Food Science: Fermentation and Cooking
I have been experimenting with fermenting food and after some research came to learn that it is not only the taste that is amazing, but also the health benefits. Lactic acid bacteria, which are found in fermented foods, are a great way to stabilize your gut. Some of the most popular fermented foods right now are sauerkraut, kombucha and kimchi. These are only 3 options, but there is a lot more that you can experiment with.
It surprised me to know that fermented food has a history that traces back thousands of years. Back in the day, people used fermentation as a way to preserve their food, but also for the health benefits that goes beyond some of the common ones we hear. The bioavailability of minerals is increased and the nutritional content of food is enhanced. In simple terms, fermenting food adds a lot more nutrients; vitamins and minerals to food that already have a high nutritional compound.
Now let’s take a deeper look into the types of food you can ferment
This is the obvious choice and that’s why it is first on my list. I believe that this is also the option that people are more comfortable with and it may be a great place to start if you are new to this concept. By using LAB (lactic acid bacteria) to ferment vegetables, you are able to stabilize the food. By doing that, you keep your vegetables safe to eat, increase the nutritional quality and enhance the shelf life of your vegetables. There are people out there who do not have access to fresh vegetables all the time and have chosen fermentation as an option. The most commonly used vegetables used in the fermentation process, are cabbage, cucumbers and olives.
Do you ever think of many dairy products as fermented? I sure did not, until I did my research. Lactic acid bacteria also play a big role in fermented dairy products. These products include yoghurt, kefir milk and raw cheese. During the fermentation process, many of the nutritional compounds are increased, like biotin, folic acid as well as vitamin B-12. Who knew that fermenting is not purely done for the delicious taste, but also for an increase in the nutritional value, by the metabolic activity of lactic acid bacteria?
The food science behind fermenting food is known as zymurgy. Fermentation is when a conversion takes place, of carbohydrates to ethanol and carbon dioxide. When making beer or wine, conversion typically takes place when sugar turns into ethanol. I know it sounds a bit complicated, but the process is actually very simple. A French chemist by the name of Louis Pasteur, was the first confirmed person to find a connection between yeast and fermenting food. Can we just give a round of applause to this guy? Awesome discovery!
Now that we know fermented foods have some great benefits for our health and wellness, let me take you through the fermentation process, in case you want to try it out for yourself. We will use vegetables in this example, which seems to be a popular choice and perhaps a great place to start for beginners.
- Choose your produce. You may want to go with a vegetable type that is easily fermented. These include cabbage, peppers, asparagus, green beans and cabbage.
- The perfect container will usually be some type of sealable glass, like a mason jar or any type of ceramic container. We are advised to not use plastic or metal containers as a way to protect the food from absorbing these harmful chemicals.
- Release the juices. After you have washed and prepped your vegetables, it is important to get rid of as much of the juices as possible. This is also important for breaking down the cell walls. Use a meat tenderizer to achieve this or simply squeeze the vegetables with your hands to release the juices.
- Add the amount of salt you are comfortable with. This will not affect the fermenting process to much, but is done to the individual’s taste. The usual rule of thumb is 3 tablespoons for around 5 pounds of vegetables. Adding a lesser amount of salt will cause the food to ferment quicker. The more salt you add, the slower the fermentation will take place.
- Let it sit for 3 days. After you have added your salt to your vegetables, place it in the container of your choice and make sure you close the lid tightly. Do not open the container for at least 3 days. You do not want any oxygen to get into the container, which might spoil the results.
- After this waiting period, you can eat your fermented food and store it for a relatively long period of time.
As you can see, the process sounds complicated in scientific terms, but the execution is pretty easy. I do encourage you to try this at home, because it is so ridiculously easy to do, but you can also simply do it as a science project. It is truly amazing what we can achieve with food and this is one of the reasons I find food it so fascinating. Happy fermenting fellow Gatronomers and let me know how your fermentation process goes.