Fermentation is kind of awesome.
During fermentation natural yeasts and bacteria break carbohydrates down into alcohols and acids.
Did you know that a third of the foods we eat are a result of fermentation? Beer, wine, ketchup, hot sauce, salami, cheese, yogurt, sauerkraut, soy sauce, chocolate (!) are just a few.
For a long time we’ve raged war on yeasts and, especially, bacteria. We kill them with cleaners and sanitizers, afraid of the small percentage that threatens our wellbeing. It’s true, there are some nasty bugs out there that we should take seriously, but a majority of the invisible organisms living in the air around us are harmless and, we’re now realizing, very good for us.
There are a lot of organisms in the air and there are also a lot of them in our bodies, mainly our stomachs. We call the community of bacteria in our digestive tracts our “microbiome.” A healthy microbiome helps us digest foods, boosts our immune system, and keeps out nasty bugs. Feeding our microbiome with fermented foods that are probiotic rich is proving to be extremely beneficial to our health and well-being. Also, fermented foods are delicious.
Lately our kitchen has looked a lot like a science fair lab. We’ve been experimenting. I’ve made my own yogurt and kombucha for over a year now, but new projects like sourdough and beer have made their way into our repertoire. Here are a few pictures from our science adventures.
Most of these projects are far easier than you would think. You should try one! There’s not much to lose. You’ll definitely learn something and, with the right mindset, have a blast.
NOTE: This post lacks recipes, but if you’re itching to try one, shoot me a message and I’ll post the details!
You may have had store-bought kombucha before, and you may hate it or swear by it. Homemade kombucha is nothing like store-bought. I don’t flavor it, some people do. I think the plain-jane is so incredibly delicious and satisfying that additives seem unnecessary.
Once you’ve got a SCOBY, the nasty looking thing from the first picture above, making kombucha couldn’t be easier. All you do is boil water, add sugar and tea, let it cool, and pour it in with the SCOBY for a week. Simple.
SCOBY stands for “symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast.” The SCOBY eats the sugar and tea throughout the week, slowly turning it into probiotic-rich kombucha.
The hard part is getting a SCOBY. Once you’ve got one it regularly “births,” doubling to make a SCOBY you throw out or give away. I would recommend asking around, if you can’t find one from a friend then rumor has it the internet sells them or theoretically you can make one with wild yeast, but I have yet to try it.
This is more David’s project. I won’t pretend to know how it works. Last week he completed his first batch (I’m drinking one right now). Apparently he learned a lot of lessons during this first go (it’s very bitter, which is a plus if you’re an IBU fan). It was a really cool project to watch though. He bought the materials online here for relatively cheap, and now all he needs is the brew ingredients to do it again. The wait time is about four weeks (two for fermentation, then two to carbonize after bottling).
We were inspired to try sourdough after watching Michael Pollen’s Cooked episode on wild yeasts (check Netflix, it’s a great four part series). We’ve been baking bread for a long time now (or rather David has), but the recipe we use contains store bought yeast. Sourdough is made with a starter. A starter is essentially a yeast concoction you grow over the course of a week by continually mixing water and flour, enticing wild yeast in the air around you to come and feast on it. Once you’ve grown the starter you use it to leaven the bread. Our first try at baking with our starter may have been preemptive, it didn’t rise as much as expected. It was still delicious though and we can’t wait to try again.
Right now we aren’t actively making sauerkraut, mostly because we don’t have good cabbage (and you need good, local cabbage because the bacteria you need live on the leaves). The picture above is of sauerkraut our landlords gave us that they made last fall. Last year when we lived in Pennsylvania we made several batches. The process is simple, you chop up cabbage, add salt, and immerse the cabbage in its own brine for a couple weeks in a cool, dark place. The batches that succeeded were positively addicting. A few batches didn’t quite make it, probably because the apartment was harboring molds that interfered with the yummy bacteria.
Last but certainly not least is yogurt. God I love yogurt. I love it so much because I can eat it. I’m lactose intolerant so I can’t drink milk or eat cheese. Yogurt, however, contains the lactose enzymes my stomach needs to break down the yogurt in my stomach leaving me with no problems. I haven’t made any since moving because to make good homemade yogurt you good milk. I prefer local, raw milk which is plentiful in Pennsylvania but absurdly expensive in Colorado. Raw milk contains the yeasts and bacteria needed to convert the milk into yogurt. All you need is a little yogurt to start (because it replicates itself). You heat up the milk, cool it down, add the yogurt starter, and then keep the milk warm for several hours (in a cooler or dehydrator) to incubate the little buggers so they get busy converting the milk. I wish I had pictures, but alas I don’t.
Through experimenting with fermentation I’ve re-experienced my childhood curiosity in science. You test, learn, and if you’re lucky, reap the rewards – but when you do, it’s so worth it. The sense of accomplishment you receive from successfully mastering the “magic” as Pollen calls it, is beyond words.
NOTE: Mold is something to be aware of. If your apartment or house is prone to it just be a little bit more careful. It’s unlikely you’d get sick fermenting anything but if it doesn’t taste right, don’t eat it.