Cucumbers are plentiful at this time of year, and if you’re like me, pickles are one of your favorite ways to eat them. I avoided pickling for the longest time–I figured if it’s not the kind of thing that my grandmother could teach me how to do, I probably would be in over my head. It also seemed expensive–so much vinegar–and one of the primary reasons I source my diet from the farmer’s market is to save money. But then I learned about lacto-fermentation, and the whole world of pickling opened up to me.
Most people think about beer or wine when they hear the term fermentation. While certain yeasts are used to convert the sugars in grape juice or grains into alcohol, it is bacteria that are responsible for lacto-fermentation. The “lacto” portion of the term refers to a specific species of bacteria, namely Lactobacillus. Various strains of these bacteria are present on the surface of all plants, especially those growing close to the ground … Many of us may be familiar with Lactobacillus acidophilus, the acid-loving bacterium commonly included in the process of making yogurt, but there are many others.Lactobacillus bacteria have the ability to convert sugars into lactic acid through a naturally occurring fermentation process. The Lactobacillus strain is so named because it can readily use lactose, the sugar in milk, and convert it quickly and easily to lactic acid. So lacto-fermentation does not necessarily need to involve dairy products. [source]
To utilize the naturally present Lactobacillus and ferment cucumbers into tasty, tasty pickles, all you need is a simple brine of water and salt. You can add whatever flavorings you like, from classic dill to dried chillies to ginger. While I myself have not ventured into the world of sweet pickles (the savory kind are all I need in my life), it is possible to lacto-ferment bread and butter and other sweet pickles as well, using more healthful sweeteners such honey or maple syrup.
Editor’s Note: Join us at the farmer’s market on August 6th, 2014 for a hands on demonstration of vegetable fermenting, including lactofermented pickles. View the Facebook event for more details.