Fermentation is a natural way to preserve foods. Many cultures have used fermentation as a preservation method for thousands of years, making delicious, delightfully funky foods and drinks from grains, dairy, meat, legumes, fruits and vegetables.
At Number 1 Sons, our fermented foods are simply vegetables, salt, water and spices. We put everything in a barrel and create an anaerobic (meaning devoid of oxygen) environment. This means we're creating a seal between what's in the barrel and what's outside the barrel. The bacteria that are important for fermentation function in an anaerobic environment. And then the process begins.
Similar to how our bodies are covered in millions of good bacteria, fruits and vegetables naturally have good bacteria. Those bacteria seek out carbohydrates, AKA sugars like glucose, in the vegetables to convert the carbs into cellular energy and lactic acid.
When vegetables are put in the right environment — filtered water, correct concentration of salt, temperature, minimal exposure to UV light — the good bacteria are able to convert carbohydrates into lactic acid and other good bacteria. To make our fermented foods, we source quality vegetables and follow a recipe. At the end of the day, we're doing all these things to make sure the bacteria are in the right environment to do their work.
There are multiple types of bacteria involved in fermentation. One of them is lactic acid, which is a good bacteria that naturally sours and preserves the vegetables. During the fermentation process, the type of bacteria changes and the number of bacteria grows, causing a cloudier brine. You may have noticed that our Super Sour pickles, which ferment for about a month, have a cloudier brine than our Half Sours, which ferment for a week.
We ferment our kimchis, krauts and pickles for a few days to a month. The length of the fermentation process depends on the temperature, type of vegetable and desired end product.
Fermentation never stops
Refrigerating the product significantly slows the process, like an animal going into winter hibernation. If you left your kimchi in the fridge for a year, the flavor and texture would change. The kimchi would certainly be more sour, it might be more or less spicy and it'd almost certainly lose some of its crunch. Additionally, carbon dioxide is another byproduct of fermentation and so you may notice your container lid starts to pop up over time. If this happens, simply open the lid to “burp” the container.
The end product is a delicious living food. The big difference between fermented pickles and canned and/or vinegar pickles is the bacteria. The canning process eradicates all bacteria, even the good ones, to create a sterile environment.
Fermented vegetables are one food that contain natural probiotics. Probiotics are good bacteria or microorganisms. Our bodies host many millions of microorganisms, collectively known as our microbiome. In a balanced microbiome, friendly bacteria, like lactic acid, outnumber the bad bacteria. These microbes have many health benefits, especially in maintaining a beneficial colony of bacteria in the gastrointestinal system.
Looking to introduce naturally occurring probiotics into your diet?
Kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi and our fermented pickles are a place you can start. Different types of fermented foods, like yogurt, kimchi, kraut, kombucha, contain different types of probiotics. Every person's microbiome is unique, so one person's microbiome may really enjoy the probiotics in yogurt, while another person's microbiome enjoys kimchi.
There is a growing body of research behind human microbiomes, consuming probiotics, and the connection between our microbiomes and both mental and physical health. What an exciting time to be alive.