Focus on FermentingJune 29, 2017
Fiery, colourful kimchi. Crunchy, tangy sauerkraut. Probiotic-rich kefir. Fermented food is popping up on menus everywhere, with even Rene Redzepi – head chef at Noma, frequent winner of the best restaurant in the world – saying that fermented foods are set to ‘become a huge factor in cooking.’
But you don’t need to be a Michelin-starred chef to start making fermented foods at home. For a basic sauerkraut, the only ingredients you need are cabbage and salt. It’s really that simple. And if you use one of our special fermentation jars, it’s foolproof, too. Experiment with different combinations of vegetables, fruits and spices and a whole world of interesting flavours and textures opens up.
What is fermentation?
There’s nothing new about fermenting. It’s an age-old method of preserving food. And before refrigeration, it was the best way of extending the life of all kinds of perishable food. At its most basic, you combine your fresh vegetables with salt, pack them into airtight containers and wait. Good bacteria that is naturally present on the vegetables’ skins eats the sugars and any bad bacteria and transforms the vegetables. The longer you leave them fermenting, the more intense, and delicious, the flavour. Many of the foods we eat every day have undergone a fermentation process – sourdough bread, soy sauce, yoghurt and, of course, beer and wine. So there’s really nothing to be scared of.
What does the salt do?
Massaging salt into your vegetables helps to pull the liquid out of them and creates a natural brine that provides the ideal environment for good bacteria (lactobacillus) to grow and bad bacteria to die off. But it’s important to use the right ratio of salt to vegetables. Too little salt will slow down the process and attract mould. Too much, and the good bacteria won’t multiply fast enough. A rough rule of thumb is to use 25g of salt to every kilo of veg.
Gut health is a really important factor in your overall health and naturally probiotic foods like sauerkraut and kimchi can play a key role. They are thought to help kill off harmful bacteria and aid the optimal function of the immune system. The benefit of making your own fermented foods rather than buying from a shop is that your food will not be pasteurised – a process that destroys most of the beneficial bacteria. And of course, they’ll taste better too. The Roman Emperor Tiberius always carried a bucket of sauerkraut with him on long voyages because it was easy to digest and the Romans believed that the lactic acid present helped protect against intestinal infections.
How do you do it?
If you’ve perfected pickling and mastered jam-making and are ready for a new challenge – or even if you’ve never preserved anything before – fermenting is an excellent easy way to use up fresh vegetables and create a wide range of condiments and accompaniments to a huge variety of dishes. Plus, you’ll reduce your food waste as fermented food lasts for ages, so it’ll save you money as well.
Perhaps you’ve been put off by the thought of complicated equipment, or foul-smelling concoctions with mould growing on them, or jars that explode all over the kitchen – fear not. Our specially designed airtight fermentation jars have a built-in valve that automatically releases any excess gas, meaning you don’t have to worry about remembering to ‘burp’ your jar.
Start with sauerkraut
As you combine your shredded cabbage with salt, it’ll begin to wilt and produce a brining liquid. It only takes a few minutes and it’s quite satisfying and therapeutic to get hands-on. You could sprinkle in some caraway seeds at this point to add extra flavour. Pack the cabbage and the liquid into the jar and squash it down – we used a whole cabbage to fill the small fermenting jar – top up with water (it’s important that your vegetables remain submerged to keep them from going bad), weigh them down with a cling film-covered ramekin filled with baking beans, and screw on the lid with the silicone stopper pushed down. Excess gas can then escape through the built-in valve. Check your sauerkraut regularly and when your desired flavour is reached, put it in the fridge where it will keep for months.
Oxygen is the enemy
If you’ve tried fermenting food in the past and it grew mould, smelt bad or went slimy, chances are that oxygen got to it. The beauty of our jars is that they’re airtight so oxygen can’t get in and any excess gas that builds up during the fermentation process is automatically released via the one-way valve, so you really can’t go wrong.
We’ve enlisted the help of food writer Gerard Baker to put together a few simple but flavour-packed recipes to give you some inspiration and help you get started! Sauerkraut – Home-made Sauerkraut has a crunch and a pleasing, mild acidity that is very much superior to the shop bought versions. Kimchi – a pungent cabbage pickle from Korea that has a real kick and is very addictive! And delicious Fermented Carrot & Ginger.