Fermented foods are having a moment. They might not be all that pretty, and the flavour is somewhat divisive, but they’re popping up on menus all over Melbourne. Just ask Simone Egger, editor of The Age’s Good Food Under $30 (formerly Cheap Eats), who jokes, “I can’t remember a time when two-week old cabbage was more desirable that it is today.” Be it sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh or miso, the art of fermentation is on the rise, and here’s what you need to know:
- Fermentation is not a trend: The process of fermentation occurs naturally, and has been used for food preservation and production for thousands of years. The breakdown of carbohydrates and proteins via microorganisms like yeast, mould and bacteria is responsible for many of the foods and beverages you probably already eat and love – think bread, cheese, beer, wine, soy sauce and yoghurt.
- Fermented foods are full of bacteria: GOOD bacteria! Although bacteria and food aren’t generally a good combination, most people are aware now of the benefits of healthy bacteria (probiotics) for the gut and immune system. Probiotics undoubtedly conjure up images of yoghurt and dairy foods, and although these are great sources of healthy live cultures, you may be surprised to know that other classic ferments like sauerkraut and the Korean staple kimchi, as well as meat free protein sources like tofu and tempeh, are also full of them.
- They come with some interesting health benefits: Other than the well documented connection between probiotic consumption and the treatment of diarrhoea and potentially irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), evidence is emerging to suggest that the consumption of fermented foods may be beneficial for conditions like obesity and mood disorders.
- They’re smart, economical and savvy. Fermentation is a way of preserving food and is a great money-saving solution, as well as a means of avoiding food waste. There’s also something to be said for the idea of getting back to our roots and bringing back the fermenting crocks of yesteryear. Sandor Katz, the self-proclaimed ‘fermentation revivalist’, couldn’t agree more: “Our food has become decontextualised and people are craving to recontextualise their food, to become more deeply connected to the sources of their food. Fermentation is such an important part of that.”
- It’s not difficult to make fermented foods at home. Sauerkraut is the best place to start. All you need is cabbage, salt, and a jar to store it in. Here’s a simple recipe from The Kitchn to get you started.