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What’s Your Preservative? 

Written by Anika DeCoster, RD, CPT, CISSN

My hope is that you consider fermentation to be your preservative once you read through this article!  Fermenting your own food is a beyond-ancient preserving technique that is growing in popularity once again in our modern culture.  Over and again, we continue to learn that the artificial preservatives found in many of our modern foods are setting our health and metabolism up to fail, bringing us back to old-school mentalities of eating the way our great-grandparents did.  Plus, there so many benefits to why fermented foods can accent a healthy way of life.  Read on to learn why and how to use this historical and healthy food process!

Natural Preservative Process

We hear negative things about artificial preservatives (sulfites, nitrates, sorbates, benzoates, etc) all of the time, including increases in asthmatic symptoms, hyperactivity, cancer tumors, and skin and eye irritation.  Home fermenting brings back the original whole-food preservatives including salt, oil and vinegar. 

The most common way for this process to work is through lactic acid fermentation, the easiest way to experiment with fermentation at home.  It’s an anaerobic process in which lactic acid bacteria (whey) converts sugar into lactic acid, or a natural preservative.  Salt is also added into this process because it creates a condition that favors the bacteria, but also prevents growth of any harmful bugs.

Good Bugs

Probiotics are one of the most recommended supplements to date.  Because Americans have an imbalance of good and bad bacteria, we compromise our body’s first line of defense against any harmful pathogens that often lead to common health conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, diarrhea and cancer.  Beneficial bacteria can improve this digestive dysfunction and your immune system, so a diet rich in live active cultures should be highly considered.   

Unfortunately, most research on fermented foods focuses on dairy products, but you should know that many vegetables and some fruit, including cucumbers, peppers, carrots, olives, cabbage, cauliflower, berries, onions and turnips, can be used in home fermentation arenas to make foods rich in healthy bugs.

Food-Borne Illness Prevention

Food recalls happen all of the time.  Whether it’s peanut butter, spinach or even frozen entrées, food-borne illness is taking lives due to harmful pathogens, such as Listeria monocytogenes or Staphylococcus.  Lactic acid fermentation can actually prevent this!  Its process inhibits growth of these competitor strands making your food just as safe as it is healthy to eat.  Plus, any time you can fully watch and control how your food is being prepared and processed is just a stamp of approval of its effiicacy as well as proof that you can fully provide for yourself.  A good feeling that great-grandma would be proud of!

The How-to-Get-Started Recipe:  Pickles

Most of us don’t think of probiotics when we hear the word pickle!   Many years ago, commercial pickles actually were naturally fermented and loaded with beneficial flora.  Fast-forward to today’s modern world and pickles, like other vegetables in large-scale food manufacturing, are now washed in a chlorine solution that ends up destroying any mircoflora that existed to create a sterile product.  Making your own pickles can be an easy and perfect first shot at fermenting your own foods, as well as a great science lesson to teach children the answer to “Where do pickles come from?”  You’ll just need some mason jars and counter space!  I also highly suggest using vegetables that are organic or from your own garden or a farmers market when fermenting your own food.  Better quality and better taste!


  • 5 pickling cucumbers*
  • 1 Tbsp mustard seeds
  • 2 Tbsp fresh dill, snipped
  • 1 Tbsp sea salt
  • 4 Tbsp Whey
  • 1 cup filtered water


  1. Wash vegetables well and place in a large mason jar. 
  2. Combine remaining ingredients and pour over cucumbers, filling up jar until liquid is 1 inch below top of jar.  Add more water if you need to.
  3. Cover jar tightly and keep at room temperature for about 3 days, then transfer to refrigerator or cold storage.

* For pickle slices, cut cucumbers into ¼-inch slices and ferment for 2 days instead of 3.

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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Reader Comments (2)

When you say Whey in the ingredient list, I assume you're not meaning the Whey Protein powder you can get in the Life Cafe. Are you?

April 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKandy

Whey is a byproduct of making cheese. It is a very healthy and protein-rich liquid that is left after the curds are removed to make the cheese. Whey is used to make low-fat ricotta cheese, as well as used as a soup base or in recipies like this one. You should be able to buy it at health food stores or food co-ops.

April 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTamara Johnson

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