How to ferment foods just as in grandma’s time
Have you ever wondered how to ferment foods, and what the benefits of this process are? Well, at first glance, fermentation doesn’t sound very enticing. It rather reminds of alcohol, bad odors, beer and ancient preservation.
However, fermentation is still a normal technique in our everyday food routine. We use it in order to ripen foods and also to preserve them.
The fermentation is not limited to the production of sauerkraut or beer, but generally describes a conversion of substances by bacteria, fungi or enzymes.
The production of gases, alcohol and acids in the end product or during the process, in particular in the latter, ensure the precise preservation of the edibles.
Bacteria or fungi do not always have to be added to the starting material to trigger fermentation. In many cases, the required microorganisms are already on the surface of the food.
Did you know that sourdough, in bread, simply consists of fermented flour? That’s the reason why many praise it as the healthiest dough to consume.
What initially sounds unappetizing, we actually find regularly on our table. Take, for example, black tea. The popular beverage consists of fermented leaves.
Salami also ripens only because of certain bacteria, and the sourdough in bread is nothing more than fermented flour.
The lactic acid fermentation brings us daily products on the table. We can only enjoy foods, such as yogurt, buttermilk, kefir or, quite classic, sauerkraut, for example, due to the fermentation process.
Fermentation: Traditional preservation
Before there were freezers and refrigerated warehouses, the harvest of the summer had to be preserved in such a way that the food was available even in winter and could be preserved without electricity.
Fermentation is particularly suitable for this because one does not need to heat up fermented foods and, thus, they ensure vitamin supply even during the cold winter months.
In addition, fermentation produces additional vitamins, such as vitamin C and B vitamins. Thanks to the fermentation, it is possible to fully nourish oneself with regional products.
In this manner, you have no need for imported citrus fruits and other far-traveled products. You can have access to homemade/grown wholesome foods just like they had in old times!
There’s far more behind fermented foods than the contained vitamins. Fermented vegetables are healthy, and our intestines notice that fact as well and are grateful too.
Because lactic fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kefir or yogurt promote the formation of healthy intestinal flora. This is important not only for digestion but also for our immune system.
The “pre-digestion” also makes the food easier to process. Thanks to the fermentation, we even eat foods reduced in calories due to the carbohydrates and sugars that are broken down.
Say “NO” to chemical additives
It is, therefore, worthwhile to think back to old methods of conservation and to try out at home what was everyday life for generations.
Also, keep in mind all the unhealthy additives and condiments, which you find in store-bought foods, you will cut out from your diet.
All these chemical taste enhancers and preservatives only cause inflammation and chronic diseases in the long run. Thus, you are way better off without them. That being said, let us move on with the fermentation process.
The fermentation produces acid. This is responsible for the fact that harmful bacteria, which would spoil the food, can be killed and the fermented good can no longer be subsequently affected. The environment is simply too sour for them to survive.
Fermented foods are, therefore, durable without refrigeration. It’s another benefit that you do not need electricity or space in the fridge to store your fermented supplies. This makes those edibles a great source of emergency food.
Not that we would want that, but no one has immunity against natural disasters. Thus, in case some dire situation will arise in the future, it will be relieving for you to know that you have stocked up on fermented food in the cellar or garage.
This will ascertain the proper nourishment and survival of you and your loved ones until help and new food supply arrive.
How do you ferment food?
In the past every housewife knew how to make vegetables storable by fermentation for a long time and to ensure the vitamin supply in winter.
Today the majority of people opt for frozen vegetables, tin cans or imported goods. However, it is quite easy to preserve foods, even by fermentation.
It is especially recommended to use vegetables according to the seasonal calendar. So, traditionally, whatever vegetable the harvest just brings in, you immediately preserve for the winter.
In all lactic fermented foods, the lactic acid bacteria are already on the surface of the vegetables. So you do not need starter cultures.
All you require are simply the vegetables, some salt and a jar. The fermentation process will continue within the jar, as there will not be any contact with atmospheric oxygen.
On another note, a pot in which you cover the vegetables with a plate and then weighted down by some additional weight is sufficient, as well.
The weight on the plate prevents the plate from being lifted by rising air bubbles. You can use, for example, a bowl filled with water, a large water-filled freezer bag or a container of stones or earth/sand. Please use fruits and vegetables from certified organic farming.
I’m mentioning this, because on the surface of organic foods more natural lactic acid bacteria cavort than on products from conventional agriculture.
Fermentation: Attention, smell development
Because of the odor development during the first three to four days, you should better keep the container in which the vegetables are fermenting in a closed room.
For example, in a kitchen with a door or a heated guest room, until the fermentation is complete. However, it is important that the lactic acid bacteria get their “feel-good temperature”, which only starts at 68 degrees Fahrenheit/20 degrees Celsius.
A cold balcony or cool basement is, therefore, not suitable. Only when the fermentation subsides, you can store the vessel in the basement.
Then, the ideal storage temperature lies at 59 to 64 degrees Fahrenheit or 15 to 18 degrees Celsius. At that point, you may also put your fermented foods the attic or in the stairwell.
A classic example of fermented vegetables is sauerkraut, which is easy to make yourself. I wrote a separate article about how to make your own sauerkraut and what’s the health benefits of consuming fermented foods. Please, feel free to read all about it, here:
Experiment with all the veggies you like
According to this principle, you can, furthermore, ferment other vegetables such as beetroot, Chinese cabbage, carrots, radish, green beans and tomatoes. Basically, there are no limits, and you can use what your heart desires or just grows in the garden.
Spices refine the taste; cabbage goes well with cumin, ginger with carrots, Persian cucumbers pair nicely with garlic and dill, cauliflower with onions and black peppercorns, etc… There are certainly more ideas for seasoning than preserving jars to store fermented vegetables.
Speaking of storage: Long-time ago, and in certain places still nowadays, people were using wooden barrels to ferment all kinds of vegetables and beverages, such as beers and wines.
Feel free to use yours if you’re lucky enough to have one standing around (However, make sure to cleanse it thoroughly before putting it into action). Wooden barrels are an innate flavor enhancer and bring out the best of your fermented goodies.
What can go wrong during fermentation?
Those who have not yet ventured to ferment, probably first think of the possible catastrophes that question the success. For starters, vegetables with low water content such as cabbage, carrots or beans are well suited because they cannot become soggy.
Anyone who has gained experience can switch to more succulent varieties such as cucumbers, courgettes or tomatoes. Except that the vegetables get muddy (because you have used too little salt), the following things can happen:
1- White deposits indicate that you have not worked entirely under air pressure and the yeast bacteria from the air disturb the fermentation process.
2- Lack of hygiene due to dirty containers, unwashed hands or improperly washed vegetables can lead to the spoiling of the entire fermentation material. Absolute and immaculate clean work is of the essence when fermenting! And you best use kitchen gloves.
3- It rots or molds. If you have not worked hygienically, the vegetables were not airtight underwater or the ambient temperature is so high (above 86 degrees Fahrenheit or 30 ° C). In that case, the lactic acid bacteria are not optimal, but harmful bacteria can work all the better.
4- If the cover of the glass bulges during the storage of the fermented vegetables, this is only a sign that you have turned it too tight and that the gases which are produced during the slowly ongoing maturation can not escape.
In any case, if the preserves should actually be spoiled, trust me, then you would smell it immediately. Still, this can happen to the best cook out there, so don’t let it hinder you from trying again.
You will be so proud of yourself once you’re offering your first homemade sauerkraut to your family and friends; it is totally worth the effort.
Now it’s your turn. What do you think about fermenting your own food supply? Well, I showed you how to ferment foods, so you know how it works in theory.
But, will you turn it into practice, as well? I hope so, because it can be so much fun. It doesn’t take much time and nothing dangerous can occur.
The worst that can happen is that your cabbage spoils, and you have to restart the process with a fresh one. Practice, however, leads to mastery.
The “sauerkraut master”
You, of course, will definitely be known as the “Sauerkraut master” in your circle of friends after you proudly served up your first patch.
They will all want to know your secret and come back for more. Perhaps you could even start your own homemade pickle n’ sauerkraut business? Well, as I always say “If you really want it, you got it.”
I better stop right now, as I’m getting carried away with ideas. Do, however, let me know your thoughts and experiences regarding fermenting foods. I’m definitely looking forward to your stories.
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You are my rays of sunshine, thus, keep on shining bright. ~Namaste – In Honor Of Thy Spirit, I Bow~