My Top Five Favourite Fermented Foods (And Why You'll Love Them Too)
Fermented foods can be intimidating and unusual at first glance (or smell), but don't forget that here in Australia we consume ferments often on a daily basis! Food and drink like sourdough bread, beer, wine, soy sauce, cheese, yoghurt and even kombucha are common in many households these days and are all a product of some fermentation process.
Fermentation is a series of biological reactions that generally converts carbohydrates (sugars) into by-products, preserving food and changing it's small/flavour/texture in the process. Using yeast, fungus or bacteria, different combinations and types of alcohol and acids are produced, plus some carbon dioxide gas. The process lends itself to preservation, creating an environment where undesirable ("bad") organisms don't like to grow, while partially digesting the product being fermented, often making it much easier for us to digest.
I have been eating and craving ferments for years - once you start tasting things and adapt to the range of sour-but-salty, fizzy-but-delicate flavours and textures, your brains (both your head and your gut!) start to crave and love them! I make most of my own ferments, occasionally buying some for novelty or to save time where some products take years to create. Here's a list of my top five favourite ferments to buy or make, and why I love them!
No surprises here. Booch is the first ferment I learned to make, about five years ago now, and I'm still in love with it. Simple, delicious and super forgiving, I teach Kombucha making workshops every year and drink it daily (often multiple times a day!). I initially started drinking it to aid with occasional bloating after meals, but now I also drink it for the amazing taste (and I love brewing it). Kombucha is a very old process of fermenting sweetened black tea with a Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria & Yeast (SCOBY) over a few days, producing a sour and fizzy beverage. Booch has had a resurge in the last decade and become highly commercialised, where it can be found in supermarkets as an artificial, crappy, sugary copy of the real deal. Nothing beats homemade in my opinion, and you can make it whatever flavour you desire. Source a SCOBY online, from friends, or from me if you live locally and get brewing! EBook and Australia-wide SCOBY's coming soon..
I feel as though my kitchen is incomplete if I have run out of miso paste. Miso is a long, somewhat more complex fermentation of legumes or grains and salt that really produces an amazingly versatile product. It's a traditional Japanese ferment with that classic umami flavour and, with a high salt content, forms the base for many more dishes that just miso soup. You can find fresh miso paste (i.e. with live cultures) in your local wholefoods fridge or at some farmer's markets, and pasteurised miso paste (i.e. heat-treated, inert) on the shelf at supermarkets and grocers. As it can be made from many different bases, miso varies greatly in taste depending on the type (and there are far more versions than just 'white' and 'red'). I typically will use pasteurised miso (high salt content, fermented up to two years) as a base for soups and stocks, while fresh miso I prefer to use uncooked to flavour sauces and every single morning on my avo toast! It's also fantastic combined with sweets like maple syrup as an alternative to that salted-caramel salty-sweet flavour combo. Find my miso-maple french toast recipe here!
3) Sauerkraut & Kimchi
Growing up in a German family with regular feasts of sausages, potato salad and cabbage side dishes, my early experience of kraut was super stinky canned stuff that wasn't at all appetising. Turns out the Polish make it best (I think!) and pasteurised versions just.. Do. Not. Cut. It. Found in the fridge of all good grocers and wholefoods, kraut is fermented cabbage and other veggies/spices with live cultures - a lactoferment - used traditionally to preserve vegetables to last the snowy, winter months in Europe. It's sister, Kimchi, is the Asian equivalent and, though traditionally thought of as spicy and bright red (as is the favoured South Korean version), can be made in many different ways. White kimchi is amazing! Both are simple to make at home, however Kimchi tends to take a little longer and can be more expensive given the myriad of ingredients you could add, though you could simply grow your own kimchi veggies over the winter months. I try to eat a good dollop of this every day if I can and avoid cooking it, which kills the live bacteria that we want to consume for good health. Kraut is especially good on toasties, with eggs or fatty dishes, and plopped on buddha bowls. Kimchi I will honestly eat with almost any dish - once you make a cracker batch of this, there's really nothing better! Find my sauerkraut base recipe here!
Three homemade sourdough loaves
I'm thankful every damn day that I can digest gluten! Bread is life, and I really have to try my best not to eat it for three meals a day. Sourdough is, again, ancient tradition and involves taking advantage of wild yeasts present in the air and on grain to ferment sugars in flour, which produces carbon dioxide and allows bread to rise. In the process, yeasts partially digest the grain (a byproduct is also that lovely sour taste you get from the acids) which means it's very often easier for us to digest that non-sourdough bread. Combine this with freshly milled organic flour and you've got a much more nutritious meal - 100% spelt loaves are even tolerated well by some people with gluten intolerance (not Coeliac). I've recently returned to sourdough experiments at home and am thoroughly hooked. Not only can I make fresh bread, I can also make great products with the starter discard (check out Zero Waste Chef's blog for so many ideas!). It takes patience and LOTS of trial and error, but bread-making is such an amazing home kitchen experiment and really fun! You can buy a starter online, get some off a friend, or make your own like I did - flour and water, baby. EBook and sourdough starters available soon...
5) Mustard Now, strictly speaking, mustard doesn't have to be a fermented product. The recipe I use, however, is slightly fermented and also made with liquid ferments - apple cider vinegar, wine, kombucha or whatever you have on hand. The reason I've recently learned to love mustard so much is that it adds another element to SO many savoury dishes (as does miso) that I find hard to come by in vegan and vegetarian cooking. It's easy to adapt traditional meat dishes like bolognese or pie to vegan versions, but I find it tricky sometimes to get the complexity in flavour, or umami, that you can so easily get with meat (especially meat fats). I find that adding mustard to these kinds of dishes, as well as to dressings, sauces and burgers, is really delicious and helps to build flavour layers in vegan cooking. To boot, it's INCREDIBLY easy to make at home! I use Sharon Flynn's recipe from her book, Ferment for Good. I also purchase the mustard seed packaging-free from my local wholefoods.
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A quick homemade kimchi