The second produce is harvested it begins the process of decomposing. Microorganisms feast on the flesh and internally chemicals begin to react and start rotting. Oxygen, light and warmth accelerate this process, which is why food left in the fridge will last longer than on your counter. But the fridge only blocks light and cools: what about oxygen?
If produce is left submerged in water, it’s protected from oxygen-rich air and the “going bad” process is slowed. It will be edible, but it will quickly go mushy and the taste won’t be pleasant. Add some salt, and the vegetables will maintain their crispness longer and develop a delicious flavor. Here’s what goes on in a scientific(ish) explanation.
Lacto-fermentation is a process whereby the natural bacteria present in fresh produce utilize the carbohydrates to reproduce and excrete lactic acid in an anaerobic (airless) environment. Fruits and vegetables naturally contain the right bacteria (Lactobacillus) and yeast required to ferment, which is why the fermentation of vegetables is also referred to as “wild fermentation.” The higher the carbohydrate content, the faster the food will ferment/produce lactic acid. The salt in a ferment will harden pectins, keeping the vegetables crisp, and slow the creation of lactic acid. As the food ferments, it also creates carbon dioxide (generally referred to as “fermentation gas”) that must be released if fermented in a closed container. When you’re fermenting, you may even see the fermentation gas bubbling and raising the contents… it can be quite powerful!
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