It may seem strange to us that, in earlier times, people knew how to preserve vegetables for long periods without the use of freezers or canning machines. This was done through a process of lacto-fermentation. Lactic acid is a natural preservative that inhibits putrefying bacteria. Starches and sugars in vegetables and fruits are converted into lactic acid by the many species of lactic-acid-producing bacteria. These lactobacilli are ubiquitous, present on the surface of all living things and especially numerous on leaves and roots of plants growing in or near the ground. Man needs only to learn the techniques for controlling and encouraging their proliferation to put them to his own use, just as he has learned to put certain yeasts to use in converting the sugars in grape juice to alcohol in wine.
The ancient Greeks understood that important chemical changes took place during this type of fermentation. Their name for this change was "alchemy." Like the fermentation of dairy products, preservation of vegetables and fruits by the process of lacto-fermentation has numerous advantages beyond those of simple preservation. The proliferation of lactobacilli in fermented vegetables enhances their digestibility and increases vitamin levels. These beneficial organisms produce numerous helpful enzymes as well as antibiotic and anticarcinogenic substances. Their main by-product, lactic acid, not only keeps vegetables and fruits in a state of perfect preservation but also promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout the intestine.
Scientists and doctors today are mystified by the proliferation of new viruses - not only the deadly AIDS virus but the whole gamut of human viruses that seem to be associated with everything from chronic fatigue to cancer and arthritis. They are qually msytified by recent increases in the incidence of intestinal parasites and pathogenic yeasts, even among those whose sanitary practices are faultless. Could it be that in abandoning the ancient practice of lacto-fermentation and in our insistence on a diet in which everything has been pasteurized, we have compromised the health of our intenstinal flora and made ourselves vulnerable to legions of pathogenic microorganisms? If so, the cure for these diseases will be found not in vaccinations, drugs, or antibiotics but in a restored partnership with the many varieties of lactobacilli, our symbionts of the microscopic world.
Lacto-fermented foods normalize the acidity of the stomach. If stomach acidity is insufficient, it stimulates the acide producing glands of the stomach, and in cases where acidity is too high, it has the inverse effect. Lactic acid helps break down proteins and thus aids in their assimilation by the body. It also aids the assimilation of iron. The decomposition in the stomach of the organic forms of iron depends on the quantity of hydrochloric acid present as well as the amount of vitamin C, which is why sauerkraut and other lacto-fermented vegetables rich in this vitamin have such a favorable influence.
Lactic acid activates the secretions of the pancreas, which is particularly important for diabetics. Sauerkraut contains large quantities of choline, a substance that lowers blood pressure and regulates the passage of nutrients into the blood. Choline has another interesting property in that it aids the body in the metabolism of fats. If choline is lacking, fats accumulate in the liver. Sauerkraut also contains acetylcholine which has a powerful effect on the parasympathetic nervous system. It helps reduce blood pressure, slows down the rate of heartbeat, and promotes calmness and sleep. As acetylcholine is destroyed by cooking, raw sauerkraut and its juice is preferable to cooked. Acetylcholine also has a beneficial effect on the peristaltic movements of the intestine. Sauerkraut and other lacto-fermented vegetables thus are recommended for constipation.Sailors of old knew that traveling with barrels of sauerkraut (or limes) was important for avoiding scurvy while at sea. Vitamin C is the only vitamin not stored by the body, so a daily source is necessary. Naturally fermented sauerkraut not only aids distestion and restores intestinal flora, it gives the added benefit of vitamin C. A spoonful of natural sauerkraut with meals 2-3 times per day is a healthy habit to develop!