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What is Fermentation?

From kimchis to kefirs, sauerkraut to sourdoughs, learn the skill of fermentation at home

Cabbage ferment

Fermentation is the latest ‘buzz word’ in the food world but what really is fermentation and what are its benefits? We quiz the experts in the realms of fermentation who know a thing or two about this bubbling trend. 

Katie Venner from Tracebridge Sourdough and Fermenteria is a fermenting enthusiast and teacher and knows her stuff when it comes to fermentation. From her woodland bakery and workshop, we asked Katie to explain where to start when it comes to the finer details of fermentation.  

What is fermentation?  

“Lacto-fermentation is the oldest form of food preservation in the world, involving just salt, water and vegetables. Wonderfully complex tasting sour, cultured veg are produced as a result of this ancient technique. The process is simple; the salt creates an anaerobic environment (free of oxygen) where only lactobacillus bacteria found naturally on vegetables can survive. Harmful and spoilage bacteria are overwhelmed as the lactobacillus multiply.   

The salt keeps the vegetables deliciously crunchy and after leaving for anything from a few days to five weeks to ferment, jars of cultured veg can be kept safely in the fridge for up to a year. Fermentation is the most sustainable way of preserving the summer’s glut for the winter store cupboard.  

You will quickly acquire the taste for these wonderfully tart and tangy cultured vegetables. Start by eating a little at a time – have them on the table like you would a chutney, or add a spoonful to a soup or curry when serving.”  

 

Kimchi  

South Korean in origin, kimchi includes chilli, ginger and garlic with Chinese leaves, spring onions and carrots. Get some South Korean chilli powder for the authentic taste.  

Sauerkraut  

German kraut is traditionally made with white cabbage and caraway – but new producers are making fantastically inventive veg mixes. Look for the words lacto-fermented or raw on the jar or check out the chiller cabinet. Anything pasteurised will not have the same probiotic health benefits.  

Kefir  

There are two varieties of kefir– milk kefir is a slightly fizzy yoghurt-like drink and water kefir is an effervescent, naturally carbonated probiotic drink, flavoured with fruits, herbs and spices. Both are easy to make at home from kefir ‘grains’ bought on the internet or traditionally given by a friend.  

Kombucha  

Kombucha is a wonderful fizzy drink flavoured in myriad ways by inventive fermentistas and available in health food shops, or make it at home – it is traditionally fed on sugar and black or green tea.  

Sourdough bread  

The long proving and fermented starter culture makes sourdough more digestible than other breads. New research suggests that some of the probiotic benefits survive baking.  

 

Why is fermented good for your gut?  

Lacto-fermented foods and drinks have beneficial “probiotic” properties and are great for maintaining healthy gut flora, key to good health. The lacto-bacteria found on vegetables break down the sugar and starch in the vegetables during fermentation, creating beneficial enzymes and good bacteria.  

 

You already have all you need to get started…  

You don’t need any special kit to start fermenting – just clean jars of the kilner-type with a rubber seal that will let the gases (carbon dioxide) escape during the fermentation. A sharp knife, fresh veg – preferably pesticide free – and fine rock or sea salt will get you started.   

Things to remember:  

  1. Don’t stint on the salt – if there isn’t enough salt you will have mouldy or slimy veg. Use 1.5-2% of veg weight and make sure it’s fine rock or sea salt.  
  2. You can make a vegetable kraut with any veg – but use at least 30-40% shredded cabbage as this produces a good base of salty juices.  
  3. Keep the veg under the briny juices – anything poking out may go mouldy.   
  4. Don’t wait for a recipe – ferment what’s fresh and available where you are and experiment. Write the date on the jar and the ingredients so when you make something delicious you can make it again.  
  5. If in doubt chuck it out – if your veg goes mouldy it’s best to start again.

Enter our competition to win a place on a Tracebridge fermentation course

For more fermentation information and courses visit; www.tracebridgesourdough.co.uk

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West Country FOODLOVER is a print magazine and news based website offering a foodie’s guide of what’s hot across the South West. We inspire foodies with great seasonal recipes, competitions, news and events. The magazine, website and newsletter reach more than 128,000 foodies each issue.