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How to Preserve Foods and Our Food Culture: Wild Fermentation

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.

Wild Fermentation

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.

Go sauerkraut!

Photo Credit: ccarlstead on Flickr under Creative Commons license.




7 comments
  1. Heather Harmon

    If you love homemade sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables, get yourself a Harsch Fermentation Crock. The best place I have found to buy them so far has been at Amazon.com. My husband bought me a 7 liter one several years ago for making sauerkraut and I liked it so well that he bought me another, smaller 5 liter for making pickles.

    Th incredible thing about the Harsch crock is that you don’t need to scrape off the kahm yeast or mold off the top of the kraut every day And no worries about spoilage.

    All you need to do is pack the cabbage and salt and the crock comes with fired clay weight stones to keep your vegetables under the brine. Place the weight stones and lid and fill the water seal. The only maintenance is to keep the water seal full until the fermentation is complete. You will never want to use an open crock again!

    http://www.amazon.com/Harsch-Gairtopf-Fermenting-Crock-Pot/dp/B000H6PB0Q/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=home-garden&qid=1254758673&sr=8-2

  2. Yasmine

    Hey there,
    randomly discovered this page when I was scowering the net for some ideas. I’m trying to make tempeh for the first time and I really want to make my own tempeh starter/spores without using a piece of old tempeh. is this wishful thinking on my part or can it be done?

    p.s i came to this page from a link on the Dancing rabbit site, was wondering if this the same Dancing rabbit that featured a woman and a man who were trying an alternative life style for 30 days on a program. I think the guy was a serious meat eater and shot a rabbit…there’s a chance I’m talking nonsense but I watched it on tv here in sweden….

  3. Jason Clements

    Brian,

    Great job pointing out a great book. I love that this green-ness includes eating in ways that have been proven to be beneficial for thousands of years. My wife has made us kefir from raw goat and cow milk. It is not my favorite as it tastes like champaign flavored milk. Her next project is Kombucha – that will be exciting.

  4. Lucille

    Don’t forget Kombucha tea. It is made with a fermentation process believed to be thousands of years old and to have amazing healing power because it contains valuable organic acids you body needs, (perhaps evolved to need?)which all attach themselves and bond with harmful toxins, and make them harmless to your body.

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