While summer might not last forever, it is certainly possible to enjoy its bounty throughout the year. Of all of the ways available to preserve fresh produce, one of our absolute favorites has to be fermentation. Frequently associated with the modern pickles found in most markets and pantries, foods pickled with traditional fermentation techniques are actually distinctly different, packed with vitamins and minerals and containing living cultures of probiotic, gut-friendly bacteria. But how else do traditionally fermented foods differ from modern pickles?
In modern pickling, fruits and vegetables are typically added to an acid base (frequently vinegar) and then heat processed. Traditional lacto-fermentation is a raw process in which foods are added to a salt-water brine; these foods are preserved without the addition of heat or pressure.
By adding heat, modern pickling is essentially sterilizing your food, killing off both good and bad bacteria. In contrast, traditional fermentation creates an environment that, while inhospitable to “bad” bacteria, allows “good” bacteria to flourish. As a result, fermented foods are probiotic.
Modern pickling is a great option for canning, as it results in a shelf-stable item that can be stored for months in your pantry. Once the desired level of fermentation has been reached, traditionally fermented foods are best stored in the refrigerator.
The flavor and texture of modern pickles will remain fairly consistent from the day of processing until whenever they are consumed. Traditional lacto-fermentation is an on-going, dynamic process and, as a result, the consistency of fermented foods can vary greatly from one day to the next.
Beyond those inherent in whatever fruit or vegetable is being processed, there are no known added health benefits associated with modern pickling techniques. By comparison, through the promotion of probiotic, gut-friendly bacteria, traditional ferments aid in digestion and can help relieve gastrointestinal issues. Traditionally fermented vegetables are also thought to be higher in vitamins and minerals than their raw or cooked counterparts!
Whichever technique you use – fermenting, pickling, or even drying, canning, or making jam – with a little planning and work now, you can be savoring the freshness of summer even on the coldest winter’s day!