Fermented Foods: the What, the How, and the Why

Fermentation is a process in which bacteria and yeast convert carbohydrates into alcohols. This not only acts as a method of preservation, but also promotes the growth of probiotics (healthy bacteria). Basically by fermenting your food you’re making it healthier, making it last longer, and giving it a zesty, tart flavor. Some examples of fermented foods include: miso, tempeh, sauerkraut, kefir, yogurt, and kimchi.

Image by edwina_mc from Pixabay

But you can ferment a lot of other things too. And eating those foods has been found to have numerous health benefits. Most notably, they aid in gut health. There’s a balance of bacteria inside our digestive tract. Probiotics promotes healthy bacteria which lessens the symptoms of constipation, bloating, irregularity, diarrhea, and gas. It’s especially helpful for people with Irritable Bowl Syndrome (IBS). Studies have linked regular consumption of the probiotics that come from fermented foods with more effective weight loss, a reduction in symptoms of depression and anxiety, and lower blood pressure, LDL cholesterol, and ergo heart disease. On top of all this, there’s a general boost to your immune health, which makes you less likely to get sick and quicker to recover when you do. There are different strains of probiotics that are more or less active in regards to different health benefits, but many of them are generated in fermented foods.

Now you can simply purchase fermented foods to reap the health benefits, but by going through the process yourself, especially with food you’ve grown yourself, you can see the financial benefits. Fermented foods that are prepared and stored properly can last 4-18 months. So this can really help make your food grown in the summer last longer into the winter months and can be a great way of switching up the flavor if you have a lot of a certain type of food.

I became interested in fermenting my own food with my recent discovery of kimchi. I purchased some from our local Co-op and I couldn’t believe how much it could transform dishes I had otherwise become accustomed to. I’m sure it’s not for everyone, but I think it’s just delicious. So, I wanted to learn how I could ferment things myself and I was surprised to see how easy it is. You’re basically submerging your desired food in salt water (not vinegar- like you would for pickling) and sealing it off in a mason jar.

Image by Corey Ryan Hanson from Pixabay

A lot of the details will depend on what you’re making and how intense you want the flavor to be. The ideal temperature for storage is in the high 60s to low 70s and out of direct sunlight. You want the lid to be airtight, but at some point you will need to allow some of the gases to escape. In the beginning you can taste it every few days to see when it reaches you’re ideal flavor profile. Once the taste is where you want it, you can start storing it in the fridge to significantly slow down the fermentation process. Alternatively, you can allow it to ferment in the fridge  early on so it’s where you want it in a few months time (but it should probably stay at room temperature for at least a few days to get the process started).  

Here’s a recipe for a specific example:

And a quick video for a visual representation:

It’s important to note that not all fermented foods have live bacteria. Applying heat, like baking sourdough bread or canning sauerkraut kills/inactivates the microorganisms that provide the health benefits we discussed earlier. Either way, they’ll still be delicious! Hopefully I’ll be able to update you in the future with some successful attempts at homemade kimchi.





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