Cultured Foods and LACTO-Fermented Foods are the same thing. The “lacto” in “lacto-fermentation” comes from the bacteria “lactobacillus.” Many strains of lacto-bacteria and yeasts are involved in culturing or fermenting foods. These special microbes break down the foods into more digestible nutrients with increased vitamins and minerals while reducing harmful pesticides and chemicals. All of this is done in the wonderful process of lacto-fermentation.
This special process of food preservation has been around since the beginning of time. As humans learned the importance of this natural process, it helped them to keep foods safe and preserved – even before refrigeration was invented. All cultures have their own fermented foods, such as cheeses, wines, yogurts, kefir, sourdough breads, krauts, kimchi, fermented meats, and many others. Many cultures, such as those in Korea, would store their kimchi jars underground to keep cool in the summer, and unfrozen during the winter months.
The power of Lactobacillus
Lactobacillus bacteria convert the sugars in your ferments (be it milk, vegetables, fruits, or juices) into lactic acids. Lactic acid preserves food and keeps harmful pathogens out. This makes fermenting your foods one of the safest forms of preserving foods and storing them for long periods. This lacto-fermentation may also increase the vitamin content of the food. When fermenting cabbage, the vitamin C goes from 60 mg to over 600 mg. Fermented foods are also loaded with enzymes making these foods more digestible, which takes stress off the digestive system. These lactobacillus microbes are some of the most heavily researched bacteria, and research has found that they can contribute to good health in countless ways, which is what this website is all about.
All Cultured Foods are Fermented Foods. But not all Fermented Foods are Cultured. So what exactly is the difference?
When you go to the store and see pickles and sauerkraut on a shelf, and not refrigerated in cans or jars, these too are often called fermented foods, but here’s the deal . . . you won’t receive benefits from these as you would from lacto-fermented/cultured foods. These foods are heated which kills all the probiotics and they’re mostly made with vinegars and will not contain probiotics. Although they are delicious, they don’t have the powerful probiotics you get in lacto-fermented foods. One spoonful of cultured veggies can contain more probiotics than a whole bottle of supplements! Yogurts and kefir at the store will often have different strains of probiotics; and although I think many of them are wonderful, they can be filled with sugars and chemicals. If you don’t get a good brand, you can miss many of the multiple strains of probiotics that you get when you make it at home.
Canned — Versus Cultured Foods
You can buy many fermented foods at health foods stores now. If they’re fermented, they will always be in the refrigerator section and on the back of the jar they should list the strains of bacteria you will be getting. Canned foods do preserve foods but without the benefits of microbes, and this leaves room for the chance of botulism to occur. These foods are cooked, pressurized, and made with vinegars. This process kills ALL of the bacteria that may be present, both good and bad, and makes the food shelf stable and able to be stored for a very, very long time at room temperature until opened. This process provides no probiotics and the foods are no longer raw. Scientifically it is impossible for botulism to occur in fermented foods. In canned foods, the only bacteria that can survive is botulism. Although this is a rare occurrence, botulism occurs in canned goods because the heat used in canning kills all of the good bacteria. When fermenting food, you never heat the foods and the healthy bacteria thrive whichh makes it impossible for the bacteria that cause botulism to survive. Here is a blog I wrote if you’d like to read more: Can Cultured Foods Hurt You?
Examples of Cultured Foods/Lacto-Fermented Foods:
- Water Kefir
- Pickles and Sauerkrauts (made the traditional fermented way)
- Cultured Veggies
- Some cheeses
- Sourdough Breads
Tips for more probiotics
These foods are mostly made with a starter culture, and the process allows only the good bacteria to survive. This provides a healthy and stable environment loaded with probiotics and enzymes, so the foods remain are raw and alive! Once the fermentation time is complete, they must be stored in a refrigerator or a cool cellar to stop the fermentation process and keep the probiotics at a higher level.
Cultured foods are loaded with probiotics and good bacteria. In order to maximize them, we ferment ours for a shorter time than others do. If you culture something for too long, it will slowly start to lose good bacteria as it runs out of food to eat and this lessens the probiotics. While still beneficial, it is not nearly as full of good bacteria as it would’ve been in a shorter fermentation time.
I hope this helps explain the difference between canning and culturing and inspires you to get started!
To get started making cultured foods, sign up for my free ebook explaining how to make kefir, kombucha, and cultured vegetables. For more help, become a Biotic Pro member for access to 144 lessons and different courses teaching you everything you need from the basics to advanced techniques making you a master fermenter.