What are fermented, cultured & lacto-fermented foods?
Fermented foods are foods that have undergone a transformation due to interaction with microbes. Those could be yeast, as in beer, wine, or leavened bread. Or they could be bacterial such as the Lacto-fermentation that occurs in sauerkraut, kimchi, and yogurt. Kefir grains and Kombucha SCOBYs have a lot going on and many things are produced and many microbes are working together to make it all happen.
Functional fermented foods are foods that we can enjoy that still have active cultures in them and our bodies can benefit from having those in the mix, they can help out with digestion and immunity and generally keep things running smoothly. Raw sauerkraut, yogurt, and kefir are all examples of functional ferments. Some ferments we cook to kill off the microbes performing the magical flavor transformations so they are no longer active when we consume the product – like bread or tempeh. Some microbes make amazing flavors but don’t do our guts that much good when they are alive. Some actually perform really necessary processes and we can start to run low if we aren’t eating foods that support them and so bringing in some fresh recruits can really help a lot.
Lacto-fermentation uses lactobacillus bacteria to convert sugars into lactic acid. Lactic acid is a natural preservative, maintaining the color, flavor, texture and nutritional values of fermented foods. In the case of our sauerkrauts and pickles, these lactobacilli are naturally occurring and we just provide the right environment and they go to work making things delicious for us.