Why You Should Start Making Your Own Fermented Foods
Fermented foods are a healthy addition to any meal. In this post, Stephanie will make the case for including them in your diet, making your own and my favourite ones to eat and how.
What are fermented foods?
Like most people, I’m guessing, I grew up unwilling to eat foods with complex flavours, I wouldn’t have gone near fermented foods. To be fair, I was only really exposed to that sad, dull sauerkraut found on grocery store shelves and overly sweet yogurt. It wasn’t until I moved to Korea for a year and started eating kimchi nonstop that I started to pay attention to raw fermented foods. I had the opportunity to learn how to make kimchi and since coming home, I’ve been making a huge batch every few months, adjusting the recipe I was given to remove the seafood. Then the kombucha trend started and “raw, “live”, “probiotic-rich” foods seemed to be everywhere. What started as a means to preserve food without refrigeration centuries ago has returned as a major player in the health foods trend in Western societies.
From what I understand, you could ferment pretty much any vegetable if you’re up for trying something new. Though many people are familiar with fermented foods such as yogurt, beer and wine, several other fermented products have come into the spotlight in Western countries in recent years such as raw sauerkraut, kimchi, sourdough bread, kombucha, miso and tempeh. There are dozens of other fermented products that are staples in traditional cuisines, but not all of them have gained the same international attention.
I’d like to just quickly mention the difference between fermented and pickled foods. Though they are both good methods of long-term storage, they involve different processes and have different results and benefits. To simplify, fermentation involves the consumption and transformation of sugars and carbohydrates by existing bacteria on food that then produces a substance that will preserve it. Pickles, however, use a brine (i.e. salty water) or acid (i.e. vinegar) to preserve food and sterilizes it to ensure bacteria does not grow.
Why you should eat fermented foods?
A quick internet search will produce a long list of benefits to eating fermented foods regularly. The probiotics grown during fermentation are a form of beneficial bacteria that are necessary for diversifying your gut microbiome. Though they are not all fully understood, some of the benefits to this may include better digestion, healthier skin, immune system boosts and weight loss/maintenance. It’s important to pay attention to the types of fermented foods that you’re consuming though. Each one will have different qualities and a variety of vitamins, but some can be high in sodium while others such as beer and cheese aren’t exactly “health foods”. Cooking them at high temperatures will also kill off a lot of the probiotics, so it is important to consider how you will consume them if you want to experience these benefits.
Apart from the potential health effects, fermenting foods is also a great way to reduce food waste. These types of foods will usually last a very long time, making it easy to justify buying bulk produce for fermenting. Converting your veggies into fermented food is a great way to extend their life and ensure you have your favourite local produce to eat throughout the colder months. This long life also means that there is a lower risk of spoilage before you eat them, even if they get lost at the back of the fridge and you find them months later (I’ve definitely forgotten half used jars of kimchi only to find it even better tasting several months later).
Making your own or buying local
Now that I’ve hopefully convinced you to include more fermented foods in your diet, I’ll dive into how to be smart about purchasing and making fermented foods.
These days many local producers are offering raw, fermented foods. They’re fairly easy to find, even in big grocery stores. Though some, such as kimchi, sauerkraut and yogurt, can be found in glass jars that can be reused, there are still issues with this. Shipping heavy glass jars (even locally) creates a higher carbon footprint, and there is often still a small plastic strip around the lid. Also, let’s be honest, there is a limit to how many used glass jars you can keep in your cupboards and many of us probably have way more than we’ll ever realistically need. Though supporting small, local businesses is always important, their products can be pretty expensive which isn’t sustainable for all shoppers. I spend so much money on my favourite sauerkraut because I go through it like crazy and I don’t know why I never got around to making my own until recently. To find a happy middle, I recommend making your own fermented foods if you have the time and purchasing the raw ingredients from local suppliers where possible. If you prefer to start by buying fermented food, make sure to look in the fridges and not for the shelf-stable, pasteurized versions that have killed all the good bacteria. I do still buy the ones I have yet to master making, Kamosu Miso and Juniper Farms are some local brands I've found and enjoyed in Ottawa.
My favourite ways to use fermented foods
That special tangy, salty flavour that is found in a lot of fermented foods is my favourite flavour. This is why I’ve been trying to make more of them on my own recently. Like many others, I got a sourdough starter going near the beginning on the pandemic, so I’d be able to make my own bread and crackers at home. I used this recipe for my starter and I’ve been using these recipes for bread and crackers. My next adventures will be to attempt making tempeh and kombucha.
There are tons of ways to use fermented vegetables but my favourite is to just make a big salad with whatever greens and veggies I have in my fridge, a grain like quinoa or barley, some hummus, pumpkin seeds and a big pile of sauerkraut or kimchi. I also found a great recipe recently for some miso tofu, but I skip the final step of frying it and just add the tofu into my salads. There are so many creative ways to add fermented foods into your diets, all it takes is a bit of research and openness.
If you’re interested in learning more about fermentation, Stop Trashing It will be hosting a webinar workshop on fermenting and pickling near the end of October. You’ll learn the specifics of these preservation techniques and find motivation for starting yourself! Be sure to follow our social media pages for more details on this coming soon!
Stephanie is a Geography student that spends too much time listening to eco podcasts and audiobooks. She has recently been working on taking better advantage of her free time by finding creative ways to reduce both food waste and packaging in her cooking.