What is Fermented Food?

Long before fridges and canners came to be, food was preserved through fermentation. Learn more about this fascinating—and tasty—kitchen method.

by Lori Rice
Fermenting foods, such as sauerkraut and yogurt, is a way to preserve farm products. Photo courtesy iStockphoto/Thinkstock (HobbyFarms.com)
Courtesy iStockphoto/Thinkstock
Fermenting foods, such as sauerkraut and yogurt, is a way to preserve farm products.

Once used as a primary means of food preservation, somewhere along our culinary timeline, fermentation lost its appeal. It might have been due to the development of modern conveniences, such as electricity and refrigeration, or simply a change in food preferences. Regardless of the reason, the good news is that fermentation is making its way back to the kitchen.

Fermentation represents everything the home cook strives for when it comes to food—it’s budget-friendly, it extends shelf life, and it enhances nutrition. While we might not realize it, our refrigerators and pantries are full of fermented foods, including buttermilk, yogurt, pickles and coffee. Despite having so many fermented foods readily available, there is nothing quite like homemade fermented foods from your own kitchen.

The Science of Fermentation
During fermentation, naturally occurring microorganisms in the form of bacteria or yeasts break down the carbohydrates in a food, converting them to alcohols and carbon dioxide. This process makes the food resistant to spoilage while promoting the growth of good bacteria, called probiotics, that can be beneficial to your health—particularly your gut. When kept in a cool, dry place, fermented foods can be enjoyed for weeks.

Tips for Fermenting
If you want to try fermenting in your own farmstead kitchen, here are some tips, tricks and tools to keep in mind for your fermenting foray.

Be safe.
When fermenting your own foods, it’s important to follow the same food-safety principles as you would when canning. Sterilize jars, keep your hands and utensils clean, wash produce thoroughly, and remove any spots on vegetables that might indicate damage or decay.

Mind the weather.
Vegetables ferment more quickly in hot temperatures than in cool ones, intensifying flavor and altering texture. Refrigerate fermented foods, keep them in a cool cellar (55 degrees F is ideal) or add extra salt to slow fermentation.

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Ferment your knowledge.
If you’d like to learn more about fermentation, there are several helpful books available: The Art of Fermentation (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2012), by Sandor Ellix Katz, and Real Food Fermentation (Quarry Books, 2012), by Alex Lewin, are two books that will help you create delicious fermented foods in your home kitchen.

Fermented-food Recipes
Fermenting food is easy, especially when you’re equipped with a good recipe. Try these recipes to make some delicious fermented products.

This article was excerpted from Lori Rice’s “Dinner Bell” column in the May/June 2013 issue of Hobby Farm Home.


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