Fermentation 101

The purpose of this blog is to respond to friends, colleagues and anyone who has recently asked me “What’s this fermentation stuff you’re doing all about?”

So let’s start at the beginning…

Bacteria are all around us – on any surface we touch, on the food we eat, and most importantly for our health, throughout our entire GI (gastro-intestinal) system.  Some bacteria are bad for us, causing diseases and cancer and ultimately death. Other bacteria are good for us – digesting food, creating antibodies to keep the bad bacteria in check, creating enzymes, proteins, and all sorts of other great stuff the body needs. Our bodies have both good and bad bacteria, and when we are in a healthy state, the balance between the two is exactly what it ought to be. We need the bad bacteria too so the good bacteria is kept on its toes to fight it. When we get sick, the bad bacteria and/or viruses gain the upper hand and the good bacteria need some help.

What LABs look like.

What LABs look like.

When food comes in contact with water, the bacteria on that food that need water to grow and develop get active. They feed off the starches and sugars on the food, changing them to lactic acid, alcohol and carbon dioxide. The bacteria that do this are thus called ‘lactic acid bacteria’ (or LAB for short) and are the same good bacteria that lives in your gut doing all this wonderful digesting and immune system balancing and protection. The process of putting food in water (with a little salt as the bad bacteria do not exist well in a salty environment) and letting the LABs – the lactobacillus bacteria – eat, reproduce, and develop – is called fermentation.

Its as simple as that: a fruit or vegetable, in a slightly salty brine will yield a fermentation that is really good to eat, as it produces the same lactobacillus bacteria your body has and needs for digesting and protecting you. (Yes – there’s a lot more – but that’s it in a nutshell.)

That all said, here are three simple fermented vegetable recipes that require no more than a bowl, a knife, a few jars and lids.

20150815_105012

When you get into it, things like this happen. I asked a potter at the market to make me a crock pot. It has 2 lids – one to press down on the ferment, the other a lid for the pot.

Water and salt

Before we begin, a couple of notes about water and salt. Fluoridated tap water comes with chemicals designed to kill bacteria which is great for pathogens (the harmful bacteria) but it does not discriminate and kills the good stuff too. So use non fluoridated water of some kind: distilled, reverse osmosis, even filtered well water  – as long as you know it’s safe to drink. With respect to salt, don’t use iodized table salt. It has iodine and anti caking chemicals added. Preferably use sea salt, or kosher salt.

Pickled cucumbers (makes 1 litre)

  1. Make a solution of 1L quality water and 50g of quality salt.
  2. clean the cukes, cut off the flowering stem and pack them whole (if possible) into a 1 L wide mouth jar. Add anything else you want to flavor it with: garlic, dill, peppercorns, other spices…
  3. Pour the brine over, fill it up to the top.
  4. The cukes MUST be fully submerged under the water. If not, they will mold (The harmful mold bacteria require air in order to live.) This can be done using a wide mouth mason jar,  holding the cukes down with a small mouth lid and weighing it down with  250 ml mason jar full of water.
  5. Keep it at room temperature in a dark place for 1-2 weeks. During this time the lactic acid bacteria will begin fermenting and go through a succession of LAB colonies.
  6. They are ready to eat – pop your jar in the fridge. The fermentation will slow right down and you don’t need to continue weighing it down.

Sauerkraut

  1. Shred about 1 kilo (4 cups) of vegetables
    • mainly cabbage but also  -and according to taste –
    • carrot, onion, garlic, spices that you like (pepper, caraway, cumin, coriander)
  2. Add 20g (2%) salt and massage the mix for about 3 or so minutes until the salt pulls the juice out of the vegetables.
  3. As in the cuke recipe above, pack the kraut into a 1L wide mouth mason jar.
  4. Using either a small lid (as described above) or a cabbage leaf push the mix under the liquid and weigh it down so that none of the shredded slaw is above the surface. Pack it down as far as it will go. Add a weight (could be a smaller jar of water) to keep the kraut below the water line.
  5. Keep it at room temperature in a dark place for 1 week.  
  6. They are ready to eat – pop your jar in the fridge. The fermentation will slow right down and you don’t need to continue weighing it down.

 

A brining slaw in a crock pot. But a mason jar would work fine too.

A brining slaw in a crock pot. But a mason jar would work fine too.

The inner lid presses down and compacts the ferment. LAB brine is on top, and the ferment can breathe.

The inner lid presses down and compacts the ferment. LAB brine is on top, and the ferment can breathe.

Mason jars work fine, just keep them in a dark place. Use a wide mouth jar and a small lid weighed down by a small jar full of water.

Basic slaw

This is the same as the sauerkraut except there’s less cabbage and more of everything else. Consider grated carrot, onion, sweet peppers, hot peppers, corn, kale, chard, beets….. the possibilities are endless. Adding herbs and spices will help things too. Add the ones you and your family particularly like. Tasting as you go works too!

So what can you do with this?

  • Eat it on its own
  • Mix it into rice or grains for flavour and texture
  • A garnish over sausages, burgers – really any meat (think sauerkraut over a sausage)
  • A garnish in soups or salads
  • As part of a sandwich: but a warning – squeeze out the water, and place it between something else on the sandwich that won’t let water through – otherwise you will have a soggy sandwich.
  • Puree and use in a salad dressing, sauce, soup…..
  • Use the brine as a substitute for lemon or vinegar in a salad dressing

And…. Since I am  ingesting active probiotics, can I not eat too much? Likely yes. But listen to your body. You will know when you have had enough.

Resources

This blog is a quickie to get you started on the wonderful road to fermentation – a very brief layman’s overview, and does not truly do it justice. I would strongly recommend reading these sources for more detailed and expert information:

https://www.facebook.com/notes/wild-fermentation/how-vegetable-fermentation-works-/10151520254610369

http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2014/03/fermenting-veggies-at-home-follow-food-safety-abcs/#.VdXW-vlVhBd

http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-790-lactobacillus.aspx?activeingredientid=790&activeingredientname=lactobacillus

http://www.wildfermentation.com/whats-so-wild-about-fermentation/

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/28/magazine/can-the-bacteria-in-your-gut-explain-your-mood.html?_r=1

Also check out the Wild Fermentation Facebook page – its very active and has a mine of information. https://www.facebook.com/groups/WlidFermentation/

And… Definitely buy Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation book

Let me know if you tried one of these recipes out.

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