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One of my favorite new hobbies is preserving food by lacto-fermentation.  The process is similar to pickling and like pickling, typically combines salt and acid to keep food free from harmful bacteria.  “Grocery-store” pickles are preserved with acetic acid (vinegar) and have a long shelf-life but little nutritional value. Fermented foods are filled with pro-biotic bacteria that release lactic acid.  In a sort of controlled-rotting way, this process reduces the pH of the food and preserves it.  This process also breaks down nutrients, making them easier for the body to absorb.  Many foods can be fermented, my next project will be preserving peaches as chutney instead of canning them – more nutritious, less sugar and MUCH less work.  Keep in mind that fruits ferment faster than vegetables, here are some general guidelines, health benefits and additional recipes from another website. Below is a recipe and procedure for a simple salsa, one of the easiest and yummiest fermented recipes.

Step 1:  Gather Ingredients

3 lb tomatoes

2 cloves garlic, minced

Juice from 1 lemon

Juice from 1 lime

1 cup chopped, fresh cilantro (or less, I like a lot)

1/2 quart plain yogurt (used to make 1/2 cup whey in step 2)

2 tablespoons sea salt

Cheesecloth and string

Step 2: Separate whey from yogurt

First spread a square of cheesecloth across a bowl, then dump half of the quart into the cheesecloth-lined bowl.

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Then gather the edges of cheesecloth, tie them together with string and suspend the yogurt above a bowl.  The whey will drip into the bowl and can be stored for a few days in the refrigerator if you want to prep this ahead of time. Alternatively, you could use a fermentation “starter,” sold in homesteading and some natural food stores.

Step 3:  Chop the tomatoes and onions.  Mince the garlic and cilantro.

As I’m chopping, the whey is dripping from the yogurt there is enough ready by the time I’m done chopping.

Step 4:  Combine chopped ingredients, salt and whey in a crock or large bowl and mix gently

If you are using a crock, submerge ingredients under liquid by pushing down on the salsa with weights (or small plate).  Cover with a crock lid or large plate.

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ImageYou can also ferment salsa in mason jars.  A small-mouth lid can be used to keep salsa submerged in liquid (fermentation is an anaerobic process, so it’s important to keep the food submerged and thus not exposed to air or it will rot in a bad way instead of a good way).

Step 5:  Let ferment in a room-temperature room for 2 days

The fermentation process releases carbon dioxide so “burp” the jar after a day.

Step 6:  Store in the refrigerator

Fermented foods will last many months in cold storage.

For more information, check out one of these books on fermenting foods:

Wild Fermentation 

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Fermenting Foods

The Art of Fermentation