What's The Deal With Fermented Foods?

Fermented foods do a body good. Scientists think that the live cultures present in fermented foods and drinks may contribute to the health of the microbiome in our digestive systems, reducing the risk of diseases and potentially boosting the immune system. Probiotics have also proven beneficial to children experiencing negative side effects from antibiotics and to those suffering from Crohn's disease and irritable bowel syndrome. Lactic acid fermentation (used to make sauerkraut and kimchi, among other foods) is the result of Lactobacillus, a naturally forming bacteria which consumes sugars and produces lactic acid. The fermentative byproducts which result from this process have been shown to enhance the digestibility and nutritional value of vegetables and, in some cases, to increase the body’s absorption of iron and zinc.

Fermented foods are also an edible link to our humanity—nearly every human culture on earth has produced their own. Not only are many of the world’s most ancient celebrations organized around fermented foods like wine and bread, they are at the heart of many world religions past and present. Is it any wonder? For thousands of years, fermentation was one of the only methods humans had for preserving fresh foods. For this reason, fermentation is closely linked to the seasons, to stability and the harvest, to food security, and to life itself.  As Sandor Katz, a leading proponent of the health benefits of fermented foods stated in an interview: “Humans did not invent or create fermentation. It would be more accurate to state that fermentation created us.”

While commercially fermented foods are great for introducing new, sometimes challenging flavors to the palette, homemade and artisanal products boast a vastly superior nutritional profile. The reason? Most store-bought fermented food is pasteurized, meaning it’s heated to kill off up to 80% of beneficial bacteria. The result is a product with little to no beneficial nutritional value. Maybe that’s why fermenting food at home feels so therapeutic—more than a way to connect with our collective past, it’s also an act of self-care.

Although home fermentation can seem daunting, there are a few recipes ideal for beginners. One of these is kimchi, the spicy, popular Korean condiment with origins dating back thousands of years. Although any vegetable can be made into kimchi, napa cabbage is one of the more common (and delicious) options. Kimchi is made by tossing the cabbage with salt, letting stand, and rinsing. The cabbage is then mixed with gochugaru (a type of hot chili powder,) scallions, garlic, ginger, and preserved seafood, packed into a sterile jar, sealed, and allowed to ferment in a cool place between 1-5 days. Spicy, tangy, and packed with umami flavor, it’s as delicious in a simple bowl of rice as it is on a burger.

So now that you know what’s the deal with fermented foods, what are you waiting for? Our Kimchi Spice, which contains real gochugaru chiles, can be used to make classic kimchi with favorite vegetables. Just toss with salt and allow to sit for approximately 1 hour, rinse well and drain, and then rub with a paste made from stirring boiling water into Kimchi Spice. Fermentation begins during another rest at room temperature and continues at a slower pace once the kimchi is refrigerated until serving.

Elizabeth Strickland