Greetings Grow Appalachia family! Holly the HQ VISTA touching base…and letting her love for Shel Silverstein show! It’s finally starting to feel like spring! I have to admit, 60 and sunny makes it pretty challenging to be in the office sometimes.
I hope you’ve eaten recently, or at least have a snack readily available, because we’re talking about FOOD! Or, more specifically, fermented food! Before I get too carried away (which I may, since my degree is in biology), a brief lesson in fermentation: Fermentation is the microbial process of converting carbohydrates or sugars into acids or gases, or both. Fermentation occurs in an anaerobic environment; that is, one without oxygen. Lastly, there are two types of fermentation: lactic acid fermentation, in terms of food, is the conversion of sugars into acid with the aid of Lactobacillus bacteria. This is also where the term “lacto-fermented” comes from. Lastly, ethanol fermentation is the breakdown of sugars into ethanol, a gas. This is how fermentation of beer and wine works, and it is the basic science behind home-brewing, of which I’m certain a few of you have probably tried. Upon doing some further research for this blog, I’m surprised that the process isn’t quite as daunting as I thought it was. Makes me want to snag a few jars and give it a go myself…hopefully my cats and my twin sister/apartment-mate won’t be put off by the smell.
Now let’s get into the good stuff: I’ve posted a list below of some common fermented goods and how they come about into their pickly, effervescent goodness (I’ve evidently still got pickles on the brain). Of course, this is not an exhaustive list, so please feel free to share YOUR favorites!
1. Pickles– As it turns out, virtually any veg is fermentable, but everyone is familiar with pickles. Pickles are cucumbers that have been fermented in a brine of salt water and additional spices, like dill or garlic. Salt water is the brine used for lacto-fermenting any vegetable, although whey is sometimes used. For pickles, you want them to ferment for at least 3-5 days after assembling. You can find a recipe here. Or share your own! I see some of you out there with your pickles…
P.S. I. LOVE. PICKLES 🙂 If you give me a jar, or even just a single delectable spear, you’re basically guaranteed my best friend for life.
2. Sauerkraut– Mmm…New Year’s pork roast and kraut, anybody? Sauerkraut is fermented cabbage, and most of what you buy in stores is made with vinegar. Again, like pickles, if you’re making your own, a salt water solution will do. Warning: if you’ve never had it, it’ll give you a nice little pucker. Personally, I can ONLY eat it with pork roast.
Here’s a recipe that only uses cabbage and salt (I am aware that this is how it’s typically made, but I am still curious to see how it works). On a bit of an unrelated note, and I personally cannot vouch for this, but I have been informed that our resident “Mrs. Grow-it-All”, Mark’s wife Jennifer Walden, makes a MEAN sauerkraut. I guess you’ll have to ask him about that!
3. Ketchup– Now I know some of you are reading this and going, “Say what?” Yes, you can ferment your own ketchup! The best part about homemade ketchup is that it’s free of high fructose corn syrup/preservatives/Red #40, any of that. For DIY ketchup, it calls for tomato paste, some kind of refined sugar, raw vinegar, and a whey source (be it from raw milk, yogurt, etc). Personally, I’m not a big fan of ketchup to begin with, so I’ll take a pass on this, but I was still greatly intrigued by this concept. Check out this recipe.
4. Kombucha– Kom again? (Sorry, couldn’t resist). Kombucha is, in a nutshell, a fermented sweetened tea beverage. It’s brewed with the aid of a “symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast”, or SCOBY. I’ll have to admit, when I first looked up what a SCOBY was, I was pretty grossed out. I’ll spare the gory details; you can look one up in your free time. But the more I’ve read about kombucha…apparently it’s like the next best thing since sliced bread! There’s quite a bit of online literature regarding this bubbly brew, so feel free to use your own discretion/form your own opinions. Candace here at HQ happens to love it! 🙂 Here’s an article that examines both sides.
5. Kefir– Another favorite from Candace, kefir is the beverage derived from kefir grains, which are composed of combinations of yeasts and bacteria. They contain many probiotic qualities and can be added to water (water kefir) or milk (dairy kefir). What’s interesting about kefir grains is that they can be reused indefinitely- simply add them to another batch of milk; you don’t have to rinse them! Refrigerating them slows the biological process. Especially with water kefir, the possibilities are endless- you can add fruit, herbs, whatever you like! Read more about this enigmatic little grain.
A few hints:
I’ve read in numerous sources that if you are new to fermented food, start slow! You don’t want to introduce too much of something that your body isn’t used to.
Make sure your jars or containers of choice are air-tight. Otherwise, you’ll allow outside bacteria in, which could lead to contamination and your food turning rancid.
If you have a cellar or basement, use it! Both are great storage spaces for fermented goods; many will keep indefinitely. Ideally, a cool and dark location is best, but again, it depends on the food item.
And last, but definitely not least: We want you to be SAFE! There is plenty of literature out there offering nothing but glowing praise on the numerous benefits of fermented food…if it is fermented correctly! One important aspect is cleanliness- Make sure ALL containers and components of the process are cleaned and sterilized. Wash your hands often. Use the freshest food available. You can read more here.
Finally, I would encourage you to do some of your own digging on this very expansive topic- there is a LOT of information out there, and varying opinions as well! One last recommendation: I was made aware of a gentleman by the name of Sandor Katz. He’s a self-proclaimed “fermentation revivalist”, having taught hundreds of workshops all over the world. He has a very interesting story, and you can find his website, where he shares where he’s participated in workshops, recipes, and more.
Do you ferment already? Post your recipes here, or share your experiences!