You probably already eat fermented foods in your diet. Chocolate, coffee, vanilla, some teas, pickles, vinegar, cheese and yoghurt are all fermented foods. Then there’s alcohol, sauerkraut, kombucha, sourdough and kefir, again all fermented! This article looks at some of our most popular fermented foods and their nutritional benefits. Since we haven't found a good supplier of quality Kimchi yet (we are on the hunt), we've also sourced you a recipe so you can make your own ferments at home!
Fermentation simply means ‘to boil', not from cooking, but from the bubbles that form when fermentation is taking place, it occurs in yeasts and bacteria. The health benefits of eating fermented foods include enhancing nutrients, protection from ‘bad’ bacteria, building your immunity and aiding digestive and pre-digestive processes.
The main reasons for fermenting are
To produce alcohol (converting carbohydrates including sugars into ethanol)
To convert it from a form in which it will not keep (e.g. turning milk into cheese)
To convert the food from something indigestible in its’ original state to something edible and digestible (e.g. wheat into bread)
To remove any toxic potential (e.g. soya beans into tempeh, soya in raw form is toxic to humans)
To improve the flavour or taste of the raw food
Fermenting has been around for centuries, it helps to preserve foods and can reduce cooking times and fuel requirements. In addition it can eliminate anti-nutrients and biologically enrich the foods with amino acids and vitamins.
Fermented range at Real Foods
Some of the products are already fermented – these are only available in the fridge section. We don't sell chilled items online yet (we are working on it), but if you live in Edinburgh pop in to one of our stores and have a look at the range.
This is a fermented milk called Riazhenka. It is created by baking the milk prior to fermenting. Historically the milk was baked in a clay pot for a day until a crust formed. "Prolonged exposure to heat causes the Maillard reaction between the milk's amino acids and sugars, resulting in the formation of melanoidin compounds that give it a creamy colour and caramel flavour."(Wiki - Ryazhenka - sourced 06.03.15). The ones we stock are from Bio-tiful Dairy - the dairy is situated on the beautiful Riverford Organic Farm in Devon that repeatedly wins awards as the best organic farm in the UK. They deliberately leave the natural balance of nutrients in the milk and do not add anything to it, except for the wonderful ancient live cultures that further enrich the minerals-packed organic milk with beneficial microorganisms, vitamins and amino-acids. It has a sweet taste and is very popular with our customers instore.
You can find our kefir range here. These are only in our chilled department and not available online - to see the product available simply tick the top of the search to 'show all product' this will show you the Real Foods full chilled range. This is the Kefir starter culture (freeze dried kefir in skimmed milk) and there are also ready-made mixes, including one with added chia seeds. Kefir is made from lactic acid bacteria and yeasts, meaning that several varieties of probiotics can be found in Kefir.
This is our kombucha range. It’s made with bacteria and yeast with water and green tea. The taste can be anywhere between a sparkling apple cider to a champagne, depending on which type of tea is used. It's not at all what you would imagine fermented tea to taste, it can be quite sour, depending on how long the bacteria has grown for - the bacteria eats the sugar, so the longer it's fermented, the less sweet it will be. As the Kombucha culture digests the sugar it produces a range of organic acids including gluconic acid, lactic acid, glucuronic acid, acetic acid, butyric acid, malic acid and usnic acid. It also provides vitamins (particularly B vitamins and vitamin C) as well as amino acids, enzymes. The probiotic micro-organisms themselves provide health benefits in digestion.
This is the sauerkraut range –
Amazake is a ferment made from rice – it’s a dessert.
Sourdough bread is fermented – there’s also a starter kit.
Tempeh is a fermented soya bean product, some are in the fridge, a few ambient and one or two are frozen.
Miso is fermented from around 3 months (sweet white) to several years (dark brown) – you can find it here. Clearspring is probably the highest quality from the range. The soups are fairly minimal in fermentation – but if you get one of the packs (like this) you can use a little in dishes.
There are a few other fermented foods – you can find them in Japanese Foods online – mainly soy sauce and similar products.
The 2 ways to ferment foods
First of all, there’s wild fermentation. This means using the organisms already present in the food.
Secondly, there’s using a starter culture to introduce the organisms to start the process. Starter culture fermentation includes kefir, sourdough and kombucha, the cultures are sometimes referred to as ‘the mother’.
Starting fermenting? Wild fermentation
You will need:
Glass jars. Save all of your re-sealable jars, you will need a variety of sizes, so the more the merrier really!
Sea salt (or himalaya, rock or crystal salts) – just not table salt if you can avoid it.
For large fermentations - A large container with a wide-mouth and a lid or plate that fits inside the opening of the container. Glass or ceramic is preferable but food-grade plastic will work. You’re looking for a container that can hold 4-8 litres.
Tea towels or clean offcuts of cloth and rubber bands to cover the ferments.
Ingredients – Seasonal, local and organic are the watchwords here. Seasonal is cheaper and more abundant (using up excess is a good reason to ferment foods in the first place). Local means the foods are at their freshest and ripest (more nutrients) and may help the yeasts and bacteria ferment as they’re used to the local conditions already! Organic food contains more nutrients (see this page for more information on organic nutrition) and less pesticides than non-organic foods. Pesticides can stop the growth of the essential bacteria.
Most people start with something simple like sauerkraut or kimchi
How to wild ferment
Put the vegetables you wish to ferment in a jar with some salt and water. Salt and water combined make brine. Turnips, swedes, carrots, beetroots and cabbage are all relatively simple to ferment.
Make sure the vegetables are covered in brine and put on the lid tightly. Release the pressure once a day for the first week. The longer you leave it fermenting, the stronger the flavour will become. Yes, it is common to ferment foods throughout the winter in many cultures for a truly strong flavour, but perhaps start with 3-4 days! Taste it, see if it is to your taste, if not ferment a few more days. When it is to your taste, simply pop it in the fridge and use it whenever suits.
When you’ve mastered the small jars and have your preferred recipes, then move on to fermenting several cabbages or large amounts of food in the large container.
Recipe for Kimchi
1 turnip or radish - finely sliced or in matchsticks if you can!
1 large cabbage - finely sliced, shredded or grated
2-3 shallots or spring onions
1 apple sliced (or a teaspoon of sugar)
2-3 carrots - julienned, matchsticks or simply chopped
2 crushed cloves of garlic
1 chilli - chopped finely
2 teaspoons of mineral or rock salt
How to ferment your own Kimchi
Sprinkle the salt onto the cabbage and massage it in (the salt is used to add flavour, preserve and eliminate moulds, it also helps release the vegetables natural juices). Pop in a bowl cover with water (you might need a plate on top to weigh it down) and leave for at least 10 minutes.
Mix together the rest of the ingredients. Rinse the cabbage and mix together.
Squash it all down into a large jar; make sure the vegetables are covered in their natural juice. If there’s not enough released, add salted water (brine) or celery juice. Make sure the vegetables are covered and there is a little room at the top of the jar (it’s going to ferment, that means bubbles and they need some space!) Leave at least an inch of room.
Screw the lid on tightly and let the Kimchi ferment. The longer you leave it… the stronger and more intense the flavour will be. It’s a good idea to leave it on a plate as the brine may overflow slightly.
The best idea is to taste it daily until you have the taste you like. Simply press down on the vegetables with a clean spoon to keep them submerged under the brine before you close the lid again. This also helps the gases release. Once you have the flavour you like transfer to the fridge and enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of your labours! For most folk it’s about a week, but many people like fresh kimchi when it has barely fermented. As long as the vegetables are submerged there’s no danger of mould.
Kimchi traditionally has seafood or an umami flavour to it, so do try adding kelp powder or chopped seaweed. There are also spinach, radish and courgette kimchi recipes, so experiment until you find the one you like.
By Kim Betney