Can Probiotics Really Help Your Health?
There was nothing in Sandor Katz’s background—besides a fondness for sour pickles—that suggested he’d become a self-proclaimed “fermentation fetishist.” He was born in New York City, where he lived until 1993, when he moved to rural Tennessee to become part of an intentional farming community for gay men known as Short Mountain Sanctuary. Katz had recently been diagnosed with HIV, and after years of urban living, was looking for something different. “I was ready for a big change,” he recalls. “I’d begun exploring herbalism and wanted deeper relationships with plants and was desiring healthy living after testing HIV-positive.” At Short Mountain, he planted his first garden and, in his words, “faced the classic decision all vegetable gardeners have—what to do with all the radishes that are ready at the same time.”
That led him to the technique of lacto-fermenting, a centuries-old method of food preservation that involves submerging chopped-up raw vegetables in brine to create an environment that encourages the growth of healthy bacteria, including strains of the same probiotics found in yogurt. (These healthy bacteria are often referred to as “live, active cultures.”)
“People think of fermentation as something mysterious, but all you’re doing is manipulating the environmental conditions to encourage the growth of some beneficial microorganisms and not others,” explains Katz. “When prepared properly, fermented vegetables can be stored unrefrigerated and uncooked for months.” That’s in part because well-prepared fermented vegetables are submerged in brine, making them more impervious to invading bacteria that would cause them to rot or spoil.