31 January 2018

Culturing and Fermenting Food, the New Old Ways

Assorted ferments l-r - Fire cider, kale kraut, kraut, apple and red cabbage kraut,
green tomatoes, green and wax beans and curried sunchokes and kombucha in the back
For the most part I try to keep on topic here about all things Italian especially from our Piemontese perspective here in the Alps, but before I jump into writing some posts this year about what we get up to in our slice of the Italian Alps, I thought I would share with you my latest grand adventure in food exploration. I occasionally digress and his is going to be one of those digressions.
Our organic garden produce
As a passionate and avid cook I have been on a food journey most of my life of some sort or another. Every step and stage of my life I have read, cooked, baked, canned and explored cuisines, techniques and pursued my all round unquenchable curiosity about our daily ritual of gathering, preparing and ultimately the enjoyment of feeding and dining with others.
This current very popular food trend of lacto fermentation and culturing food and drinks in America has been a hot topic of conversation with friends and guests with various levels of interest. Some people are familiar and for others it is completely new to them. I imagine if you are reading this you most likely fall somewhere in between. Fermenting and culturing is quite a broad subject that includes, pickles, cheeses, wild yeasted bread, also known as sourdough, and dairy products like yogurt and milk kefir, not to forget to mention wine, beer, mead, and kombucha and so much more.
Another endless journey where it's all about the journey. 
My wild yeasted doughs in progress

My country loaf looking pretty inviting and makes me feel proud
I am not an expert at all, but I have done a fair amount of reading and experimenting with this revival of this ancient art of preserving of food, so I thought I would share some of my enthusiasm for culturing, fermenting and especially lacto ferementation and other fascinating food and drinks.
I will also share some of my sources of information and links to purchase some supplies and carry on your own research if you would like. You will find those links listed at the bottom of this post, so feel free to skip straight to them if you prefer.
Kombucha brewing
 I grew up learning to preserve foods through salt and vinegar methods of jarring up pickles and veggies along with piquant sauces to enliven many a Mexican inspired dish or two after I moved out west.  I really didn't know about fermenting foods with just salt and cool dark places. It seems that ancient tradition is long established in eastern Europe, Russia and Asia. I imagine if you came from immigrant families from those parts of the world these foods are more familiar to you.
If you are unfamiliar with the term, lacto fermentation, it is about preserving foods, naturally, mainly with salt, and "it doesn't necessarily have anything to do with dairy. Instead, the lacto refers to lactic acid. All fruits and vegetables have beneficial bacteria such as Lactobacillus on the surface. In an anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment, these bacteria convert sugars into lactic acid, which inhibits harmful bacteria and acts as a preservative. It's also what gives fermented foods their characteristic sour flavor."*  I am providing links to some resources that I have found helpful and just to be clear, I have no affiliation with any of them nor receive any compensation, I just hope they will be useful for you also, or, at least give you a point to start your research.   * quote from Emily Han September 2013 at "the Kitchen".
Making a variety of ferments and also  jasmin tea kombucha
We have found it beneficial to be able to preserve an abundance of garden vegetables into tasty foods that will sit on the shelf until we can manage to consume them when the abundance has slowed down. It has the added benefit of adding much needed good bacteria to our often over taxed digestive systems from a variety of healthful foods, drinks and snacks. I would caution that there seem to be a lot of health claims being made for these sources of probiotics and  for that I am always rather cautious with how much of it can be true. We do find that it has been helpful in aiding digestion and the kombucha and water kefir drinks give a refreshing lift. For me, if I feel indigestion coming on, a few tablespoons of sauerkraut or fermented root vegetable usually does the trick. I have also had success with my own apple cider vinegar and milk kefir too. For me they bring immediate relief and I find the milk kefir to be very comforting for the occasional bout of indigestion. Maybe its just me but you might at least give it a try. The various ferments add interest to salads, sandwiches, and side dishes, just like regular vinegar pickles do whilst adding more probiotic to your diet. Milk kefir has been a great way to make creamy salad dressings and dips as well as breakfast or afternoon pick me up smoothies. The journey to discover ways of enjoying all of these products is as interesting as making them.
Making apple cider vinegar
A few years back when I kept reading about lacto fermented foods everywhere I began my research in earnest, as it piqued my curiosity to learn more. Who knew what an all out frenzy of learning and experimenting that this way of preserving food was going to lead me down such a long and winding rabbit hole of discovery.
It didn't take me long to drift over to a group on facebook called Wild Fermentation  where the fun really took off. The group takes their name from the book by the same name, Wild Fermentation, written by Sandor Katz. You don't get very far into your research about fermentation before Sandor Katz's name pops up frequently. He refers to himself as a "fermentation revivalist" and it seems he certainly has had a pied piper effect in his sharing of fermenting knowledge.  I promptly bought his book as an ebook and found it a great place to start and still reference it repeatedly.  The folks on the Wild Fermentation facebook group are over the top crazy about preserving food in a tasty way. This effort to preserve has been happening ever since there has been an abundance of food that needs to be kept for the time when there is a lack of food. What a fascinating group of crazy fermenters. I had tried making a few jars of sauerkraut, which I hadn't made in years, but after discovering this group, I now have a whole new viewpoint for adding in other veggies, herbs and spices to add interest to the flavor profile. Who knew sauerkraut could be so interesting.
Smokey Kale and Cabbage Kraut
The facebook group has files which are a great source of information and inspiration, as well as just scrolling through the groups feed and reading what others have asked and the groups answers. I have found the people there to be very helpful whenever I have asked any question. People are fermenting things I have never heard of and things I would have never dreamed of doing myself, like miso and tempeh, but now I think, perhaps one of these days, I just might give it a go. It's just all truly fascinating to me.

So here are some of my suggestions for discovering the wonderful world of fermentation:
  1. Read up on fermentation online, here  and here, and youtube videos
  2. Join a facebook group dedicated to fermenting, there are various ones. I like Wild Fermentation, there are others like WF Uncensored, etc...
  3. Buying a book, Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz is a great place to start. This link is to his site, there are others, but I haven't gotten that far as there is just so much out there to try once you get the hang of percentages. 
  4. Sign up for Cultures for Health's newsletter and receive 8 free ebooks covering various types of fermenting and culturing that will answer a lot of questions and get you started with a source of recipes. You can unsubscribe at any time. They have a lot of sales and deals going all the time. The newsletters are very interesting  and the website is a wealth of recipes, videos and selling point for products. My caution, I cut back on the frequency of their mailings and I am not completely convinced about the dried cultures. My preference is for live grains and starters. They are very knowledgeable and helpful.
  5. Another great site is Yeemoos . I like their philosophy about "adoption" of their cultures and they have a smaller scale of information on their site. A bit more manageable.  If I were in the states, I would be adopting a ginger bug faster than I can type this. Love all ginger option
  6.  The folks over at, "The Probiotic Jar" have made a really handy brining chart that I have found invaluable for quick reference on amounts of liquid to salt percentage solutions. They have a great line of fermenting supplies and vast amounts of knowledge and experience.
  7. If you live on this side of the pond, I have found Happy Kombucha in the UK to be a great resource and where I sourced my Kombucha scoby and milk kefir grains a few years ago and they are still going strong. 
  8. Try your hand at sauerkraut, as it is simple and an easy way to success.
Assorted ferments
Additional Fermenting Tips that I have found helpful along the way:

  1. When making sauerkraut, use the direct salting and squeezing the cabbage to make its own brine. Don't use brine for kraut as it usually comes out too salty.
  2. Cut or slice your veggies into similar sizes and thicknesses so that they ferment at the same rate. 
  3. Start with just 1 or 2 herbs or spices when you begin to add new flavors so you see how well you enjoy those flavors without muddying the results with too many different flavors going on. There is plenty of time later on to work up the complexities once you have a good idea of herbs and spices that work for your taste buds. 
  4. I use a 2% salt brine or less for most brines. The more the salt the crisper the veggies, although the softer veggies have their place as well. Adding grape, oak, horseradish, or currant leaves to jars will help add tannins to keep the veggies crisp as well. I always add horseradish leaves to my dill pickles.
  5. Use the best water you can, chlorine will keep your veggies from fermenting and inhibit good bacterial growth.  
  6. The less salt you use, the faster the veggies will ferment. A cool dark place is ideal for fermenting and storage. WArm kitichen counters will speed things up so you need to keep a watchful eye.
  7. Any type of pepper or pepper combo needs a 5% salt solution to preserve peppers and be safe. 
  8. Start out tasting your ferments every day or so along the way to find what amount of sourness works for you.
  9. Don't give up too early as some times if you are not wild about the flavour, let it ferment longer and often it will vastly improve. I like my sauerkraut at least 2-4 weeks fermented. i had a beet and carrot combination that didn't excite my tastebuds till they had sat for 6 months. I had given up on it and was about to toss them. I was pleasantly surprised. 
  10. On the other had I have found that some ferments are better with a shorter ferment for my taste buds. For instance, when I have added apple to sauerkraut I like a much shorter ferment and try to at it faster than a regular sauerkraut that can sit  almost indefinitely as long as you keep it in a jar that doesn't have too much air space. So you may need to keep moving it into smaller jars if you are eating it fast enough. 
  11. Here is "The Probiotic Jar's" Brining Chart for quick reference. 
  12. You can order their Probiotic Jar refrigerator magnet of the chart from here

I hope you have found this of interest and you will feel inspired to add another element to your cooking and daily diet.
 ~~~ ciao for now and happy fermenting ~~~ 


Paula Feldman said...


probiotics from plain old fermented potatoes

Paula Feldman said...


this video literally knocks your socks off
magnificent how to make kimchi

Stan Says... said...

OMG that loaf of bread looks so damn good!

Bookmark and Share