Humans have been fermenting foods and beverages for thousands of years. Nearly every culture of the world has a traditional fermented dish. Fermentation is a means of food preservation, and through this process the ingredients we start with take on new flavors and textures. What I find interesting is the transformation that foods undergo as they ferment. The resulting product will contain nutrients beyond those of the initial ingredients! Through the fermentation process, bacteria produce amino acids, vitamins and proteins. These substances then lend their own health benefits, which may include antioxidant action, enhancement of the immune system and improving the bioavailability of nutrients. Studies are helping us understand the extent to which beneficial bacteria in our food affect our health. Interest in the microbiome and its relationship with human health has inspired a dramatic increase of research on fermented foods and probiotics.
Fermented foods can be purchased or prepared at home. I am an advocate of home food preparation for many reasons. When I think of large-scale, sterile, industrialized food consumption, I believe we are missing out on the life-giving properties that our food is meant to have. We share this earth, and indeed our bodies, with microorganisms. It makes sense to me that harmless microorganisms should be a part of a nutritious, balanced diet. I think it is this idea, and the process of creation, that draws me to experiment with making fermented foods and beverages at home. It is fun, easy and satisfying!
I am not a picky eater, but I did not grow up eating many fermented foods, so if I’m being honest I should admit that deep down I feel a bit of apprehension when it comes to trying something new in this category. Another factor that has kept me from experimenting with fermented foods was that I did not know what to do with fermented dishes once they were ready to eat. Despite these barriers, curiosity prevailed and it is like discovering a whole new world of cuisine! I plan to share my adventures with you along the way, starting with my recent experience with kimchi.
I attended a wonderful event that was all about fermentation. I signed up for a workshop, a “Kimchi Mob,” with dozens of other attendees. We sat at long tables equipped with the ingredients and supplies we would need to make kimchi. Kimchi is a traditional fermented food from Korea made with cabbage, radish, carrots and chili peppers. An instructor guided us through the process of cutting the vegetables, making a chili paste, mixing it all together and stuffing it in a jar. It was so easy—just chop, mix, stuff!
A few days later my kimchi had fermented and was ready to eat. The next step was deciding what to do with it (besides just eating it “as is” for a snack!). Our workshop instructor had shared that she enjoys kimchi in an avocado, drizzled with toasted sesame oil and sprinkled with sesame seeds. It was a great suggestion—delicious! I made a wonderful bowl with rice, sesame seeds, veggies, kimchi and a creamy sriracha sauce that was very satisfying. Have you tried kimchi? What is your favorite way to enjoy it?