High on my to-do list is to make some corn relish. We try to eat a lacto-fermented condiment with at least one meal each day.
What is lacto-fermentation, you may ask? It's a tradition way of preserving food by way lactic acid. I first heard of this process when we were attempting to eat a purely vegan diet several years ago. Ann Wigmore, a highly recognized name in the vegan/raw/living foods circles recommends eating lacto-fermented foods. Vegans, though, are not the only ones who have recognized the benefits of these foods.
Author Sally Fallon has noted the universality of lacto-fermented products as recorded by Weston A. Price. In Europe they eat sauerkraut; in Korea, kimchi; in Japan, umeboshi; in America, all kinds of relishes which were originally lacto-fermented products.
How does lacto-fermentation work? Starches and sugars in fruits and vegetables are converted into lactic acid by lactic-acid-producing bacteria, which are present on the surfaces of all living things. And the lactic acid is a natural preservative that inhibits bacteria.
So, why would anyone want to lacto-ferment fruits and vegetable? Because foods can be preserved in a "live" state. Actually, foods that have been lacto-fermented are better for you than they were in their native state (unlike typically preserved or "canned" food you get at the store or make using a pressure canner or water bath.) As Fallon states in her book Nourishing Traditions,
The proliferation of lactobacilli in fermented vegetables enhances their digestibility and increases vitamin levels. These beneficial organisms produce numerous helpful enzymes as well as antibiotic and anti-carcinogenic substances. Their main by-product, lactic acid, not only keeps vegetables and fruits in a state of perfect preservation but also promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout the intestine.
I've made several lacto-fermented products, and, so far, my favorite to make are corn relish and raisin chutney for their ease. We also enjoy cortido, a Latin American version of sauerkraut, but it takes more effort to make.