So I have been actively fermenting stuff for several months now, and have to say I am hooked on it. My first culture baby was my sourdough – after being inspired to make bread and discovering a sourdough loaf was one of the easiest on your gut.
The sourdough experience was admittedly a nerve wracking one. I kept thinking, “How the heck do I know I’m not going to get bread mold disease or some other such horrific ailment after ingesting whatever grows in here?” My starter went through a phase of smelling like feet, where I almost threw it out, didn’t seem to be bubbling as fast as I would like – and then eventually, magically, as I kept “feeding” it, it ended up smelling like a yeasty sourdough loaf, and frothing like a champ.
And I must say, the sourdough bread that followed was amazeballs. And it was easier on my digestion. I have problems with yeast in my gut and did not find the sourdough to aggravate the issue (read: bloating, etc), in fact it was the opposite. No indigestion there. Oh, and hubs was thrilled to have freshly baking bread.
Oh, and you can even make sourdough pancakes (omit the oil, please)!
So why should you feel safe to ferment your own foods at home? Isn’t there a risk of contamination? Well, yes, sure there is. But most fermenting forums and web tutorials will give you some very clear warning signs as to when you should be concerned about what you are brewing. Say, for example, had my sourdough developed black or green spots or a fuzzy layer. Garbaaage. (Some people say to scrape it off, but let’s ply the safe game here, shall we?). If that smelly foot taint never wore off – garbaaaage. But if it looks, smells like, and has whatever consistency your recipe tells you it is going for, you should be good. Spoilage of your ferments is rarely a devious process – it usually slaps you in the face (although there are some issues that may come up with a few trickier ferments that you should study your tutorials carefully for). And guess what, there is a risk of contamination of regular stuff in your fridge, too. And when you go out to eat. So although frightening at first, it’s important to remember that humans have been fermenting successfully for thousands of years.
Although I really have to say I am still very intimidated by the smell of my first batch of sauerkraut. It really just smells like farts. I am really looking forward to moving on from this phase.
But don’t let the weird smell phases of your ferments startle you. Often times a ferment needs to cycle through the die-off of another microorganism before the proper one(s) have enough oomph to get growing well. If the bad smell doesn’t cycle away, but don’t let it dissuade you just yet 😉
So why should you be eating fermented foods? They are amazing for gut health! You know the ever overused term probiotics that’s been thrown around by many a company these days? Well, ferments are the gosh darn source of these healthy gut flora. Your gut flora help to keep your immune system functioning at peak level, and they also aid in nutrient absorption and vitamin production. When they get out of whack, a great deal of health problems can occur. Buying probiotics in a bottle? Somebody cultured something somewhere to make them. Eating yogurt? Yup, that’s a fermented food!
One other thing to be mindful of: storebought ferments like yogurt are, more often than not, pasteurized to remove some of your contamination risk. But this process also removes a lot (if not arguably, all, according to some) of the healthy culture. So when you brew your own ferments at home, you are getting way more of the healthy probiotics that keep your intestines running smoothly. Literally. Having issues with constipation, chronic indigestion, bloating, gas? Cravings for sugars, carbs, the like? Battling a bacteria or virus that is getting chronic? You could do with some ferments to kickstart your gut flora back into proper health. And guess what, it’s waaayyyy cheaper than those expensive probiotic bottles in your health food store (especially if you are buying the higher quality supplements like Udo’s).
Oh, and did I mention that fermented foods are just really YUMMY?
My favourites? I have to say, to date, my favourite fermented foods have been the fermented beverages I have made, especially kombucha. They are naturally fizzy and very delicious! I am going for some good old fashioned root beer next. The ones made with tea (like kombucha) sure give you a kick in the morning – no coffee needed!
Feel like getting started? Here are some great recipes for you to begin with:
Kombucha brewing – The Kitchn
Sourdough Starter – The Kitchn (can use rye flour in same quantities)
Ginger Bug for homemade soda – Nourished Kitchen
For troubleshooting, I strongly recommend:
FB group “Wild Fermentation”
Cultures for Health
General supplies you may need to start off:
Cheesecloth, coffee filters, or stretchy, finely woven cotton material for covering brews that need to be open to the air (to prevent flies and such om getting in).
Some wooden or plastic utensils to stir your cultures with (do not stir with metal utensils).
FIDO jars like these ones
Growler bottles for fermented drinks
……and other large GLASS or CERAMIC (no metal, it interferes with your brew) containers for big brews. I suggest places like Home Sense for these if you can’t find some second hand. Beware of antique ceramics, as they may contain glazes with a high lead content.
If you are PREGNANT: A little warning not to delve into fermenting if you have not previously eaten much in the way of cultured foods prior to your pregnancy. Rarely, allergic reactions to certain cultures may occur. Also, your guts may be overwhelmed by the new copious amounts of microorganisms, which might lead to temporary digestive upset or loose stools. As pregnancy already comes with it’s own digestive issues, you might want to wait to see what your reaction is until baby is here. Better to be safe, IMO!
I hope that helped explain the benefits of culturing your food, and that you are keen to start on your own journey! Local kitchen stores and restaurants often do fermenting workshops as well, which may be worth checking out if you are more of an observational learner. Good luck fermenting!