Fantastic Fermentation

I’m in the throes of putting together a fermentation workshop for an awesome high school group next week, and the recipe research has gotten me all amped up on taking on m0re of my own fermentation projects in the near future.  I would love to hear about any fermentation experiments any of you have been working on (whether successful or not), but for now, here is a bit of info on lacto fermentation, as well as some resources for learning more.

What is live-culture food?  Why is it so good for me?  To make live-culture food, you encourage lactic-acid-producing bacteria (lactobacilli) to colonize your food and convert its starches and sugars into lactic acid.  The lactobacilli themselves enhance the digestibility of food, increase its vitamin levels, and produce many helpful enzymes.  As well, lactic acid (the byproduct of the lactobacilli) is a natural preservative because it lowers the pH of the food, making it a less hospitable environment for harmful bacteria.  So, not only are you producing good bacteria, but you’re driving away the baddies at the same time.  Oh, and it makes your food taste delicious.

How do I make fermented food?  There are various different ways to convince your foodstuffs to ferment, but they can be loosely grouped into two categories:

1) Leaving it out and allowing it to accumulate microorganisms (e.g. sauerkraut, pickles, ginger beer)

2) Using a starter or inoculating it with an active culture (e.g. tempeh, yogurt, kombucha)

Here are two simple recipes that I think are great introductions to how easy and delicious lacto-fermentation can be:

Crème Fraiche (a cross between yogurt, sour cream and whipped cream:  try it on desserts or swirled into soup)
-500 mL heavy (whipping) cream
-2 Tbsp buttermilk (or commercial crème fraiche, or crème fraiche from a previous batch you’ve made)

  1. Mix cream and buttermilk together, and put in a jar.  Cover with cheesecloth or loose plastic wrap.
  2. Leave in a warm spot for about 24 hours.  It is ready when it is thick and has a slightly sour, nutty taste.
  3. Chill before using.   It will keep in the fridge for 7-10 days, where it will keep getting thicker and tangier.

Ginger Carrots (a simple and tasty ferment — a great way to get some basic techniques down)
-4 c grated carrot
-1 Tbsp grated ginger
-1 Tbsp salt
-4 Tbsp whey, water or lemon juice

  1. Mix all ingredients together.
  2. Pound with a meat mallet or potato masher until the carrots start to release their juices (about 5 minutes).
  3. Put carrots in a jar, ensuring that the vegetables are covered by the brine, and that there is about 1” of headspace at the top of the jar.
  4. Cover the jar and leave it out for 3-7 days (taste as you go to see when you think they’re ready).  Once it tastes right to you, seal the jar and put it in cold storage.  It should keep for at least 6 months and keep tasting more and more fermented and tasty.

Resources: 

My two favourite books for fermentation recipes are Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz (check out his website as well), and Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, both available at the library.  Wild Fermentation is solely fermentation recipes and is a bit more casual and free form in style, and definitely encourages lots of experimentation, which can be fun.  Nourishing Traditions has a lot of various kinds of recipes (not just ferments) and  is subtitled “The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats”, so expect a bit of rhetoric along those lines, but all the recipes I’ve tried are solid.

I also like checking out the Pickling section on Punk Domestics, which is updated regularly and has a wide variety of cool recipes.  A blog called Nourishing Days has a good series on Fermented Food For Beginners that is a good read.  Cultivated Cultures:  Exploring Fermented Foodways is a blog by a guy who received a fellowship to travel the world for a year exploring fermented food traditions (which I am max envious of).  If you’re looking for a source of cultures such as kefir grains or kombucha, GEM Cultures is a great place to look.  I highly recommend the links section on Sandor Katz’s website, which has an incredible array of fermentation resources.

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