Pondering Preserves: Lacto-Fermenting Edition

Fermenting has taken several of my social circles by storm: pickles, kraut, kombucha, and kefir abound. Some friends love the taste of these foods while others speak of health benefits from adding these foods to their diet. This year I decided I should see if I could get anywhere with fermenting some pickles. The harvest is too much to eat at one time but not enough to warrant heating the house up by doing a full preserving batch with the water bath canner on the stove. I chop my veggies up, get out a big jar, airlock and a weight to keep them submerged while microbes turn them into delicious sour snacks.

Researching fermented foods

I’m a bookworm by nature and have been pouring over lacto-fermenting recipes and tutorials in preparation for my first batches of dill cucumber pickles and a traditional sauerkraut. These involved adding salt (and water for the cucumbers) to encourage the lactobacilli to convert sugars and starches in the vegetables to lactic acid. 1 In my research I came across a caution about being immunosuppressed and consumption of fermented foods. I’m not sure whether or not taking a steroid inhaler qualifies me as immunosuppressed a la the flu shot. Other times I don’t count as immunosuppressed because I don’t take oral steroids or post organ transplant medications. It seems I never fit neatly into a box when it comes to health categories.

Are there any health benefits?

The health benefits and risks of eating fermented foods are still an area in need of scientific investigation. As part of the fermentation, process bacteria produce peptides with enzymes which are hypothesized to produce health benefits.2 The enzyme that is of most interest those of us with asthma is “bioactive peptides exhibit anti-oxidant, anti-microbial, opioid antagonist, anti-allergenic, and blood pressure lowering effects”. 2 Researchers also note that “some studies have shown no relationship between fermented foods and health benefits”. 2

Do I expect that adding some kraut or a pickle to my plate at lunch will cure my asthma?

Nope!

Does it make me a happy to eat fermented foods?

Yes!

I understand that the lacto-fermenting process has the possibility to produce mold growth in some conditions. Personally, I won’t be joining those folks who the scrape the moldy top off the kraut and enjoy the rest. If I get mold on a batch I’m feeding it all to the compost pile. While it may well be safe to consume I won’t be taking my chances. It has been well established that I am allergic to mold and I really don’t want to have to explain that reaction to my allergist.

I will ask my medical team at my next checkup if they have concerns with my pickle consumption. I suspect this will get a laugh from them and official “permission” to eat pickles in moderation. So far I haven’t experienced any positive or negative health effect from fermented foods. Plus this gives me yet another off the wall question to ask at my annual checkup. I think they might worry about my mental health if I didn’t have some atypical question to cap off my appointment.

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