conscious eating

Fermenting for Foodies
Preserving Food and Traditions
by April Thompson

Fermenting for Foodies, pixelshot/AdobeStock.com

If fermented food is a trend, it’s the oldest one on the planet. More and more people are rediscovering the time-honored foodways of fermentation to promote health, boost flavor and preserve the bounty of the seasons. “There is huge potential to use high-quality fermented foods to enhance our health and well-being,” says Sandor Katz, a so-called “fermentation revivalist”, in Liberty, Tennessee, and the author of several bestselling books on fermentation, including the newly released Sandor Katz’s Fermentation Journeys: Recipes, Techniques, and Traditions from Around the World.

Katz caught the fermentation bug after moving from New York City to rural Tennessee in the 1990s and being faced with the “positive problem” of an overly plentiful garden to preserve. He’s since wandered the globe teaching and learning about fermentation traditions, from Korea’s spicy kimchi to Mexico’s funky pineapple tepache drink.

Fermentation is defined as the chemical breakdown of a food by bacteria, yeasts or other microorganisms. An estimated one-third of all foods are fermented, including coffee, cured meats, cheese, condiments and chocolate. Pickles and yogurt are traditionally fermented through lactic acid bacteria, while beer and bread are typically fermented through yeast. Kombucha, an ancient tea drink, is made using a symbiotic culture of yeast and bacteria.

Pascal Baudar, a Los Angeles writer, instructor and self-proclaimed “culinary alchemist,” turned to fermentation techniques to preserve the precious wild ingredients of the fleeting seasons. His books and workshops cover unusual culinary territory, like fermented and aged vegan cheeses from acorns and “seaweed” made from fermented broadleaf plantain, a common weed, using methods he’s studied and perfected. “I investigate new and lost flavors, and conserve them as gourmet foods through preservation,” he says.

Fermentation with Benefits
Fermentation transforms the nutrients in food in several ways, Katz explains. In a process known as predigestion, it breaks macronutrients down into more digestible forms (think proteins turned into amino acids) and renders minerals more bioavailable. Gluten, too, is broken down by fermentation, he says, as are potentially toxic compounds in foods such as cyanide and oxalic acid. The process also releases vitamins B and K and other micronutrients as metabolic byproducts.

Fermentation reduces the short-chain carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine and are prone to absorb water and ferment in the colon, causing gas and bloating. Found in wheat, beans and other foods, they can pose digestive problems for people with irritable bowel syndrome and other conditions, says Tayler Silfverduk, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Columbus, Ohio, specializing in celiac disease.

“The most profound nutritional benefit of fermentation is the live bacteria itself. You are ingesting a rich biodiversity of beneficial bacteria that can potentially improve immune function,” says Katz, an AIDS survivor who considers fermentation an important part of his healing process.

No Starter Required
“There is nothing you can eat that can’t be fermented, but the easiest and safest place to begin is with vegetables,” which need no special equipment or a starter like sourdough, kefir or kombucha, says Katz. To make sauerkraut, for example, simply shred cabbage, lightly salt and season it, and submerge it in a jar under its own juices, “burping” it daily for a week to 10 days to release the fermentation gases.

Katz and Baudar both like to debunk myths that fermenting foods is difficult or dangerous. “You don’t have to sterilize everything or have precise laboratory control conditions. People have been practicing fermentation for years, and they began before they knew bacteria was a thing. To the contrary, fermentation is a strategy for food safety,” says Katz.

While yeast or mold can grow on the top layer that is exposed to oxygen, Katz says “a lot of sauerkraut is needlessly discarded. Most such growth is harmless and normal, and can be skimmed off the top.”

Baudar, a University of California Master Food Preserver, has kept foods he’s fermented for up to three years and only once encountered mold. “You need to work with the ferment,” he says. “That means regularly burping it, then shaking or stirring to promote the acidity that prevents bad bacteria from taking hold.”

“If it looks or tastes bad, throw it away,” he adds. “Some of my early experiments tasted horrible, but I just took my failures as learning and kept experimenting. The more you understand the fermentation process, the more you can play with it creatively and push the envelope.”

Connect with Washington, D.C., freelance writer April Thompson at AprilWrites.com.


Fermented Food Recipes

Curry Kraut

Curry cabbage recipe - yield: 1 quart

2 lb organic cabbage head
2 Tbsp sea salt
½ cup organic yellow onion, thinly sliced
½ cup shredded carrot
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp fresh, grated ginger (1 Tbsp ground
powder alternative)
½ Tbsp ground coriander
½ Tbsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground cayenne pepper
½ tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp curry powder
¼ tsp black pepper
¼ tsp cinnamon

First, rinse all of the produce. Then peel the outer layers off the cabbage, saving a couple of the cabbage leaves.

Cut the cabbage in half (through the core), then in half again, then core the cabbage by placing wedges up vertically on a cutting board with the core touching the board and holding it at the tip. Position the knife at the start of the core and slice downward, cutting off the hard portion.

Place the cabbage on a flat side and slice shreds to desired thickness (about ¼ inch). Start at the tip and work down.
Thinly slice the onion and then shred carrots using a cheese grater.

Place it all into one very large or two non-reactive bowls (not metal). Pour the spices on top. Massage the mixture of veggies and spices until a lot of brine has been created and the mixture has shrunk down to about half its original size.

Take the massaged veggies and spices, and start packing them into a 1-quart fermenting jar with an airtight lid. (The packing will help bring the brine to the surface.) After every scoop that’s put into the jar, pack it down with a fist. Leave several inches at the top of the jar.

Fold up the saved cabbage leaves and put them on top of the cabbage in the jar. (Make sure the brine goes over the top of the cabbage leaves.) Place the weight—either a fermenting weight or rocks inside of a bag—on top of the cabbage leaves. Leave about 1 to 2 inches at the top of the jar.

Close the jar’s lid and put it in some sort of basin (I use a casserole dish) to catch the brine that comes out. The brine will come out of the jar because the cabbage will swell during the fermentation process, and the basin will catch the brine instead of it spilling onto counters.

Notes: Over the next few days, the mixture will turn into curry kraut through a lacto fermentation process. Bubbles and the bright green cabbage will become yellow. How long to wait depends on the level of sourness desired and how warm the house is kept.

Check the curry kraut for taste. It’s good to check after about three to five days to see if it’s sour enough. It’s also good to do a quick check for mold. It’s likely a white, scummy-type substance will form at the top of the brine; this is okay and part of the process. It can be scraped off or left there.

When curry kraut reaches desired taste, take out the cabbage leaves and the weight, close the lid and put it in the fridge.

Make sure to start with a clean surface and utensils. Dirty supplies can mess with the bacteria in the fermentation.

Courtesy of Kyrie Luke, Healthfully Rooted Home.

Fermented Pickled Carrot Sticks

Fermented carrots recipe - photo provided by Tayler Silfverduk RDNphoto provided by Tayler Silfverduk RDNyield: 1 quart-size jar of pickles

2 sprigs fresh dill
1-2 cloves garlic
2 lb whole carrots
1 Tbsp sea salt
1-2 cups distilled water

Wash and peel the skins of the whole carrots. Cut the peeled and washed carrots into carrot sticks. Peel and finely slice the garlic cloves. Wash and dry 2 sprigs of dill.

In a wide-mouth, quart-size jar, pack in the carrot sticks. (Tilt the jar to locate more places to squeeze in the sticks.) Add in the sea salt, then the sliced garlic and sprigs of dill.

Cover the ingredients with distilled water (Be sure to leave about an inch of free space from the waterline to the opening of the jar.)

Place an airtight lid on the jar and let it sit for a week or until the carrots have reached desired taste. Make sure to burp the jar at least every two days while fermenting.

Once the carrot sticks have reached their desired taste, place the jar in the fridge for storage. Enjoy.

Notes: If using organic carrots, leave the skin on and just wash the carrots very well before chopping into snacking sticks.

When burping the jar, use this time to check on fermentation to make sure it’s growing healthy. Look for bubbles on top of the water and along the water line. Seeing mold is a sign that good bacteria is struggling to start a culture and we may need to try again.

Courtesy of Tayler Silfverduk, registered dietitian nutritionist.

Vinagre de Piña (Mexican Pineapple Vinegar)

Vinagre de Piña  (Mexican Pineapple Vinegar) recipe - image: siriwan/AdobeStock.comimage: siriwan/AdobeStock.comPineapple vinegar, vinagre de piña, is delicious and super-acidic. Many Mexican recipes call for pineapple vinegar, although it can be used in place of any kind of vinegar. Since this uses only the skin of the pineapple, we are eating the pineapple flesh. This recipe was inspired by a recipe in The Cuisines of Mexico, by Diana Kennedy.

yield: 2 cups/500 milliliters

2 Tbsp sugar
Peel of 1 pineapple (organic, because the skin is used; overripe fruits are fine)

Combine the sugar with 2 cups/500 milliliters of water in a jar or bowl. Stir to dissolve. Coarsely chop and add the pineapple peel. Use a small plate to weigh down the pineapple and keep it submerged. Cover with a cloth to keep flies out.

Ferment at room temperature. Stir daily while the pineapple peels are in it. Strain out the pineapple peels and discard after about one week when the liquid is darkening.

Ferment the liquid for an additional two to three weeks, stirring or agitating periodically. Bottle and enjoy.

From Sandor Katz’s book, Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2016).

Rosy Raspberry Soda

Rosy Raspberry Soda recipe - image: maria medvedeva/AdobeStock.comimage: maria medvedeva/AdobeStock.comyield: 2, resealable, 1-quart-size and 1-liter plastic bottles

½ cup/70 grams raspberries
Juice from ½ lemon
2–4 Tbsp honey
1 tsp rose water

Combine and blend. Place all the ingredients except the yeast in a bowl with a bit of water and mash together with a fork, or put them all in the blender.

Divide between two, 1-quart/1-liter bottles. Top off with warm water. Add yeast. Sprinkle about ¼ tsp bread or champagne yeast into each bottle. Let it sit for a few minutes, then shake the bottles to dissolve and distribute the yeast.

Let ferment on the counter. Check the carbonation after a few hours. Bleed carbonation by gently and slowly opening the bottles. Refrigerate when they seem strongly carbonated, generally within six to eight hours.

From Sandor Katz’s book, Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2016).


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