Microbial Conundrums: Lactobacillis, An Opinion

I’ve found myself really involved in the Lactobacillis species of bacterium lately and what follows is strictly a reading lay person’s take on a popular subject.

Lactobacillis is a wildly popular subject today, mostly due to Sally Fallon’s “Nourishing Traditions” (with which I find much commonality.) In just a few years a multitude of experts has surfaced touting the final word on fermentation. I myself have an antique buffet whose top is filled with interesting kitchen experiments and lovely old mason jars awaiting more experiments. I believe in lacto-fermentation in its many and varied forms, I really do. I’m mostly Czech, you see, and we love saurkraut and sour cream and farmer’s cheese and all that stuff. That’s where the problem comes in.

Miscegenation. No, I’m not talking in racist terms, but in practical ones. Some stuff works together and some stuff doesn’t. There are numerous, multiple, many, many species of Lactobacillis and each does wonderful, God-ordained work. I wouldn’t doubt that the one that makes my sourdough rise might be compatible with my fermentated beets, both substrates being starchy vegetable carbs. But, the one that makes my cheese seems to be a bit more separatist. And it seems there are some that are inclined to only meat or even beer.

List of Prokaryotic names with Standing in Nomenclature – Genus Lactobacillus

I’m suddenly back into raw milk, having been blessed with two newly freshened healthy Lamancha does, so naturally I’m doing milk things. Almost everything I read online says “Go for it! Add that whey to your pickles. You must!” But it’s just not working. I knew it for sure when I gave my granddaughter a taste of some lacto-fermented cabbage I made with whey, and she loves lacto-fermented veggies and I generally make good kraut with simply salt.  She said, “It smells aweful” and to the chickens it went.  It wasn’t just that. Most of my ferments this year, the year of whey, aren’t up to snuff. Some might blame it on that fact that I live in the heat of the southern plains without air conditioning so it must be some other warmth-loving beasty that’s causing the problems, but I don’t think that’s the entire problem.   I made lovely ferments last year, a so far much warmer year, a couple of which lasted stranded all last fall, winter and this spring in very “organic” conditions with only a bit of fading as their fault. That’s when the fact of cultural diversity in the lactobacillis family hit me squarely. We don’t use sourdough starter or kraut juice to make our cheese. Why are we using whey to make our veggies when they work out just fine without it and seem to have done so for generations??? And by the way,  what exactly is being fermented in the lacto-fermented mayo craze?

I wouldn’t suggest to anyone that they abandon a technique that works for them, only that they might consider options if it’s not.  Whey’s not always working out for me.

Next up for a gentle rant:  Yeast.

3 thoughts on “Microbial Conundrums: Lactobacillis, An Opinion

  1. Judy,
    This is a really timely article for me. I just made kraut with some cabbage out of the garden and I opened it up this morning to find mold growing on the top. I followed Sally Fallon’s recipe and left the jars on my cabinet for three days and now have mold. I’ve never made kraut before, so I’m very disappointed to lose my cabbage (this is the first year it has ever really headed up for me). Any ideas? I’m sure you have Sally’s recipe and book, so you can see what I did when following her directions. I did not use whey as I don’t have a raw milk source so I added more canning salt. What do you think?

    1. Kraut is challenging in the summer. I’ve got 22 pounds that I’m monitoring like an ICU patient. Kraut does best, in my experience, at about 70 degrees. Like cheese, in the hot weather sometimes the less desirable bacteria and yeasts get a foothold before the lactic bacteria can get going. Sauerkraut is an anaerobic process as well and mold sometimes gets started when the cabbage is exposed to air. Make sure the cabbage is covered with brine. I don’t know what kind of lids you used, but I’ve found that a standard canning lid with the rubber seal works better at stopping mold than the plastic lids. They’re designed to allow air to escape and not back in in the canning process and it seems to work a bit the same way with pickling. Many people use an airlock, but I’m not going to buy fancy stuff for a process that has been practiced for centuries. Though some people advise not to, I often just scrape the mold off, boil the kraut up and go ahead and eat it if it doesn’t have any off flavors. You lose the probiotic benefit, but at least you don’t lose your food.

  2. Awesome points. Everything I have practiced, researched, and written about turns me completely off of the Nourishing Traditions method of lacto-fermenting vegetables.

    I started with the whole add whey process, but when I branched out and decided I didn’t need to add a culture starter, that’s when the ferments got really good.

    I’m currently working on a writing project about this very topic and am finding that none of the advice in Nourishing Traditions, in regards to the vegetable ferments, is good.

    Regarding mold… I find the best defense against this and any other bad thing that happens to veg ferments is to keep the veg weighted underneath the brine at all times. And a good 2-4″ of brine is even better. Mold can form on top of that and would be hard-pressed to get its tendrils down into the actual vegetables themselves.

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