I was 6 when I first experienced fermented foods. Our back garage housed different wooden barrels where my granddad made sauerkraut. He chopped the cabbages grown in the garden and we layered them with salt and water. On top of the barrels, we would fit wooden planks held by heavy stones. Over the next few weeks, we would check the mixture at regular intervals making sure it was all progressing well while removing rotten and mouldy bits. When ready, the sauerkraut would be rinsed to remove the salt and then eaten. Of course, sauerkraut is delicious raw but living near the Alsace region, Choucroute was the preferred dish.
For thousands of years and in many cultures, fermentation has helped to preserve food as yeasts and bacteria turn sugars into acids, gases or alcohol. It is also an essential step in making everyday products such as beer, wine, chocolate, cheese, coffee, yoghurt etc…
Why eating fermented foods is so important to our health?
While our ancestors used fermenting methods to preserve, today we know that fermented foods and probiotics play a vital role in preserving the health of our most important defence system: the gut.
Our gut is a highly under-rated organ yet so critical to our wellbeing. Home to trillions of bacteria, it protects us from harmful pathogens, boosting our immune system to help us fight bugs, diseases and inflammation. Research has shown that different diets create different gut flora as well as a strong connection between our gut and moods. I like to think of it as a balanced ecosystem that needs to be nourished with a diversity of food and fibre.
“Homemade” fermented foods is a great way to help build up our gut biodiversity known as microbiota. Why is homemade better? Simply because storebought fermented food has usually gone through some pasteurisation process which kills bacteria our gut so desperately need.
Below you’ll find 7 fermented foods with recipe and guide links so you can make them at home. I hope you enjoy experimenting with them.
Sauerkraut – probably one of the easiest fermented food to make, sauerkraut is a good introduction to fermentation. Get started with this recipe from The Kitchn
Kefir – one of the oldest milk ferment, kefir is enjoying a renaissance of popularity as it contains a wider range of probiotic bacteria and yeast than yoghurt. See this step-by-step guide from The Instructables for making your own kefir.
Kombucha – another great source of probiotic bacteria and yeast that you can make at home with this guide from The Kitchn.
Ginger Beer – bursting with beneficial microorganisms and delicious to drink, homemade ginger beer will delight your tastebuds and your gut!
Cheese – try making cheese at home with these recipes from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Makes a really good weekend project!
Sourdough Bread – since reading Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan I have become obsessed with sourdough. It takes a bit of patience and dedication but is so worth it. Here is a link to the recipe included in Pollan’s book.