Monday, January 26, 2009

Why Fermentation?

I demo Zukay products pretty much every day, and I get this question all the time. Because, why would you ferment a perfectly good salsa?

The original answer, figured out in the hoary pre-historic caveman times, was because it preserves the food for a long time without any real refrigeration. It was how people kept alive from harvest to harvest, because in many places (certainly where my ancestors are from), there ain't much growing out of the ground in January. But we have refrigeration now, so that doesn't matter much to people any more. For most people, eating asparagus in November or green beans in March doesn't strike anyone as unusual (but more on that later).

Of more concern to us are the health benefits of fermented goodies. Though they had no idea of WHY these foods made them healthier, they knew something made them easier to digest and increased their strength. And here's why:

Fermented foods have been found to do the following:
  • Since they're all raw, the foods have all their vitamins, antioxidants and enzymes
  • The process actually MAKES vitamins and antioxidants (my understanding is that they are both by-products of the eating of the sugars and starches by the bacteria, as well as the actual dead bodies of the bacteria themselves)
  • Some of the antioxidants, especially isothiocyanates, have been shown to have some anti-cancer effects (though I am by no means suggesting that fermented foods cure cancer or anything like that)
  • The process makes the vitamins and minerals that are in the product easier for your body to absorb (called "bioavailablity")
  • The foods are chock-full of probiotic Lactobacilli, which help your digestive and immune health (assuming you don't cook them)
  • They make the foods easier to digest (because basically, the lactobacilli "pre-digest" the starches/fibers and sugars in the foods)
  • The lactic acid that is made in the fermentation acts as a pH balancer in your digestive sysem
  • The lactic acid also drops the pH down low enough to kill off pathogenic bacteria
  • If made properly, they taste really, really good.

Check out these links to find out more. There's a lot of info out there on this:

The Life Bridge by Paul Schulick, et al: A great book by New Chapter, Amazon link below:

There's a lot of other stuff also. One of these blogs, I'll go into the health benefits of probiotics. They are many and well-documented, but there's a lot of chatter of the viability of the probiotic bacteria in the gut, which means that the studies that are out there usually only concern very specific strains that are given in pills and such. Personally (from my own empirical experience), I feel that already-acidic foods are just as effective and have greater benefits as outlined above, but that's just me. Before I go too far out on a limb, I need to do more research myself on the viability matter.

And even if it's not all true, all the time, isn't it better than dead, cooked foods filled with preservatives and sugars?

Fermentation 101 - How To

Can't have a proper fermentation blog without telling people first how to ferment stuff. Just wouldn't be right.

So, please check this link out: - it's my first try at a Fermentation 101 course. It only takes a few minutes, and it shows how easy it is to make sauerkraut and pickled daikon.

Here's how it goes:

Sauerkraut (polish style):

1 large head of cabbage (may need more)
2 tsp caraway seed
1 tbsp sea salt
Non-chlorinated water
1 Quart mason/ball jar
Large metal bowl
Potato masher
Peel off any older, discolored cabbage leaves. Cut cabbage into quarters, and thinly slice into ¼ in thin, long strips. Place all cabbage into large metal bowl, add salt and caraway seeds, and mash with potato masher until cabbage starts to expel water and becomes flat and soft (about 5 minutes of mashing). Once this is done, put cabbage into quart jar. Push down hard onto cabbage, until cabbage juice covers sauerkraut. If there is not enough liquid from the cabbage itself, add non-chlorinated water until cabbage is fully covered. Close lid tightly and allow to sit at room temperature for at least 1 week, and up to 6 weeks for full flavor.

Note: Give at least one inch of space at top of jar to allow for expansion from gassing from fermentation.

PICKLED DAIKON (my version - not a classic Japanese version by any means)

2 lb. fresh Daikon root
2 tbsp sea salt
1 tsp freshly ground coriander
1 tsp freshly ground allspice
½ tsp freshly ground pepper
Fresh, non-chlorinated water
Mandolin Knife
Wood or metal bowl
Potato Masher
Quart Mason/Ball Jar

Using sharp knife, or, preferably, mandolin cutter, slice daikon into ¼ - 1/8” thin slices. Julienne slices about ½” wide. Place pieces into a wooden or metal bowl, and add salt and spices.
Mix everything around in the bowl. Once everything is mixed, mash with a potato masher until juices start to flow from daikon, and daikon becomes slightly transparent. Put all daikon into a quart-sized mason jar, and push down with fingers or mallet until juice covers daikon mixture. If there is not enough juice, add water until everything is covered. Cover tightly, and place in a warm area in the kitchen for 14 days, at least. Product is ready when significant bubbling occurs, but a longer ferment decreases the sulfury taste you will get at the start. It also decreases the stink of the ferment. And believe me, young pickled daikon is pretty stinky. But like cheese, stinky is good, no?

For less salt usage: Replace 1 tbsp salt with 2 tbsp raw whey or 1 packet yo’gourmet.

I'll have photos added real soon! But you can see all this on the link -
Why does fermentation consume someone? Of all things to immerse yourself in, it's a unique activity, and not one I expected to be involved in when I was a kid. Oh well. I long ago stopped trying to figure myself out anyway.
So starts this blog. My goal with this blog is to bring the tremendous health benefits of natural fermentation back into our general culture. We've lost so much of our traditional, ancestral food knowledge, and it's about time someone brought it back - BUT IN A WAY THAT MAKES SENSE FOR OUR CULTURE.
Because that's what it's all about. If you can't use it easily, you probably won't. Fermenting food will never be as easy as ripping open a pop tart, but we can try. For the sake of our population, we need to.
So what will this blog talk about?
Fermented veggies, meats, dairy, and beverages.
Any kind of health food news or information I want to add.
Alcoholic fermentation - not that I have anything at all against alcohol, but it's a different world altogether, and probably doesn't belong in a blog about health food.
Politics - which are poisonous to being with.
Regular food recipes - there are enough magnificent blogs (many of which I will have links to) about just cooking. We love to cook to, but fermenting is my life, as weird as it may be -

So come get your ferment on!