Fomenting Fermentation: The Homemade Food Revolution That Makes Healthy Food Healthier

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Summer, now in full swing, has loaded our gardens, CSAs, farmers markets, and local grocery stores with an abundance of fruits and veggies. Inevitably, there will be a point when this bounty proves too much to handle.

Instead of creating waste, create taste! And by that, of course, we mean ferment it. Fermentation is a great way to preserve food while ramping up its nutritional value and creating probiotics. That's why we're starting #FermentedFriday, and posting a new fermented recipe each week! For Fermented Friday's first week, check out our reporter’s own little foray into fermentation here in which he explores a smorgasbord of popular fermented recipes like kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, and more!

The story goes that people have been fermenting since, well, “forever” (that may not be a historically accurate date). It’s an easy process that relies on letting naturally occurring bacteria and yeasts (on the plant, in the plant, and in the air) do most of the work. It’s a mutually beneficial transaction between us and these microbes: we provide the ideal environment in which they can thrive and outcompete things that could make our produce nasty tasting rot, and in turn, they produce lactic acid, acetic acid, and alcohol creating a nice, delicious preservative.

Before the days of refrigeration, fermentation was a great way to store food for weeks, months, or even longer.. Here’s a great anecdote from fermentation guru Sandor Eliz Katz’s fermentation bible Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition and Craft of Live Cultured Food:

Captain James Cook, the eighteenth-century English explorer who extended the far reaches of the British Empire, was recognized by the Royal Society for having conquered scurvy (vitamin C deficiency) among his crew by sailing with large quantities of sauerkraut. On his second round-the-world voyage, in the 1770s, sixty barrels of kraut lasted for twenty-seven months and not a single crew member developed scurvy, which previously had killed huge numbers of the crews of long sea voyages."

Taking cabbage that usually goes bad in about a month and extending its shelf life by a factor of twenty-seven is impressive, but the other part of Cook’s lesson in fermentation was the nutrients that were in those barrels. Cabbage (the foundation ingredient in sauerkraut) is naturally high in vitamin C. When fermented, it gets a boost of other vitamins and other nutrients as well.

We’ll share a lot more about fermentation in the weeks to come on Wellness Warrior’s Fermented Fridays. In the meantime, here are four salient points to keep help you understand fermentations many benefits...and keep your taste buds and tummy humming. As the Washington Post reminds us:

  • Imagine a fermented food as a partially digested food. For instance, many people have difficulty digesting the lactose in milk. When milk is fermented and becomes yogurt or kefir, the lactose is partially broken down so it becomes more digestible.

  • Organic or lactic-acid fermented foods (such as dill pickles and sauerkraut) are rich in enzyme activity that aids in the breakdown of our food, helping us absorb the important nutrients we rely on to stay healthy.

  • Fermented foods have been shown to support beneficial bacteria in our digestive tract. In our antiseptic world of chlorinated water, antibiotics in our meat, our milk, and our own bodies, and “anti-bacterial everything,” we could use some beneficial bacteria in our bodies.

  • When our digestion is functioning properly and we are absorbing and assimilating all the nutrients we need, our immune system tends to be happy, and thus is better equipped to wage war against disease and illness.

So, go ahead and buy that extra cabbage, go crazy with those green beans, and stock up on cucumbers. If you haven’t eaten them by the end of the week, give them over to the gods of fermentation! And keep your eye out for our weekly #fermentedfriday recipes!

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Read all articles by Damon Cory-Watson

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