Believe it or not, ketchup was originally a naturally fermented condiment. So was mayonnaise. Instead of being health liabilities, they contained beneficial enzymes and nutrients that actually enhanced digestion. In fact, people all over the world have included naturally fermented foods in their diets – sauerkraut in most of Europe, umeboshi plums in Japan, kimchi in Korea, grape leaves and lemons in the Middle East, chutneys in India, cortido in Mexico, and dill pickles in the U.S. Food preservation was done by the process of lacto-fermentation, rather than canning or freezing. Lactic acid is a natural preservative that inhibits pathogenic bacteria. Sugars and starches in vegetables and fruits are converted into lactic acid by lactobacilli, which include many species of bacteria, like acidophilus. The living lactobacilli in fermented foods enhance digestibility and increase vitamin content. They produce many helpful enzymes, antibiotics and anti-carcinogens. Lactic acid, their by-product, promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout the intestine as well as preventing the growth of harmful bacteria. Lactobacilli and lactic acid contribute to the digestive process in two ways: by supplying digestive juices that help break down the foods we eat and by activating the metabolic events that transform them into new usable substances for the body. Lactobacilli and lactic acid also provide benefits such as stimulating the pancreas, reducing blood pressure, promoting healthy sleep and helping alleviate constipation, just to name a few. Our modern diets in which everything has been pasteurized, our heavy reliance on antibiotics, and our consumption of commercial (non-organic) animal products that are high in antibiotics have compromised the health of our intestines. Recent increases in viruses, pathogenic yeasts and intestinal parasites are telling us something: it’s time for a return to the health-promoting foods of generations past that restore our intestinal flora and boost our immune systems. Good news: it’s easy to make naturally fermented condiments at home. You don’t even have to have any special equipment. Usually, fruits or vegetables are first cut or grated. Sometimes, they are mixed with herbs or spices. Then, they are pounded a little bit to release their juices and mixed with a solution of salt water before being put into air-tight containers. The salt prevents any putrefying bacteria from developing for several days until enough lactic acid is produced to keep them preserved for months. You can use less or no salt if you add whey to the jar. Whey is rich in lactobacilli and reduces the time it takes to insure preservation. If you really want to make sure your pickling is successful, use whey. This is a craft. Results aren’t always predictable. When pickling and condiment production became industrialized, age-old methods were abandoned. Vinegar is now used for brine, making the products more acidic, sugar is used as a preservative, and the final product is pasteurized, which effectively kills all of the beneficial lactobacilli. Too bad! There are naturally fermented condiments on the market, like the raw sauerkraut made by “Rejuvenative Foods” carried by the Wedge Co-op. These products can be delicious, but it is also fun and tasty to make them on your own.