excellent,
natural way to support digestive health. The digestion
is the most crucial process in the body. If the body
cannot properly digest/absorb food, it cannot function.
Adding fermented foods that are rich in enzymes and
good bacteria to the diet is known to solve many
digestive problems, large or small. Many digestive/
intestinal conditions result because of insufficient
good flora in the gut. This deficiency is caused by
poor diet and the consumption of pharmaceutical
drugs, especiallyantibiotics, that kill good bacteria
in the body. Fermented foods act as a natural
probiotic to replace and balance the good bacteria
in the gut. For this reason alone, consuming fermented
foods on a regular basis can produce remarkable
health improvements.

Fermented foods are acidic by nature. Therefore
they should be eaten with discretion as a healthy
addition to an otherwise alkaline, living foods diet.
Many raw foodists consume little or no fermented
foods because of their acidity. As a raw foodist
of over eight years, I personally eat little or no
fermented food, not because I don't like it but
because my body does not need it.

For the sake of reference, home-made fermented
foods do not need refrigeration, but can be placed in
a cool/cold place or refrigerator to slow the fermentation
process. Heat activates the live culture and therefore,
fermentation should be regulated accordingly.
A longer
fermentation produces stronger taste and increases the
beneficial flora, such as lactobacillus plantarum, which
breaks down the sugars and starches inherent in
vegetables. At no time in the process should fermented
foods be heated. Serve them as a side dish or snack
to add extra LIFE to your life!

Fermenting foods is a healthy adventure. Preserving
the harvest can be a wholesome experience for friends
and family, a lesson in nurturing and encouraging one
another toward a better quality of life. Instead of
letting the harvest slip by or investing in store-bought
fermenteds, take time to ferment! You will be glad
that you did!


References and additional reading:

Wild Fermentation- Sandor Ellix Katz

Add a Little Culture to Your Life

Fermented Foods History

A Brief History of Fermentation- East and West

On Fermented Foods:
Alternate Title: On the Definition of Living Foods - Prelude
by Tom Billings

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