What does the word conjure up for you? Bacteria? Mould? Stuff going off in your fridge?
It’s a word we’d all do well to become better acquainted with. In fact, you probably already know more than you think. Do you have cheese, salami, chocolate, yoghurt, beer or wine lurking in your pantry? These are all fermented foods.
What we’ll look at today is lacto-fermentation (rather than alcoholic fermentation – we all know how that works!). Lacto-fermentation is a traditional method of preserving food that our ancestors stumbled across many years ago when they were trying to store foods for later seasons.
Lacto-fermented foods can be teeming with life-giving probiotic microbes, as well as plenty of flavour. Fermenting your food will preserve it (and therefore preserve your garden harvest to enjoy all year round) as well as re-populate your gut flora with the ‘friendly’ bacteria called lactobacilli.
Let’s differentiate here from food preserved with vinegar or sugar. While this method will preserve your food and does indeed taste delicious, it’s a method that came about through a need for longer shelf life and stability, rather than bestowing wonderful health benefits.
A classic example of lacto-fermentation is Captain Cook taking big barrels of sauerkraut on his long sea voyages. This is how he made it round the world without losing his crew to scurvy (a Vitamin C deficiency).
And the process is very simple. A very basic sauerkraut can be made by chopping up a cabbage, pounding it a bit to release the juices, and stuffing in a jar with salt. After 3 days on the bench it will be ready to eat.
If you have an abundance of cucumbers this summer you could try popping them in a salt water brine to ferment into delicious pickles.
The magic ingredient here is salt. It stops the vegetables going off, and gives the fermenting process time to get going. Of course there are many other herbs, spices and flavours you can add to make your ferments delicious. There are plenty of recipes out there – and one right here for tomato salsa.
If you’re keen to find out more about all types of fermenting for great taste and great health, check out the books by Sandor Katz. AND, even more exciting – he is coming to Australia to run a series of workshops, hosted by the wonderful Milkwood.
So, no excuses. Pick those veges and get fermenting!