Another fermentation process known as pickling originated as a way to preserve vegetables such as cucumbers and cabbage. Today, pickled products such as sauerkraut (cabbage), pickles (cucumbers), and olives are valued for their flavor. Unlike the fermentation of milk products that rely on the use of starter cultures in the manufacturing process, fermentation of most vegetables utilizes naturally occurring lactic acid bacteria residing on the vegetables.
One of the most well-studied natural fermentations is the production of sauerkraut. The cabbage is first shredded and layered with salt. The layers are firmly packed and pressed down to provide an anaerobic environment. The salt draws water and nutrients from the cabbage cells, creating a salty brine that inhibits the growth of many bacteria but permits the growth of the naturally occurring lactic acid bacteria. Controlled conditions are important to ensure that only the desired lactic acid bacteria grow. Too much salt inhibits the lactic acid bacteria, enabling the growth of other organisms that spoil the product. Under controlled conditions, natural successions of lactic acid bacteria grow. These bacteria, Leuconostoc mesenteroides, Lactobacillus bre-vis, and Lactobacillusplantarum, produce lactic acid, which lowers the pH, further inhibiting undesired bacteria. The lactic acid and other end products of the fermentation give sauerkraut its characteristic tangy taste. When the desired flavor has been attained, usually after 2 to 4 weeks at room temperature, the sauerkraut is often canned. Similar processes are used to make some pickles, olives, and other vegetable products.
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