Fermentation is the process of souring or fermenting organic material by converting carbohydrates to alcohol or organic acids using microorganisms – yeasts or bacteria – under anaerobic conditions. It is a process used all over the world to preserve foods and change their flavour. In other words, fermentation is not decay.
What is fermentation?
Most people today are familiar with foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha. Although we might not give it much thought on a day-to-day basis, we actually consume a large quantity of food which is the result of a fermentation process. Everything from wine, beer, bread, salami, cheese, yoghurt, chocolate, etc. are fermented products. That said, there is, of course, a difference in the ways things are fermented, i.e. alcoholic fermentation and lactic acid fermentation. Just as there is a difference in fermentation by sugar brining, salt brining or dry salting.
What does fermentation involve?
All fruit and plants are naturally covered in microorganisms such as bacteria, yeast and fungi. They sit there, ready to break down the sugars in the plant when it dies. In fermentation, these microorganisms are specifically used to convert the carbohydrates in the organic material into lactic acid, acetic acid or carbon dioxide, for example. It is a process that can be started in one of two ways. Either the naturally occurring microorganisms are used, or a starter culture can be added, using pre-selected microorganisms.
What is lactic acid fermentation?
Lactic acid fermentation is the fermentation process using lactic acid bacteria. One of the best-known foods in this category is probably sauerkraut. Sauerkraut is made by shredding the cabbage leaves and massaging them with salt to extract any liquid from the cabbage. This has the effect of making the cabbage’s sugars available to the organisms found on the leaf. It is all about creating the right conditions for the lactic acid bacteria so that they are able to outcompete the other organisms. Lactic acid bacteria are relatively salt tolerant compared to other microorganisms. The right salt balance is therefore absolutely essential in this part of the process. It should preferably be 1–2% of the total organic mass. In addition, if there is enough for all the organic material, the liquid extracted from the leaves helps to create an oxygen-free environment, providing the best conditions for the lactic acid bacteria.
What happens during fermentation?
A typical lactic acid fermentation takes 21–28 days and works best at 18–20 degrees. In the first few days, specific lactic acid bacteria called Leuconostoc mesenteroides break down the sugars in the cabbage, forming the by-products lactic acid bacteria, acetic acid and carbon dioxide. During the first 5–7 days, they create an increasingly acidic environment. This means that other, more acid-tolerant lactic acid bacteria such as Lactobacillus brevis and Lactobacillus plantarum take over. Unlike L. mesenteroides, these do not form a list of by-products – just one: lactic acid. The food is thus further acidified, eventually reaching a pH value of around 4, in which only the lactic acid bacteria can survive. As long as the fermented material is kept oxygen-free, lactic acid fermentation also works as a natural method of preservation.
The fermentation process also has an effect on vitamins, minerals and plant substances. For example, the lactic acid bacteria produce vitamins such as B2 during fermentation. Fermentation also changes the body’s ability to absorb a number of vitamins, minerals and plant substances. For example, the plant substances in red clover, called isoflavones, are naturally bound to sugar molecules. In order for the isoflavones to pass through the wall of the small intestine and be absorbed into the body, they have to be separated from the sugar molecules. If the red clover is fermented, however, the lactic acid bacteria have already consumed more than 90% of the sugar molecules. The isoflavones are now in what is known as the aglycone form – i.e. without glucose – and thus ready to be absorbed into the body.
What factors affect the fermentation process?
There are a number of factors that affect the final result of lactic acid fermentation. For example, it is important to use high-quality ingredients, which are preferably grown organically, as the natural microorganisms have not been affected by pesticides, for example. In addition, good hygiene is essential. Bacteria from our hands, knives, etc. can transfer to the food and change the result. Naturally, it is also important to maintain the right salt balance and temperature during the fermentation, and ensure that the organic material is kept oxygen-free.
In addition to the above factors, which are relatively easy to control, factors such as the weather, atmospheric pressure, cultivation conditions, storage and perhaps even the lunar cycle also have an effect on the outcome of the fermentation.
HERRENS MARK’S FERMENTED EXTRACTS
All extracts by Herrens Mark are fermented. This has three primary effects. The extracts reach a pH of around 4, where only lactic acid bacteria thrive eliminating the need to add alcohol or other preservatives.. The fermentation also affects the body’s ability to absorb the plant substances. Lastly, the herbal extracts are not pasteurised, thereby preserving the live lactic acid bacteria. . All extracts also come in airtight bag-in-boxes, ensuring that the packaging is stable, practical and hygienic.
By: Michael Mohr Jensen, producer of dietary supplements
Published 20th January 2021