Fermentation is a practice that dates back to thousands of years ago. What started out as an accident has gone on to be researched even today because of its amazing qualities it brings to foods. The practice of fermentation is not only a great way to preserve food, but also improves the health of food.
This post explores the benefits of fermented carrots and provides you with a recipe for an easy way to add these gut-boosting foods to your diet.
What is fermentation?
Fermentation is a chemical process where healthy bacteria break down sugar molecules without air. Certain bacteria work to release alcohol, carbon dioxide, and organic acids to change the consistency of a food product, helping to preserve it [R].
Typically used to create alcohol beverages like wine and beer, fermentation research identified that production of beneficial bacteria in dairy, vegetables, legumes, grains, and fruits is also possible.
Basically, if it’s a food, it ferments.
History of fermentation
Fermented foods have been around for thousands of years. Beverages with fermentation date back all the way to Babylon 3000 BCE. Drinks from fruit, honey, and rice were found in Neolithic China during 7000-6600 BCE.
Wine-making can be seen around 6000 BCE in Georgia, in the Caucasus region of Eurasia [R].
There is also evidence of the use of fermented dairy products prior to these alcoholic beverages in 10,000 BCE. The milk of camels, goats, sheep, and cattle was fermented accidentally. Bags of milk carried across subtropical climates were spontaneously fermented by the existing bacteria present in these milk [R].
It was not until the mid-1800s that people actually realized what was happening in the fermentation process.
Louis Pasteur, a French chemist, and microbiologist discovered the scientific process of fermentation. He described fermentation as the changes that result among yeasts and other microorganisms growing in the absence of air. These organisms were able to grow without any oxygen making them anaerobic microbes [R].
The health benefits of fermentation were not noted until 1910 when a Russian bacteriologist, Elie Metchnikoff, found that Bulgarians had an average lifespan of 87 years. Longevity like this was not common for the time period and it set him off on a study into what increased their longevity.
Metchnikoff found that people who were living a long time had a higher intake of fermented milk when compared with other cultures. Cultured milk contained a particular bacteria strain of bacteria, which he attributed to cultured health benefits and long lifespan. He named this strain of bacteria Bulgarian bacillus, which we know today as Lactobacillus bulgaricus.
This bacteria was unable to survive the digestive tract leading to a fall-off in the fermented food phenomenon.
It wasn’t until 1935 that Leo F. Rettger of Yale found certain strains of Lactobacillus acidophilus were able to survive digestion and were beneficial for health [R].
Fermentation as a way to preserve food
Before refrigeration, fermentation was the only way to keep food from spoiling thus creating new products that were safe to eat.
Cheese, bread, beer, and vinegar were some of the foods that were created from fermentation.
Types of fermentation
There are three types of fermentation: lactic acid fermentation, alcohol fermentation, and acetic acid fermentation [R].
1. Lactic acid fermentation
Lactic acid fermentation or Lacto-fermentation is when yeast and bacteria convert starch and sugars into lactic acid [R].
The bacteria involved in this process include Lactobacillus spp., lactococci, Streptococcus thermophilus, and leuconostocs [R].
Known for preventing the growth of harmful bacteria, lactic acid itself is beneficial [R].
An easy way to preserve dairy, vegetables, and meat, lactic acid fermentation was used in the days before refrigeration and modern canning [R].
This method is what produces yogurt, sourdough bread, and fermented vegetables including sauerkraut, pickles, and kimchi.
2. Alcohol fermentation
Alcohol fermentation occurs when sugar is converted into ethyl alcohol, carbon dioxide, and other metabolic byproducts. This is what led to the production of alcoholic beverages like beer and wine [R].
Yeasts and some other fungi and bacteria are responsible for alcoholic fermentation [R].
3. Acetic acid fermentation
Acetic acid fermentation is when the sugars in grains, teas, and fruit are broken down into sour-tasting vinegar and condiments.
Types of foods that use acetic acid fermentation include apple cider vinegar, wine vinegar, and kombucha [R]. Other food like this include fermented rice, which is often used in traditional cooking methods.
Fermented food benefits
With the discovery of fermented foods’ health benefits in the 1930’s, research increased about these foods to learn more about how they may improve health.
Benefits of fermented foods include:
- Improved digestion
- Immunity health
- Heart health
- Mental health
- Weight loss
- Improved nutritive value
Fermentation produces beneficial bacteria that improve the microbiome in the gut. These microorganisms may help to lessen digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome [R].
Food compounds from grains and legumes that put a strain on the digestive system, such as phytates and lectins, are destroyed during the fermentation process. These compounds are found in foods like seeds, nuts, grains, and legumes [R].
If fermented, these foods are easier on the digestive tract.
The health of your gut impacts how strong your immune system is.
Consuming foods with beneficial bacteria also lessen the amount of time someone is sick [R].
Lower risk of heart disease has been associated with the consumption of fermented foods.
Anxiety-like behavior was decreased in rats given a daily probiotic formulation (PF) consisting of Lactobacillus helveticus R0052 and Bifidobacterium longum.
Human subjects given the same formulation had lower psychological stress than those who didn’t get the probiotic [R].
Anxiety, depression was improved in human subjects when given strains of Bifidobacterium (B. longum, B. breve , and B. infantis) and Lactobacillus (L. helveticus , L. rhamnosus) for 4 weeks. They also were shown to help improve memory [R].
These are exciting advances, but more research needs to be done to see how beneficial bacteria can improve mental health.
Enzymes, vitamins, and minerals needed for health are often destroyed during food processing.
The microorganisms found in fermented foods play a role in helping to retain the nutritive properties of foods and beverages that are fermented.
Fermented foods also provide added benefits of probiotics which are good for overall health [R].
Vegetables to use in fermentation
You can use almost any vegetable in the fermentation process.
One vegetable that is of interest is the carrot.
Carrots are a powerhouse of nutrition even before they are fermented.
Health benefits of carrots
Carrots provide an abundance of nutrition. Their orange color tells they are rich in antioxidants, nutrients, and minerals. These qualities give carrots the ability to help fight disease and improve health. The health benefits of carrots include the following:
- Eye Health
- Digestive Health Benefits
- Cancer Prevention
- Weight Loss
- Heart health
- Immune function
- Bone Health
Beta-carotene is a compound found in carrots that give it its orange color. This nutrient is also the precursor for vitamin A which is needed for eye health.
People with vitamin A deficiencies can suffer from night blindness. Getting more foods rich in vitamin A like carrots may help improve vitamin A levels [R].
Digestive health benefits
Carrots are a high fiber food.
Foods rich in fiber create beneficial bacteria when digested. A diverse array of beneficial bacteria improves the health of the gut [R].
Fermented foods may also be good probiotics for leaky gut.
Breast cancer was also reduced in women with high levels of carotenoids [R].
The fiber-rich carrot is a low glycemic index food.
This means it will help to keep blood sugar levels stable in diabetics.
Carrots have been found to increase feelings of fullness known as satiety.
Carrots are rich in fiber and potassium.
Potassium is a nutrient that helps to lower blood pressure. Keeping blood pressure in check can improve heart function [R].
Diets high in fiber foods like carrots have been shown to protect against heart disease.
Carrots are rich in vitamin C. This nutrient is an antioxidant that has been found to improve immune function [R].
Some research shows that vitamin C may increase immunity when the body is under stress [R].
Carrots contain a lot of nutrients including vitamin K, calcium, and phosphorus.
These vitamins are known for promoting bone health and may prevent osteoporosis.
Difference between regular and baby carrots
There are two types of baby carrots. One that is harvested before it is fully grown. The other is a regular-sized carrot that is peeled, cut, and processed.
The nutrition is the same between these two carrots but the processed version could have added compounds. Check the food label to see which type it may be.
Should you use organic carrots?
Nutrition content does not differ in conventional versus organic carrots.
Conventional carrots, however, tend to have higher levels of pesticides when compared with organic carrots.
Organic carrots are recommended to be used in fermentation recipes.
Carrots plant compounds may increase during fermentation
Carrots primarily come in orange but there are also yellow, purple, and red carrots. These foods contain many plant compounds.
These plant compounds are known as antioxidants. They are what give carrots their nutritive value and health-promoting benefits. Some nutrients will also increase during fermentation.
The main healthy compound in carrots is beta-carotene. This is what gives carrots their orange color.
Fermentation increases beta-carotene content in carrots, creating more nutritious food [R].
Alpha-carotene is another antioxidant. It is similar to beta carotene in its functions in our bodies, acting as an antioxidant.
Lutein is a well-known antioxidant found in carrots. It gives plants a yellow color and is found in yellow and orange carrots. Amounts of lutein in foods are increased by fermenting foods [R].
Lycopene is an antioxidant that makes fruits and vegetable red. Red carrots contain lycopene. Lycopene production is increased by the micro-mold B. trispora as a result of fermentation [R].
Tomato juice fermented with L. casei has increases in lycopene and total carotenoids levels when compared with regular tomato juice [R].
Polyacetylenes are a group of compounds found in carrots that have anticancer, antifungal, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and also have the ability to produce serotonin in the body [R].
When fermented, polyacetylenes create a new compound with similar antioxidant properties [R].
Anthocyanins are antioxidants found in dark-colored carrots. These compounds increase after 12 days of fermentation [R].
Safety and side effects of fermented carrots
Carrots safety and side effects
Carrots are generally safe unless someone has an allergy or sensitivity to this food.
Eating too many carrots can lead to carotenemia. This is a harmless condition where your skin will turn a yellowish color. You have to eat a lot of carrots for this to happen!
If you notice a tingling or itch after eating carrots you could be allergic or sensitive to this food. It is best to avoid carrots if that happens.
Heavy metals have been found in carrots grown in contaminated water. These compounds can pose health risks. Make sure to find a quality source of carrots.
Fermented food safety and side effects
Fermented foods are safe for most people. The only known side effects of consuming fermented foods are gas and bloating from eating large quantities. Most people adapt to having fermented foods and actually enjoy less gas and bloating than they did before eating fermented carrots.
Anyone who is critically ill or severely immuno-compromised should use fermented foods with caution [R].
High-fiber fermented vegetables may have a greater tendency to cause these symptoms.
If you are purchasing fermented foods be sure to look for ones without any added sugar or fat to make sure you’re getting a good quality product.
The best way to know what is in your fermented food products is by making them at home for yourself.
Follow directions carefully for correct fermentation times in order to alleviate any spoilage or production of unsafe food.
Lacto-fermented carrot sticks
Carrot fermentation is an easy way to amp up the nutrition already found in carrots and create a tasty, probiotic-rich snack.
Lacto-fermentation recipes are the easiest form of fermenting. This type of recipe features lacto-fermented carrot sticks.
The carrots are chopped up into sticks and placed in a mason jar or pint jar. You want to use a jar that is big enough to hold the sticks. Otherwise, you can cut them into smaller pieces until they fit in the jar
Use seasonings to spice up your fermented carrots
Bay leaves and garlic are often added to this recipe to spice up the flavor. Seasonings like dried dill will also add a nice flavor. I had some fresh dill on hand so I opted for that in this recipe.
You can add ginger to make fermented ginger carrots. Ginger is a popular spice used in pickling and fermenting practices. If you like spicy carrot fermented carrots and ginger are another recipe you can try. Fermented asparagus is super easy to make too.
The sky’s the limit when it comes to fermented vegetables. You can also pair carrots with other veggies like cabbage or onions. The fermentation of these foods creates flavorful and colorful carrot kraut.
Temperature is important during fermentation
While the ingredients may vary in fermented carrots. There is one consistency that must take place to ensure a good product. That is the temperature.
The ideal room temperature for Lacto-fermentation is between 65 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Temps in the range of 55 to 75 degrees have yielded pretty good results.
Fermentation speed is determined by temperature. Low temperatures will slow the fermentation process while higher temperatures will speed it up.
Depending on the temperature in your house you may need to modify the time spent fermenting. If you have a cooler house temperature it can take longer than what the recipe calls for [R].
Fermented Carrots Recipe
With just a few steps and ingredients this fermented carrot recipe is easy to try at home. It is a snack that everyone is sure to love.
The key to making any fermented vegetables is to make a brine. You won’t want to skip the salt because unwanted bacteria can form. Here is the brine, which is super simple. Filtered water and sea salt is all you need:
A key step in any vegetable fermentation is to make sure you cover all your vegetables with brine. Make more if you need, keeping the ratio of salt to water the same. You right at 1 tablespoon salt per cup of water.
Pour the brine over the vegetables like this and you are set. Use a wide mouth mason jar like this one.
You can put a weight on top of your vegetables to make sure the carrots stay under the brine like this one.
Next, all you need to do is loosely add the lid and give this some time to ferment. Keep the vegetables out of the light for about a week. Fermentation works best at room temperature, about 75 degrees Farhenheit. If your room is a bit warmer, it will speed up the fermentation process. Likewise, if the room is cold, it will slow down fermentation.
Fermented Carrots Recipe with Dill and Garlic
- Pint Mason Jar with Lid
- 2 cups watered filtered, chlorine-free or bottled spring water
- 2 Tbsp sea salt unrefined
- 1.5 lb carrots peeled
- 3 garlic cloves peeled and pressed
- Dill Fresh or dried, chopped
- Prepare the carrots by washing them under cold running water. Peel and chop off the ends. Slice carrots into sticks tall enough to fit the jar
- In a separate bowl, dissolve the salt in water to create a brine
- Take the garlic and dill and add it to the bottom of the jar
- Top with the carrot sticks until packed in the jar tightly
- Pour the liquid brine over the carrots until submerged with about 1 to 2 inches of head space
- Cover the jar with a tight lid held well in place
- Place the jar in a baking dish (in case it bubble over) then put in a place out of direct sunlight in room temperature between 55 and 75 degrees for about 5 to 7 days