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Does the presence of any lactic acid bacteria prove that a fermentation vessel is airtight or even a good choice? This question is currently swirling in the real food world, so I’d like to take a moment to address it.
The presence or absence of ANY type of lactic acid bacteria you can find doesn’t tell you if a jar is airtight or not. It’s a sideshow, a distraction from the real issue- creating the ideal fermentation environment so that ALL of the beneficial products of fermentation are available in the right proportions to help heal your gut or keep your gut healthy. LABs are only a small piece of the puzzle.
Let’s be honest. Who here doesn’t have at least some level of gut damage and a regular environmental assault? In the discussion about historical methods and about which fermentation method is best, we should put into context that their guts were far healthier and far better to sustain any assault by a less-than-ideal method. They weren’t born by C-section, they didn’t have antibiotics, bad food, food intolerances, pesticides and xenoestrogens working against them. Getting the best ferments you can is critical when you’re trying to heal your gut. Those, like me, who could not heal on ferments that weren’t truly anaerobic deserve to have their story heard. I am among them and the pettiness over a small piece of the puzzle has the possibility of misleading and distracting those who are trying to regain their health.
LABs and Oxygen
The presence of un-named LABs do not prove that a vessel is airtight or producing the products of fermentation that you want and not producing those you don’t want. There are some LABs that do tolerate oxygen. Others, who are well-known for their gut-healing properties, easily die in the presence of oxygen. You can manipulate results depending on when and how you test.
The bigger question, though, is actually backwards. Instead of asking if something is airtight, instead you should be ruling out what isn’t airtight by obvious means (mold, oxidation, etc…). THEN, once you have done that, the jars you suspect are airtight would need to undergo lab testing that can’t be done in your kitchen. Testing to prove whether or not a jar is airtight is crazy expensive and involves a lot of work. It’s not something you can do at home.
One fuzzy snapshot of generic LABs isn’t proof a vessel is airtight and all of the desired products of fermentation are being produced and those you don’t want aren’t being produced. Why? Depending on where you withdraw the brine from, how you withdraw it and where you place your microscope focus, you can have wildly varying results. You also have to take into consideration how much oxygen was in the brine to begin with, the level it has reduced to, how old the ferment is.
I can’t emphasize this point enough: The presence of LABs alone doesn’t tell you if there’s vitamins, minerals, enzymes or any of the other dozens of beneficial products of fermentation or the products of fermentation you don’t want to consume and more in that brine. It doesn’t tell you which LABs are present, only that they are. As you can see, this is not just a straight-forward, kitchen experiment. There are a number of products of fermentation (undigestible alcohols, histamines, hydrogen peroxide and more) that can be produced in certain environments or at certain times in a good ferment that you do not want to consume and those can occur with LABs present in the brine. There are other products of fermentation that you do want that vary wildly in amounts in the same ferment over time. Why? As the environment changes, the LABs literally consume those items out of the ferment and then regenerate them into the brine.
Cool, huh? Little LABs happily munching away on the good stuff.
We’ll go over that on another Friday. For now, let’s stay focused on the oxygen-sensitive bacteria. I believe that difference, the highly oxygen sensitive LABs and not just the presence of any particular lactic acid bacteria, is one of the two keys to why I healed when switching my fermentation method.
Show Me The Bifidus
One of the two reasons why I believe I healed on a truly anaerobic ferment when other methods did not heal me is the presence of the highly oxygen sensitive Lactic Acid Bacteria. These strains are all lactobacillis bifidobacterium (bifidus); there are many types of bifidus and all of them are oxygen sensitive, some to the extreme. Each strain of bifidus has a different oxygen toleration threshold.
Why do I think bifidus is key? In a former post you see I discuss BioKult, a well-known probiotic used for gut healing. It contains bifidus, and for good reason. When I switched my fermentation method, I swapped to a Harsch because Pickl-Its weren’t available at the time. That’s when I started healing. Coincidentally, the probiotic I was taking in large amounts at the time (BioKult was not yet available) while using other fermenting methods did contain bifidus. I wasn’t able to get off of it until I went onto the Harsch ferments. I do believe it is connected. I believe the amounts and types of bifidus I was able to get with the anaerobic ferment coming out of my Harsch crock was key to my healing.
The other issue is that some bifidus, when stressed by the presence of oxygen, generate hydrogen peroxide into the brine. The presence of hydrogen peroxide will also tell about if the strictly anaerobic LABs are being stressed or killed off or not. The hydrogen peroxide inhibits LAB growth and reproduction and then kills the lactic acid bacteria once it reaches a certain level and has a negative effect upon your ferment. Some bifidus and other lactic acid bacteria are more sensitive to hydrogen peroxide and some can fight back (by producting catalysts that break down the hydrogen peroxide) somewhat and others can’t fight it at all. The oral intake of hydrogen peroxide is believed to have negative health effects, but we’ll get into that deeper in a post on another Friday. But first, we’ll cover bifidus in more detail and why you want it in your ferments. If you’re trying to heal your gut, the Harsch or Pickl-It is your best bet to produce the oxygen-sensitive strains.
I know some will ask for proof of bifidus’ sensitivity to oxygen, so please read these studies if you’re interested, noting that not all of the strains listed are in the lactoferment you’ve got sitting on your counter and not all of them are ones that would be found in the human gut. This is just a small sample of the studies available on the topic.
Kawasaki S., Mimura T., Satoh T., Takeda K., Niimura Y; 2006. Response of the microaerophilic Bifidobacterium species, B. boum and B. thermophilum, to oxygen.Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 72:6854–6858. Curr. Issues Intest. Microbiol. (2004) 5: 1-8.
W DeVries and AH Stouthamer, Factors determining the degree of anaerobiosis of Bifidobacterium strains. Arch. Microbiol., 65 (1969), pp. 275–287
Akshat Talwalkar and Kaila Kailasapathy; The Role of Oxygen in the Viability of Probiotic Bacteria with Reference to L. acidophilus and Bifidobacterium spp.
A. L. Brioukhanov and A. I. Netrusov; Aerotolerance of strictly anaerobic microorganisms and factors of defense against oxidative stress: A review. Applied Biochemistry and Microbiology Volume 43, Number 6 (2007), 567-582