Though fermented foods have been around since the Stone Age, they have found their way into the spotlight once again with the American Restaurant Association listing it as one of the top food trends of 2015.
There is good reason for fermented foods to have their time in the spotlight that goes far beyond the many come and go trends.
Regular consumption has been credited for improving the gut and digestion, enhancing the immune system, and increasing the bodies’ ability to absorb nutrients while reducing symptoms of lactose intolerance. There is also some research to suggest it can reduce the risk of certain cancers and possibly promote weight-loss.
While many of us may like the idea of adding probiotics through fermented foods to our diet, actually doing it can seem a daunting task. But it does not have to be. While there are more complicated fermenting processes, there are very simple options that anyone can do.
Below are 5 fermented foods anyone can make at home that require little to no cooking skill. To test this I had my three-year-old try to make each of them, and the results were delicious.
It would seem that for as long as there has been milk, there has been yogurt, with it dating to at least the end part of the Stone Age. By adding strains of ‘good’ bacteria (now popularly called probiotics) to the milk and allowing it to work its magic, the bacteria will transform the milk to a rich creamy consistency with a slight tang.
Many people’s experience with making yogurt at home has come with cumbersome equipment, thermometers, or intricate set-ups of blankets and timers.
This can be done, but less people know there are strains of probiotics that produce equally pleasant yogurt that ferment at room temperature. All you have to do is stir in a spoonful of yogurt into a jar of milk and leave it on your countertop. When you return at the end of the day, delicious yogurt will be welcoming you.
You can order these yogurt strains online. A shop I have had great success with is a small company from etsy called: WellsofHealth.
Kefir is a refreshing drink that originates from the Caucuses. It is made from strains of probiotics that look like little grains or pebbles and because of its appearance, is often called ‘kefir grains’. Don’t be fooled, there are no real grains in this drink!
Legend claims that Mohammed shared these grains with the orthodox region and he taught them how to make the drink. Believing that if they shared the “grains of the prophet,” the drink would lose its magical properties; the people closely guarded their kefir grains and kept it to themselves for centuries.
It may have remained a secret had not a prince of that region unsuccessfully tried to force a woman named Irina Sakharova into marriage by kidnapping her. The Russian court ordered the prince to compensate the woman by paying her 10lbs of kefir grains. These grains were grown to share with all Russia and it soon accounted for 65% to 80% of total fermented milk consumed in the country.
There are two types of kefir – water and milk. Water kefir will carbonate your water naturally while milk kefir will thicken your milk to the consistency of a smoothie.
To make kefir drop the grains into a jar of milk or water, stir, and leave out at room temperature to ferment. It takes about 24 hours to get the desired consistency. Once there, strain out the grains and enjoy your drink, plain or flavored.
There is an endless amount of flavors and mix-ins that you can do to keep this drink interesting. My personal favorite for milk kefir is to blend in berries. Lemons and ginger make a nice day drink for the water kefir.
Kefir grains keep growing and expanding, so if you are interested in making this fermented food, try asking around first to see if anyone has some. Chances are they will be happy to share. If not try an online source, or I have seen kefir grains sold in a freeze-dried form at the grocery store.
Ok, actually making miso paste is somewhat involved, but most people have no idea how to incorporate the finished product into their diet, and that is easy.
It can be used as a flavoring for sauces, braises, and as condiments, but it is most commonly used for flavoring soup broth. Simply add a teaspoon of miso into your bowl of soup before serving and stir it in.
This technique can be done for any type of broth, but goes especially well with Asian style soups. Beyond Japanese miso soup that is made with dashi flavoring and miso, it is used as one of the traditional broths of Japanese ramen.
To get the full health benefit of miso, be sure to buy it from the refrigerator section. The packets found on the shelf at the store tend to be only for flavoring and the probiotics and enzymes are already dead. In the refrigerator, miso can last about a year once opened.
A bottle of raspberry or other fruit vinegar can cost a pretty penny at the grocery store. Boutique food shops all over the country have started to make space for artisan vinegar tastings. In spite of its refined status, it is very economical and easy to make this fermented food from home.
Simply add scraps of any leftover fruit, from pineapple peels to old grapes and berries, to a quart of water that has had ¼ sugar dissolved into it. (The amount of fruit you add will determine the strength of the flavor, more fruit =stronger flavor and lighter fruit=lighter flavor.) Once finished, cover the container with a cheesecloth or coffee filter and leave it alone at room temperature for a week. Strain the fruit and continue to forget about it for another 2-3 weeks. Then remember you put that jar in the back of your pantry and enjoy the benefits of your labor.
This is a great addition to salad dressing, or if you are feeling adventurous, use as a refreshing vinegar-based summer drink called a shrub.
Yes, even oatmeal can easily be fermented with superb end results. By fermenting the grains before cooking, the food becomes easier to digest and results in a creamier overall texture.
Following the instructions from Sandor Ellix Katz’s book, Wild Fermentation, soak 1 cup oats with 2 cups of water for at least 24 hours in a covered bowl or jar. When ready to cook, bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Once the water has reached boiling point, lower the heat to a simmer and add oatmeal. Stir consistently until oats are hot and have absorbed all the liquid (about 10 minutes).
When fermenting your oatmeal be careful to not buy the instant oats. Instead, use rolled or steel-cut oats, the end result will be much more appetizing.
There are many ways to serve and flavor your oatmeal. One traditional version that originates from the Scottish settlements in Vermont is to add some maple syrup to the oatmeal while it is soaking/fermenting. When you are ready to cook the oats add some cinnamon and nutmeg. It can be served with milk or cream.
Hope you enjoy making these fermented foods as much as my family has! Once you get the hang of it, you will find that there is an endless amount of foods that can be fermented at home.
Are there any fermented foods you love to make? Please share in the comment section.