Fermentation is a process, where microbes like bacteria, yeast or molds break down sugars and starches into alcohols and acids.
It’s basically a way to preserve foods and as a side plus it’s adding a lot of health benefits and a special taste to those foods.
Fermentation is used since the neolithic to prepare or conserve foods. As we are getting more and more aware of the numerous health benefits of fermented foods they are getting more popular.
Many people aren’t aware of the wide range of fermented products that exist and that they have actually already eaten once or even on a regular basis. Think about foods like yogurt, wine or cheese for example.
There are three different types of fermentation:
- Lactic fermentation: Yeast strains and bacteria convert starches or sugars into lactic acid. It is used to produce yoghurt, kimchi, sauerkraut or sourdough bread.
- Alcohol fermentation: Yeasts use sugars to produce energy and the byproduct is alcohol or ethanol. This process is used for wine and beer production.
- Acetic acid fermentation: Starches and sugars from grains and fruit ferment into sour tasting vinegar and condiments. Examples are apple cider vinegar or kombucha.
So basically during fermentation there is a big growth of beneficial bacteria, so called probiotics. The most important health benefits are undoubtedly that they support a healthy gut or intestine.
In our gut we host trillions of different types of bacteria which play an incredibly important role in our life. These little guests which are technically called “microbiome” are promoting a healthy digestion, they are part of a healthy immune system, our mood, happiness and general well-being.
A healthy gut full of beneficial bacteria not only helps to breakdown and digest food properly but also to extract all of the beneficial nutrients, like vitamins and minerals. It has been shown that the production of a number of hormones happens in the gut. Some of those are highly involved in hunger, appetite, fat storage, sleep and mood. So these guys can also help to keep you in shape.
The above mentioned is just the beginning of the role our microbiome plays. It has been connected with chronic diseases such as obesity, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), diabetes mellitus, metabolic syndrome, atherosclerosis, alcoholic liver disease (ALD), nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), cirrhosis, and hepatocellular carcinoma.
This means that the type of bacteria we host there may help to prevent those diseases. If we don’t nourish the good bacteria because of a bad diet, no fiber, a lot of alcohol and unhealthy fats the bacteria population shifts from a beneficial one to a harming one. And this can contribute to the development of the above mentioned conditions.
We are just about to get aware of the vital importance of the gut bacteria and there’s a lot more to come.
As you can see eating fermented foods and like this supporting and maintaining a healthy microbiome has numerous health benefits. As we now know why we should eat fermented foods, let’s see how to prepare them.
It’s highly recommended to prepare fermented foods at home. First of all it’s not a big deal, it’s fun and most importantly it includes health promoting probiotics for sure. Store bought fermented foods often have been pasteurised which means they’ve been treated with heat which unfortunately kills the beneficial bacteria.
So far so good. Let’s have a quick look at an example so you have a better idea what it takes to make your own fermented foods at home.
An easy one: Fermented vegetables or pickles. You can use different types of vegetables, the best ones for fermentation are: cabbage, horseradish, carrots, beets, broccoli or cauliflower.
Let’s start with some usual tipps:
- Before starting it is important to sterilize your equipment and working area to keep bad bacteria out of the game. You can easily sterilize your jars in the oven by putting the previously washed jars in for about 10 minutes at 160ºC.
- Decide which type you want to try and buy the ingredients you need. We will provide you with different recipes the next few weeks so stay tuned.
- For some type of food it is necessary to buy starter cultures for the first batch, after that you can use it over and over again.
- The fermentation process is taking place in an environment without oxygen or air, so exposing your fermented foods to air can actually inhibit a proper fermentation process. To avoid that you should either use sealable storage containers, a salt solucion where you place your foods in or add vinegar for example. There are different ways for different types of foods, which are always exactly described in the recipes.
- The last parameter that affects your fermentation process is temperature. Fermentation usually works well in a warm environment. That said, when your foods have reached the desired grade of fermentation you can stop the bacteria from further replication by putting it in the fridge, where it lasts for several weeks.
…and now the actual preparation:
- Cut the veggies evenly, so all the pieces are fermented at the same rate.
- Pack them in your jar and cover with saltwater. The amount of salt is approximately 2 Tbsp. or 20g per 250ml water, which is the amount for about 3 lb of vegetables. Though it depends a lot on the veggies and your own taste so try the following days and if it tastes too salty you can pour out a bit and add unsalted water to dilute the salty taste. Here you can find a handy brine calculator. Never use tap water for your brine and also use high quality sea salt.
- The most important thing is to keep out oxygen from your mix. Use a propper airlock container jar and press the mixture firmly down to remove any oxygen and place a weight on top to keep the mixture firmly under water. If there is oxygen left, you will not see the expected results and you will also enhance the growth of bad bacteria or mold.
- Put at a warm place and let sit and ferment. Depending on the veggies you use, this will take between 2-7 days. Try the veggies after 2 day and keep trying every day to see how they taste. Once you like the taste put the jar in the fridge to stop the fermenting process.
Preparing your own fermented foods takes a bit of trial and error and practicing at the beginning. Once you find the exact ingredients, amounts and spices you like, it’s a super easy way to prepare a super beneficial vegan food at home.