FRIENDS WITHIN – What is lacto-fermentation?

In the modern world the silent war against bacteria has been culturally accepted. Walking through the grocery store we see aisles full of anti-bacterial products. We find rampant antibiotic use. We are hard put, in many areas, to find fermented foods. The fifth kingdom is under attack. But what is even more worrying is that human beings cannot live without bacteria. Diseases of the digestive tract increase exponentially each year and it’s the number one cancer in France. Maybe it’s time to abandon the idea of sterilizing the world, the environment and the food supply (such as through the process of pasteurization). In the chapter on dairy products, I will explain this in detail but for now just know that the link between these sacrificed bacteria and our health is a direct one.

Before the days of refrigeration the preservation of food was the same everywhere: lacto-fermentation. The remainder of the summer harvest was preserved, dried or jarred with whey or salt. This process allowed us to keep fruits and vegetables through the winter. Advantage: the bacteria responsible for lacto- fermentation love sugar. Our jarred, canned and pickled goods were healthier and tastier when they were made this way. Even soft drinks have their roots in health. The work of bacteria, such as in kefir grains, where one adds all kinds of fruits, berries, figs, lemons, etc., becomes healthy, homemade and delicious kefir soda or kombucha after 24 hours. These drinks provide many millions of beneficial bacteria for our intestinal flora.

In Russia, the growth of cancer after the Second World War had prompted the government to do a region by region survey. Curiously, some parts of Russia were not affected. After observation, the researchers concluded that the non-affected areas had a drink in common: kvass (7). Traditional kvass is a drink made of bread or lacto-fermented beets used as a digestive tonic. The bacteria contained therein produce lactic acid which is fundamental to all living organisms. Some of these Kvass vendors in the streets of Russia sell a near exact equivalent in taste and color to coca-cola. The healthy version. Fermented beet kvass is the most therapeutic for the blood.

What is lacto-fermentation?
The plants are covered with a layer of bacteria, lactobacilli, that herbivores ingest and which are consequently found in milk. These bacteria are also found in all fruits and vegetables unless they have been pasteurized or cooked.

For example, a chopped cabbage mixed with juniper berries and caraway seeds plus a glass of whey and spring water will ferment after three days and may be stored in glass in the refrigerator for up to six months! The lacto-fermentation increases the levels of vitamins and antioxidants and improves digestion. Lacto-fermented sauerkraut had such high levels of vitamin C that it was used as a remedy for scurvy.

If we look at the traditions of the world we find many examples of lacto-fermentation: miso, tempeh, kimchi, kombucha, kefir, fermented milk, buttermilk, yoghurt, fermented millet, sourdough leavening, cheese, wine, dried sausages, beer, pickles, sauces, condiments and any form of fermented vegetables or grains. All these foods are rich in enzymes because they are not heated. Their high enzymatic levels can counterbalance the enzymes lost in the cooking of other foods present at the same meal. If we look at the plates of traditional cultures, Europe included, we see this culinary logic: pickles are eaten with hams and dried meats, cheese and wine (the wine had a lower alcohol content in earlier times), sausage and sauerkraut, meat and condiments, vinegar dressings, mustard on the table, and enzyme-rich raw honey for digestion.

The lactobacilli are noble defenders of our digestive tract. They digest the sugars and multiply to produce even more lactobacilli and thus improve digestion. At the same time, they lower the level of sugar circulating in the body which is another big problem today. The lactobacilli are living probiotics but without the high price! A small shot of raw, fermented and unpasteurized cabbage juice has more power than most store-bought probiotics and does wonders for the transit, especially in conjunction with fibrous foods such as raw fennel or cooked heirloom root vegetables.

They play an important role in regulating the pH in the digestive tract by creating an environment that discourages infections and other parasites. This is logical since conservation is based on the same principle. To conserve correctly we need an environment that limits the harmful microbes and promotes beneficial microbes. This will result in a living flora which will preserve itself naturally. The outside world reveals how our inner world works. So fascinating that the word alchemy came from observations that the Greeks had made while observing the phenomenon of fermentation. They discovered that it was not the same as alcoholic fermentation. It was an estuary of enzymatic life, and nutritionally, it gave physical and mental strength. The Eskimos learned, through trial and error, that fermented, bacteria-infested meats gave their sled dogs nearly twice the energy as raw meat. The good news is that one can salt and create this lactic fermentation and autolysis for many types of cold water fish if one undertakes to do this one’s self (see below).
Healthy bacteria, this humble warrior of the underworld is unfortunately under attack. With Pasteur and his idea of focusing on bacteria and not on the inner terrain, we have accepted a half-truth. This has moved us away from the real issue: our biological terrain and its symbiosis with nature, not the invisible war against microbes. Bacteria are there to clean and break down the waste and toxins that the body cannot break down alone. Bacteria and even viruses are like needed scavengers or solvents which break down different types of toxins (27). Seen in this light, bacteria are our assistants.
Not too long ago we had soap, lemon, baking soda, and vinegar to clean the house. Today there are hundreds of harmful antibacterial cleaning products, even organic, which reduce our resistance by destroying good bacteria as well.
Modern studies have shown a parallel between the increase of asthma cases and the use of sterilizing agents and cleaners. It is easy to understand, even without a study, that the use of these products goes against nature.
Not to mention antibiotics and their role in the elimination of beneficial bacteria. Unfortunately, their use is now commonplace when they should be limited to emergency situations only. A poignant example, which questions the value of antibiotics, is
that before antibiotics we had only four types of rheumatic disease (all rheumatic diseases are caused by the proliferation of Staphylococcus Aureus). At present we have over 100! The anti- symptomatic and poly-pharmaceutic approach of modern medicine tries to convince us that, without symptoms, we are healed. When in fact, the misunderstood disease just escapes further into the body and tissues to return even more virulent down the road.
Add to that the pasteurization of cheese, milk, butter, fruit juice, frozen products, almonds, and even honey (which is often heated and loses all its enzymatic power). One wonders if the irradiation of our spices, a technique increasingly being used today, is also for our security? If sterilization continues to define us in this modern world, it is likely that it is we who will become sterile in the end. Without a flexible mind, there can be no change of direction.
“All that is rigid is dead. All that is flexible is alive. “(1q)
If everything is sterilized, pasteurized and processed, the beneficial microbes that constitute the outside world will be absent from our internal flora. We need the help of this magnificent army if we are to survive.
Imagine if every soft drink was replaced by the healthy kombucha version, with vanilla and ginger, sparkling and full of life; if our condiments and pickled foods were alive; if our bread was made with homemade sourdough, making the minerals bio- available unlike yeast which makes digestion and assimilation difficult; if we ate more fermented vegetables and roots which are more digestible and rich in enzymes; if the natural flora of our dairy products was left intact. This would do wonders for our digestion. If we brought back the idea of food as medicine, the industry would lose some of its power over us and our children would be healthier. We would no longer be feeding the pharmaceutical industry so much of our energy which would allow for a right-sizing of that industry to its proper, beneficial place as applied to emergency care, and not for cradle to grave assistance.

The key to understanding this symbiosis lies in the perception that the inside terrain and the outside world mirror each other. If these bacteria are no longer in our daily diet, it is clear that our assimilation will become increasingly difficult. So where are the lactobacilli in today’s foods?
Lactobacilli are found in:
*Fruits and vegetables from rich soil, especially if still covered with soil
* Milk and by-products (meats) of grazing animals, unpasteurized (raw or fermented)
* Non-alcoholic fermentation
Lacto-fermented foods and beverages (especially sauerkraut juice, whey, homemade kefir yogurt, medicinal low-sugar kombucha, etc.)
* Traditional unpasteurized, unfiltered condiments and sauces *Fresh sourdough leavening
*Specialty foods such as fermented meats
Today our vegetables are often packaged, cleaned with acid in order to lure the consumer, and placed under halogen lighting at the supermarket. They come from magnesium depleted soils and are often bland. Even our condiments today are pasteurized.
Our dairy products were once abundant in beneficial bacteria as all the grazing animals fed on pasture. Unfortunately, today’s cattle are often fed primarily with dry grains, silage, rapeseed (canola) pulp, GMO corn, processed soybean pulp or powders, which are low in enzymes and beneficial bacteria. And even if a cow managed to escape and ate 100% the natural way, we would pasteurize the milk anyway. It is easy to realize that these lacto-bacteria are absent from our tables. And that’s a shame because without awareness of the symbiosis of this microcosm we live without an inner layer of great importance. Make peace with the bacteria to keep our intestines from becoming ghost towns overrun by lawless bandits. Proper boundaries and the actions needed to maintain them, in this case healing our intestines, can only be found through clear observation of the problem.

Many cultures made use of fermented meats, from the Scandinavians’ buried and rotting shark meat, to lightly fermented renaissance fowl and game, to the millions of real-life survival situations in the world pre-dating refrigeration. There is even a term for this type of meat called ‘high meat’ which is raw and fermented. It smells awful but has been used to heal the gut, sometimes ending a prolonged physical state of depression, and also leading to a type of euphoria that lasts for days with subtler effects that last for weeks. Even our cats and dogs seek out this pungent odor in the environment to help re-colon-ize and heal their own intestinal flora which has been damaged by vaccines. Even quality meats at specialty butcher shops have been lightly fermented and slow aged before sale.
One may soak meat in the refrigerator in a brine and then let it cold ferment to increase nutrition, digestion and even to overcome a less than optimal meat selection. If a war was to break out and there was no good foods available fermentation could bring a higher vitamin content out of thin air! One could even make broth with inferior water, meat and bones and then evaporate the water and ferment the paste to be used on breads or rice.
I leave the recipe below in the hopes you may not need to use it but it may bring high nutrition from thin air in the case of great need. It was taken from a nutrition researcher who had many good ideas, even if I do not agree with his overall philosophy. As with gold, one must learn to sift the good in the age of untruth. The late Aajonis Vonderplanitz tested this recipe on hundreds of people.
High Meat Recipe (red meat, seafood, and fowl)
Place 1 volume-pint of raw meat, chopped into bite- sized pieces, into a glass quart (32 ounces) jar; equal air and meat space. Place mason jar lid on jar tightly and place in the refrigerator. I suggest three jars be prepared; one with raw red meat, one with natural raw fowl and one with ocean wild-caught raw fish. Every 3 to 4 days take the jars outdoors, completely remove lids and wave the jars in the air

to exchange the air inside each jar. Return lids to jars, tighten and return to refrigeration. After 4 weeks, you may begin to eat one marble-sized piece once or twice every week. There are approximately 17 stages of bacterial developments. Airing the meat is required to progress bacteria through the stages. If you don’t replace the air in the jar every 3 to 4 days, the bacteria stages will not progress. If you go on a trip, when you return, recommence airing the meat so that it will resume progress through all of the bacterial stages.
To make eating high raw meat easier, take it outside (or your home will stink for up to 36 hours), close the nostrils with fingers or swimmer’s nose clip, and eat. You can swallow it without chewing but chewing makes it more effective to lift spirits. The odor is terrible, but the texture is palatable. If you do not like the after-taste, rinse mouth with lemon or lime but do not swallow the lemon or lime. Lemon and lime are antibacterial, especially lime. If you swallow the citrus juice, it is likely that you will experience little benefit. I have eaten high raw meat that was aged up to 1-year old with excellent benefits when I needed it. If suffering depression or chronic constipation, I suggest eating high raw meat twice a week. Not to be used for weight loss.

A word on fermented fish

Garum Armoricum was the famous fermented fish paste used as a medicine during the Roman Empire, it is distinguished from the singular garum, a salty fish sauce, which was more commonplace. They would make layers of salt and fish in barrels and let ferment for 1 to 6 months. The French spoke highly of this type of garum stating that it gave strength to all and especially the weak. The Asterix and Obelisk cartoon, whose main characters were from the region of Armoricum, had a secret potion that gave them strength. Sound familiar?

When I soak small, whole, wild fish in a water brine in the refrigerator 5 days then let cold ferment or buy fermented schmaltz salted whole fish herring (Haifa NY, Bandi Foods or Scandinavian importers) I feel exactly what the Romans must have felt: strength. Even if only done monthly or bi-monthly it is a wise tradition. Re-soak in warm water 30 minutes before eating, filet the fish removing skin and tough parts, fins etc. and serve with unsalted potatoes which counter-balance the remaining salt. One can also re-soak to remove salt and sweeten the meat with a half milk, half water base for a few hours to impress guests.

Keep in mind that, as we are always trying to find balance, there is no need to go overboard on fermented foods either, a good rule could be :
!1/3 raw vegetables
!1/3 cooked vegetables
!1/3 fermented vegetables (as needed)
! Raw and fermented animal products built into our weekly / monthly habits
Bacterial homeostasis can take months to years to rebuild. Traditional habits added into your rhythm of life, not pills, are the key to this transformation.

If you experience acidity, this can be confirmed by either saliva ph-strips, by sensing greater acidity in everyday foods, by having a reaction to acidic foods, by experiencing canker sores or by bleeding gums in the mouth. If this is the case then you may need to reduce your quantity of acidic foods or even fermented foods for a while. Bread is fermented by sourdough, but it is then cooked which finalizes the fermentation. I only eat a very small amount, if any, of fermented condiments per day, but it took me a long time to build up a healthy and stable gut symbiosis.
Fermented drinks such as kombucha can heal the kidneys over many years of drinking it and it is a wonderful, local remedy. Kombucha allows the spirit (pneuma) to enter into the water through the process of fermentation creating a water with less surface tension, more permeability and thus more wet, and more thirst-quenching. Giving a free-energy boost to the organs and causing less strain. Of course, organic black tea leaves (untreated with fluoride or pesticides) and non-GMO cane sugar to make kombucha are not local items but are readily available today. Mead (fermented honey drink) along with the fermented beers, plant decoctions (with less alcohol content) and stand- alone un-pasteurized vinegars of the middle ages could be seen as European versions of kombucha.

I drank kombucha almost daily for 5 years. However at a certain point, one may need to reduce or move away from this remedy. It may also bring about a histamine response in those with allergies or high acidity, as with all fermented foods. It is also important to note that in the USA, due to alcohol taxes that depend on the percentage of alcohol in a beverage, we find an army of over-sweet, less medicinal kombuchas to avoid taxation. Some of the best kombuchas in Europe have an alcohol content of 1-2%. Read the sugar content as well to avoid glycemic spiking, 4-10 grams total in a full bottle with 4 grams being ideal (not each serving, read carefully). Ginger may offset some of the damaging effects of sugar as it brings zinc and minerals.
Industrial kombucha, and even most local kombuchas rent brewing equipment which is lined with polyurethane (to keep chlorides from damaging equipment). Until the world learns to use glass, silicone and paper, made from beautiful sand (except paper), to replace all forms of plastic, linings, packaging etc. we will need to learn to make things ourselves. Or use only occasionally. I sense a slipperiness in these products which may be detected, on the skin and in stool, when wiping while going to the bathroom.

You may also make kombucha yourself, if needed, for a therapeutic kombucha which does not cause blood sugar spiking or trigger insulin. Usually, homemade kombucha contains more acetic acid and has a more vinegary taste without much sugar. This type of kombucha is preferable, yet on a weekly or bi- weekly basis, not everyday (for me). Industrial kombuchas use yeast and bacteria as well as the kombucha scoby mushroom to create the homogenous sparkling effect. Homemade kombuchas use only the scoby mushroom culture. Adding some drops of Angostura bitters to kombucha is also a nice digestive tonic. Concerning production, keep in mind that the whiter the cane sugar,(avoid GM beet sugar, or even non GM beet sugar) and the blacker the organic tea, the better the healing effects of the kombucha. The kombucha culture takes the bad input and converts it into stronger healthy bacteria. That is why I avoid honey and green or herbal tea based kombuchas which can be great tasting yet less efficient. Of course, if you are coming from Coca-Cola products and switching to kombucha then you are making a significant improvement. But as we evolve away from the pre-diabetic society that we have become, you will find these more subtle tips helpful later on. For those who are trying to avoid questionable or radioactive elements found in the water supply, homemade kombucha with imported glass bottled spring water is one sure way. Or you can purchase concentrated kombucha in small dropper bottles and use when needed or to speed up transit. Herbal teas such as verbena, rosemary, thyme, chamomile, olive leaf, saffron, pine needle teas, to name a few, also enhance and help ordinary reverse osmosis water via heat, tannins, and active principles to counteract endocrine disruptors and toxins in the water, although not fully.

You may also replace kombucha with a homemade, pre-soaked organic oat milk-water drink or other homemade enriched shrub waters, milk-waters or broth-waters which will help with the acidity as your intestinal flora find balance. The quantity, soaking and straining lower the phytic acid content in the oats to the right level. See recipe in the chapter Nutrition as Remedy. This will allow the kidneys to heal without as much of the acidity found in kombucha. Whereas plain water in glass bottles, even the best, will often overwork and tire the kidneys if overused. Especially for those who are sensitive or who are in the process of detoxifying heavy metals, a more frequent occurrence than one may imagine. In a pinch, add a tablespoon of dark maple syrup and a teaspoon of white balsamic or apple cider vinegar or some grains of Celtic salt to a large glass bottle of water to inform the water, to break its surface tension, but not to sweeten it per se. You may also drink glass-bottled, imported waters with a teaspoon of honey and some ginger in the mouth, sweetening the water a bit as it comes in, which replenishes the kidneys as they filter. Homemade daily bone broth is great for the kidneys. However, if this milk-waters are not needed, you may not need to go through all the trouble. In any case, note that the kidneys play a crucial
role in maintaining the ph levels of the blood by their ionic regulation of minerals in the blood plasma, and keep the balance at all times in conjunction with bacterial ph regulation.
In conclusion, the lactobacilli are our benefactors working closely with our intestinal flora. Without them, digestive disorders will continue to overtake us. However, in return for a minimal amount of effort in our daily routine, a little creativity and some great recipes (7), we can get back to being in harmony with these friends within.


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