Fermentation is such a huge topic that I could write a separate blog on it. As it is, I devote 2 months to fermenting—of breads and of dairy products—and discuss home fermentation often throughout the rest of each year. But you may be surprised by how often fermented items appear in other Twice as Tasty recipes.
Whether you realize it or not, you probably consume a lot of fermented foods: wine and beer, yogurt and cheeses, bread, chocolate, coffee and tea, vinegar, and cured meats. But you likely make few of them from scratch. As a culture, we’ve nearly lost the art of fermenting foods at home. “The idea of peaceful coexistence with microbes rather than warfare,” as Sandor “Sandorkraut” Ellis Katz puts it in the dedication of his book Wild Fermentation, has been scrubbed away with advances in medicine, sanitation, and sterilization. We fill our homes with weapons to fight bacteria and fungi that bear labels like “antibacterial,” “antibiotic,” and “antifungal.” In waging war on bad microbes, the good ones have suffered heavy casualties as well.
That’s been changing in recent years, with a growing interest in probiotics, greater gut health, and less bloating. Grocery stores stock kefir and live-culture yogurt. Coffeeshops and bars offer kombucha on tap and mixed into cocktails. And people are slowly returning to the idea of encouraging wild yeast at home.
If you’re nervous about trying fermentation at home, think about what you’d be eating. We get excited about the first strawberries of the year, the first sweet corn, and the first cherries because these foods are alive and taste like it. Fermented foods are also alive. So think of fermentation as simply extending the life of your favorite in-season or easy-to-spoil treats. In contrast, foods that have been heated, cooled, or otherwise preserved with natural or manmade chemicals are dead: We’ve killed them so thoroughly they can sit for years without rotting. Now which would you rather eat?
Tips & Tricks
The techniques used to ferment foods vary widely. This basics page introduces you to the concept of fermentation, and each post on this site includes tips and tricks for fermenting the foods found in the given recipes. But I highly recommend reading more about what you plan to ferment before you begin:
In addition, keep in mind these tips every time you ferment foods:
- Keep it fresh. Because fermentation allows good microbes to work their magic, you want to give them a leg up by starting with fresh vegetables, fruits, and milk. Plan ahead so that you are ready to start fermenting as soon as you harvest or buy your produce or milk.
- Keep it clean. Make sure all of your tools and equipment are clean and dry before you begin. This lets the right kind of bacteria take hold, not sneaky spoilage ones.
- Give it time. Ferments are alive, just like garden-fresh produce is alive. If you’ve ever waited for a tomato to grow and ripen on the vine, you know it takes lots of time. Ferments are the same, and the slow pace at which they develop locks in their flavor and makes them safe to eat. This could mean hours, such as with bread. Or it could mean months to years, such as for Parmesan Reggiano. Being patient is the hardest part of fermenting foods.