In this day and age of highly processed, artificial ingredient-infested “food products”, fermentation offers a beautifully simple, healthy, and delicious alternative to preserving some of our favorite foods. Fermentation is a natural food preservation process typically requiring nothing more than very simple ingredients and time. Many popular, everyday foods would not exist without magical fermentation processes: sauerkraut, cheese, yogurt, miso, soy sauce, beer, and wine, just to name a few.
Fermentation not only preserves food, it makes food more nutritious and digestible, and the practice has spanned thousands of years. (Just one example: over 1000 years ago, Icelandic Vikings transformed milk cultured with rennet into skyr, a kind of thick yogurt-like cheese for later consumption.) It is a transformation made possible by bacteria and fungi. (I like to call it “controlled rotting”). For example: Salt some cabbage and throw it in a crock in the corner of your kitchen, and within a few weeks you’ll have delicious, aromatic sauerkraut, the result of a magical lactic acid fermentation.
Make food more nutritious
Oftentimes, fermentation can make food more digestible and nutritious. Soybeans, which are nearly indigestible eaten whole, can be transformed into miso, tempeh, soy sauce, and a plethora of other highly nutritious food staples. Practically any sort of whole food can be fermented: fruits and vegetables, grains, legumes, and even meat.
In his book Wild Fermentation, Sandor Ellix Katz provides a deeply inspiring call to arms (or crocks?), suggesting that fermentation is akin to food activism. In a world infested with fast food chains, processed “food products”, artificial flavors, and unpronounceable food ingredients, wild fermentation is a DIY alternative to making and preserving foods in a sustainable way, with rich cultural tradition.
For more information of fermenting foods, I highly recommend Wild Fermentation. It’s one of the most well-written, personal, holistic, and rewarding books on the subject of food I’ve ever read. It’s not just a collection of fermentation recipes; instead, it’s a complete vision of not only the importance of food and healthy eating, but of a healthy food culture and traditions. A true gem, it is.