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The Ubiquitous Lactobacilli

A 2013 study conducted in Korean found that the fermented vegetable side dish, kimchi, improved antioxidant status, blood glucose, and serum lipid levels in young adults.1 Kimchi is an Asian dish, often eaten daily in Korea, composed of cabbage, other vegetables, and spices.2

The lactobacilli responsible for fermented vegetables and fruit appear on all living organisms and especially on the leaves and roots of plants growing close to the ground.2 People have used the lactobacilli, increasing their number in order to preserve various food supplies, since ancient times. The Greeks saw these chemical changes of fermentation as "alchemy." Sauerkraut, fermented cabbage, was favored by ancient Romans and is still widely consumed in Europe. Other traditional fermented foods in Europe include cucumbers, beets, and turnips. Pickled green tomatoes, peppers, and lettuces are popular lacto-fermented foods in Russia and Poland. In Asian cultures, a wide variety of lacto-fermented vegetables make up a good portion of the cuisine, including squash, onion, carrot, eggplant, turnip, and cabbage. Pickled fruits often come in the form of chutneys, the Japanese umeboshi plums, and even watermelon rind.2

The benefits these organisms produce include enzymes, and antibiotic and anticarcinogenic abilities. 2 Fermentation of vegetables increases their digestibility as well as vitamin levels. Lactic acid is the primary by-product which aids in the food's preservation and promotes an increase in healthy flora in the intestines. Due to pasteurization and other practices used in the mass marketing of food, the presence of lactobacilli has decreased. The lack of this vital element in food can lead to decreased intestinal flora making the body vulnerable to pathogens.2

Consumed as a condiment, lacto-fermented vegetables and fruits could be a cost effective means to increasing overall health.


1Choi IH, Noh JS, Han J-S, Kim HJ, Han E-S, Song YO. Kimchi, a fermented vegetable, improves serum lipid profiles in healthy young adults: randomized clinical trial. J Med Food. 2013;16(3):223-229.

2Fallon S. Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats. Washington, DC: NewTrends Publishing, Inc; 1999, 2001.

Lori Glenn,  Managing Editor