Learn how to ferment foods at home
Even though it’s an ancient practice which has been around since 6000BC, food fermentation has recently become popular and trendy. Fermented foods and drinks are now available in supermarkets and cafes, and celebrities have been sharing their love for fermented drinks like kombucha.
In this beginner’s guide to food fermentation, learn what fermented foods are, the health benefits of including them in your diet and how to ferment foods easily at home.
What are fermented foods?
Food fermentation is a means of preserving foods and creating an environment in which the good bacteria in the food can multiply. Fruits and vegetables contain naturally occurring bacteria (lactobacilli) which is beneficial for the gut.
During the fermentation process, bacteria and yeast break down the carbohydrates and sugars in the food and turn them into an organic acid, alcohol or gas. For this to happen, there needs to be sufficient sugar in the vegetable or fruit being fermented; adequate salt
needs to be used and the temperature should be set at 18 – 20 degrees Celsius or 65 – 72 Fahrenheit.
When foods are fermented, the texture changes, intensifying and enhancing its flavours and aroma. The nutritional value of the food increases and it becomes more digestible.
Health benefits of fermented foods
Eating fermented foods provides numerous health benefits, including:
- Improving digestion by boosting the beneficial bacteria in your gut. Fermented foods work like probiotics, helping to balance gut flora and fight off pathogenic bacteria. Fermented foods are already predigested as part of the fermentation process which makes them easier to digest.
- Helps prevent bloating and gas by balancing your gut flora. When your gut bacteria become imbalanced and there is an overgrowth of “bad” bacteria, bloating and gas occur.
- Regulating blood sugar levels by improving the way the body responds to insulin. Gut bacteria produce a compound called butyrate which not only helps control inflammation, it also positively impacts insulin sensitivity.
- Boosting immune function. 80% of the immune system resides in the gut so healthy gut bacteria promotes a healthy immune system.
- Supports stomach acid production.Fermented foods work like digestive enzymes as they help you break down and digest foods better. They also promote peristalsis which is the muscle contraction that occurs to move food through the digestive tract.
- Increases production and absorption of nutrients. The microorganisms in fermented foods help the body make and absorb vitamins and nutrients, especially the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Fermenting vegetables also increases the vitamin C and B-vitamins in the food.
- Helps detox the body as fermented foods work as excellent chelators which means they are good at drawing out heavy metals.
How to ferment foods
Here are a few tips on fermenting foods at home:
- Tip 1: Clean andsterilise your glass jars. Ensure the lids are sealed so they are air tight when closed. Sterilise your jars in the oven for 15 minutes at a temperature of 180C or 160C if you have a fan oven.
- Tip 2: Wash and prepare your vegetables; chop finely or shred. Use vegetables like cabbage, carrots, peppers, onions, beetroot and radishes.
- Tip 3: Prepare a brine using 1 tbsp of sea salt per cup of water.
- Tip 4: Take a Natural Chef fermentation workshop to learn more about food fermentation and get some delicious recipes.
This Super Kraut recipe has been provided by Natural Chef student Bhavjot Ahluwalia.
Fresh ginger, turmeric and green black peppercorns combine to make this delicious and nutritious fermented dry kraut. Fermenting cabbage with daikon radish or mooli (as it’s commonly known in India and Japan), turns simple ingredients into powerful probiotics. Mixed spices add a delicious, zesty flavour. All ingredients have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Use organic vegetables wherever possible.
Tip: Be aware that turmeric stains hands and equipment. You can wear kitchen gloves to avoid staining.
- 1kg White cabbage
- 200g Daikon radish / mooli
- 2 small pieces of fresh turmeric (1.5 inches each)
- Small piece of fresh ginger (1.5 inches)
- 1 tbsp sea salt
- 1 tbsp fresh green black peppercorns (available from south Asian supermarkets)
- 1 tbsp mixed seeds (mustard, fennel, nigella, fenugreek) *optional
This recipe makes 1.5 litres.
- Take off the outer leaves of the cabbage and keep them aside.
- Wash the mooli, turmeric, ginger and the fresh green black peppercorns.
- Finely grate or cut the cabbage into thin long slices.
- Finely grate or cut the mooli into thin long slices.
- Grate the fresh turmeric and ginger.
- Pour all the grated vegetables including the turmeric and ginger into a mixing bowl. Add salt and mix. Set aside for 15 minutes – this makes it easier to get the water out through osmosis.
- Add the mixed seeds to the mix.
- Massage the vegetables with your hands until water has collected at the bottom of the bowl and the vegetables look tender. Save the water for later. You may want to wear kitchen gloves while doing this to avoid turmeric staining your hands.
- Pack the vegetables tightly into a clean fermentation jar. Add the water released from the massaging into the jar. Make sure the kraut is submerged under the water. You may need to pound the vegetables down to achieve this.
- Leave at least 2 inches or 6cm of space from the surface of the lid of the jar for the gases to escape.
- Use the reserved outer leaves of the cabbage to cover the kraut.
- Add a weight on top of the vegetables to keep them under the water. You can use a boiled and cleaned stone or specialistic fermentation weights.
- Leave the kraut to ferment at room temperature for 2-3 weeks. Fermentation happens quicker if it’s warmer.
- Regularly check that the vegetables are underneath the water.
- “Burp” your kraut by opening the lid for a few seconds once a day to keep the gases out.
- After 2-3 weeks, move the ferment to the fridge where it will keep for at least 6 months.
Allergy advice: None
Source: Adopted from a recipe by Asa Simonsson, ‘Fermentation’.
Boost your health with fermented foods
Adding fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi to your diet is very beneficial for your health; they promote healthy gut bacteria, improve the absorption of nutrients and boost your immune system. Fermenting foods at home is simple and easy, and you don’t need expensive equipment. All you need is some jars with sealed lids, sea salt and fresh vegetables. Happy fermenting!