What Are Cultured Vegetables
Another name for cultured vegetables is fermented vegetables.
Fermented vegetables are vegetables which have been stored along with brine, or merely salt, in an airtight container for a period of time during which lactic acid bacteria, or Lactobacillales, act on the vegetables to preserve them. During this process lactic acid is produced, as well as enzymes, B vitamins, vitamin C. The bacteria which develop during the fermentation process are also health giving because they are probiotic.
Research has been showing the benefits of probiotics on human health (specifically gut health) are numerous, affecting everything from digestion, immune system strength, to even mental health.
And fermented foods are one of the best ways to get powerful probiotics into your system. Thus, the benefits of fermented foods are huge!
While in our modern day setting we often associate fermented with something that is off or spoiling, as you can see, the meaning of the world fermented is actually the opposite. A product of fermentation, like cultured vegetables, is a food which has been colonized by beneficial bacteria, which out competed the bacteria which would usually facilitate the decomposition of the food. Besides preserving the food, these bacteria also produce some very healthy by products. In addition the probiotic bacteria themselves are beneficial, and when ingested can re-balance and support the micro organisms in our digestive systems.
In pre-modern times culturing or fermenting vegetables was done largely to preserve them. Nowadays with the renewed interested in all things fermented, many people are making cultured vegetables at home in order to reap the probiotic benefits.
The reason why cultured vegetables are termed ‘cultured’ is because as fermentation takes place, a colony, or culture, of bacteria develops, growing in complexity and diversity if given enough time, much like a culture in the human sense of the word.
Traditional Cultured Vegetables
Before the advent of factories, food brands, and mass produced acetic vinegar, many of what we know as pickles were actually cultured vegetables – such as pickled onions and gherkins! Nowadays pickles are made by immersing vegetables in a solution of saltwater and vinegar, and fermentation does not take place.
Traditionally, pickles were made without the vinegar, and purely the brine, which facilitated the development of the lactic acid bacteria responsible for vegetable fermentations. The lactic acid produced by the bacteria negated any need for vinegar to be added.
Some cultures (and now I am talking human ones!) have continued to make their traditional cultured vegetable dishes in much the same way as it was done prior to the food revolution. Dishes such as kimchi, and sauerkraut are still widely produced via fermentation and retain all of their probiotic qualities and health benefits.
Modern Cultured Vegetables
As the awareness of the considerable health benefits of fermented foods is becoming more widespread, many people are starting to bottle up vegetables in the old fashioned way once more – only this time round for the intended purpose of reaping the health benefits.
Besides the well loved staples such as pickled onions and sauerkraut, enthusiastic ‘fermentors’ are making all kinds of cultured vegetable products, such as probiotic ketchup, cultured carrots, potatoes, spinach, you name it. Most vegetables are good candidates for fermentation, and many of our generic condiments (which are usually packed with colorants, flavorings and preservatives) such as salsa and mustard can be made or preserved by culturing.
Preservation via fermentation is one of the healthiest ways to extend the life time of a food product and delay spoilage. In fact, one could say that cultured vegetables are almost more of a supplement than a simply a dish
Hint: learn how to make your own cultured veggies at home
Many of our modern day health issues appear to stem from diet and digestion related issues. Cultured vegetables along with all the other products of fermentation such as kefir, kombucha, Jun tea, and even sour dough bread, can play a very important role in staving off or reducing these problems.
And so we are left with no other option than to say that cultured vegetables are not just fermented vegetables, but also a Superfood.
I would say that leaves us no other option than to place cultured vegetables and the rest of the fermentation family, into the Superfood category!