Why do we ferment?!
Updated: Jul 24
We ferment all sorts of things here at The Odd Gumnut - yogurt, dosa, veggies into pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, our own alcoholic ginger beer, sourdough, kombucha etc etc etc.
I wanted to share our conversation and spread a bit of our fermentation knowledge to you! Let's get right into it!
"Remind me, why do we ferment things?"
"What a great place to start! We ferment things a couple very important reasons. Fermentation transforms food through living yeasts and bacteria, either to preserve it or to glean out its nutrition.
Firstly is the power of preservation. A cabbage harvest that would only stay fresh for up to 2 weeks is fermented (with just salt!) into sauerkraut and made edible and delicious for months and months and months. This has been critical to human survival throughout history when the bountiful autumn harvest is followed by several cold barren winter months. Wooden barrels of sauerkraut gave cold-weather populations the necessary vitamin C to survive winters with frozen farmlands.
Dissolving anti-nutrients is the second reason we ferment. All grains, seeds and nuts contain phytic acid, a potent anti-nutrient that blocks our body from uptaking minerals and vitamins. All traditional diets include myriad grain ferments! Our ancestors understood the intricacies of food interactions and used bacteria and yeast to ‘predigest’ grains crops, making their nutrients bio-available for human uptake. Our modern diets of processed pav, biscuits and Maggi noodles are full of phytic acid, reeking havoc on our digestive systems, leaving them inflamed and bloated and unable to access sufficient nutrients. If families returned to fermentation, we would radically change the overall health of the population.
Finally, we ferment foods because they taste good! Something ordinary becomes extraordinary and lights up our taste buds! Fermentation can transform basic meals to umami-rich gourmet experiences. Could you imagine life without cheese, chocolate, coffee, tea and beer?"
"Sauerkraut vs. Pickles. vs. Kimchi : How does fermentation vary across cultures and cuisines?"
"Food is the expression of our cultural identities; it bonds us to the land and yokes us to the seasons! There is not a corner of the world that doesn’t ferment. The Inuit people of the Arctic fermented fish and walrus meat caught in the summer to ensure winter survival; Italian’s famously ferment salami and cheese and olives for preservation and flavor; Sudanese ferment sorghum (jowar) in many ways to maximize its nutritional benefit, and on and on!
There are endless ways to ferment endless things – the variation across cultures is a reflection of all the unique factors that create a place: weather, water, plant and animal varieties, seasons and temperatures. Like many mainstays of culture, different fermentation styles were likely born from need & necessity and later evolved into rich cultural land-based identity."
Ayushi: "Is Sourdough a ferment?"
"Yes, absolutely! A sourdough starter, simply water and flour, becomes a ‘hotel’ for the wild yeast in the air to check in to. Each starter will have its own unique make up because of the variation in local yeast populations – San Francisco has its’ favourably tasting marine yeast strains to thank for its worldwide sourdough fame! Yeast and lactic acid work in tandem to pre-digest the phytic acid and glutens present in the wheat, this important work makes sourdough bread digestible and genuinely nourishing for our whole body."
"OK, let's get started. What are your tips for fermenting at home going beyond our Indian achaars?"
"The easiest place to start is simple lactic acid vegetable ferments, you can really impress your friends and family with these tangy condiments on the table.
My summer favorites, however, are homemade all-natural sodas! They’re completely customizable – choose your sweetener (honey, jaggery, sugar etc), your level of sweetness, and your flavor, which can range from watermelon to lemongrass or any other botanical. Even simple vanilla extract transforms into cream soda. The key here is that you need a ‘mother culture’ to kick off and guide fermentation. You can use whey from a raw milk yogurt ferment, but the easiest to start a ‘ginger bug’, harnessing the natural yeast present on ginger skins.
To make a ginger bug, take a glass jar and fill it part way with water. Every day, add a little fresh grated ginger, with the skin, and a little sugar. Don’t stress on the measurements, just think about a tsp. each. Give your bug a very good stir. Keep stirring and feeding and after 3-4 days you will have something bubbly and active and ready for soda-making!
Flavor and sweeten your water base however you like and add the ginger bug, working the whole time at room temperature. You will need about a ¼ ginger bug per litre of soda you’re fermenting. Leave your mixture to ferment for 1-2 days, stirring occasionally and covered with a cloth lid, and then bottle it in pop-top bottles. Leave those bottles to pressurize (carbonate) over another 1-2 days, then move the fridge to chill and enjoy! So much fun for whole family."
Thanks for reading ya'll!
If you have any questions on ferments, shoot us an email! The real bible of fermentation is from avid-fermenter Sander Katz and his work The Art of Fermentation.
We have an upcoming workshops on 'EASY HOME FERMENTS' on 28th May 3:30-5:00 pm India Standard Time. Available for booking here.