Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Fermentation: Not Just Good for Your Gut, Good for Your Budget!

The coolest thing about fermenting is the idea of using fermentation as food storage. Obviously fermenting produce has numerous health benefits and that's why most people are interested in it (aka part 1 in this series), but I find the idea of long term storage to be even better!

I try to cook all of my meals from fresh ingredients, but sometimes I don't always have time to cook it (or I get ambitious and realize not only do I not have the time to make it, but I don't have a small army hanging around) and quite a bit goes bad. It's definitely not good when my food goes bad before I even get around to making something with it.

When you ferment food, you stick produce, generally vegetables, in brine and the salt makes sure that the "good" bacteria can do its thing while suppressing the "bad" bacteria. It can take anywhere from a few days to a few months to be fully fermented. Once it's fermented to your liking, you don't have to consume it right away, you just pop it in the fridge.

So guess who's not affected by the lime shortage? ;-)

To slow fermentation, the jars go in the refrigerator (or a cool room like a basement or cellar - generally just below 60F). This is important because the cooler environment does not kill off the bacteria. The bacteria is still alive, it's still doing its thing, and it's still able to keep your food from spoiling.

So for example, I've always wanted to make my own condiments, but how can you justify creating a large batch of ketchup that's just going to go bad in a week? Unless you're prepping for a giant family picnic, you're going to have to toss it or hope that your fridge is cold enough to prevent mold from growing. But when you ferment ketchup, suddenly you have more than a week before it goes bad. Suddenly you have months to enjoy it.

This goes beyond just condiments.

Last year I would buy bags and bags of produce from the farmer's market for  much less than you can buy in the supermarket. I bought bags full of jalapeno peppers and garlic and onions for only a few dollars. There's no way I can eat that in a week or two before it spoiled, and I certainly couldn't pass up such a great deal.

But when you get home, rinse the vegetables a bit in hot water, slice them up, and put them in brine, suddenly they're good for months. Yes, it is March and I am still munching on onions that I picked up from the farmer's market last summer. Yes, they taste delicious. Yes, they're even still crunchy.

It's not witchcraft, it's fermentation!

So you're interested in this food storage idea I hope. But what do you DO with a jar full of onions?

I'll tell you.

1. You snack on them. This makes a little more sense if you have fermented salsa in the fridge, but you can definitely snack on your fermented vegetables. I know this sounds weird because who would snack on onions? Well, when you start fermenting foods, you will start be the weird one snacking on them.

Obviously, you'll need to take a bite of it before you put it in the fridge to make sure everything's okay. You'll think to yourself, "Wow, that's actually pretty good." So you have another one. Then you realize that your stomach really likes it. Not in the way that it likes pizza, but more like in the way that you can tell it's happy you just gave it a fermented onion. Then you stick it in the fridge and kind of forget about it until one day you're hungry and you open up the fridge and you go, "Oh, there are some onions in here." (Don't worry, fermented onions taste MUCH better than raw onions.)

2. You use them medicinally. Now I'm not trying to imply that fermented foods are better than medicine, especially because I'm not a doctor and have no medical training. However, I have seen plenty of articles that mention that your gut bacteria needs more bacteria to feel good. I also know that when I have an upset stomach, I eat a few pieces of fermented vegetables and I feel much better. I've also seen this work on other people. Are you one of those people? Only one way to find out! (I know it sounds really wrong to give a nauseous person a fermented jalapeno, but I've seen it work wonders!)

Cranberries still perfect 6 months later
3. You use them as a condiment. Let's say you ferment a container of carrots. You throw in a few spices. It's delicious. You're not really into snacking. Unless you threw in a bay leaf or something similar to keep the vegetables crisp, they're limp and somewhat unappetizing...

A perfect remedy for this situation is using your fermented veggies as a side dish or a condiment. Sauerkraut and/or mustard on a sandwich are perfect. I love putting my fermented cranberries on a sandwich with cheese. You'll slowly start to find uses for your new foods that you never would have thought of before! And if not, you can always...

4. You use it in cooking. This is certainly an unpopular answer among some in the fermenting crowd because you just spent days (or months) of your life waiting for the bacteria to reproduce and do their thing so you can eat them and be healthy and do your thing so why, WHY would you cook with fermented food and kill all the probiotics? Simple. I'm lazy. If I don't want to run out to the market when I just came back from the market (and who would?), I grab a few slices of jalapenos and toss them in the pan. After all, I get plenty of probiotics in other meals so I don't think killing them once will cause any problems.

Additionally, if you have a ferment that you can't really stomach, like your milk kefir is too sour, it's perfect to bake with. Or make pancakes. Any milk substitute, really. My favorite my soured milk kefir has to be making cream cheese and adding herbs. There all sorts of uses!

I will mention that bacteria tend to die over 105F so a great option can be to toss in the fermented veggies after everything has finished cooking and you're about to serve it. After all, you don't need to saute or cook anything as the vegetables are generally going to be soft and palatable. I have pretty much stopped cooking with garlic because I stir in a spoonful of garlic paste at the end of every meal. The end result being my food is flavored with garlic, I don't have to worry about burning the garlic when I add it to the hot oil, and I get the good bacteria in my gut.

What do you think? Are you excited about food storage? Any hesitations before you being fermenting? Next week I'm talking about making sure the good bacteria you're consuming is actually, you know, good.

You can also check out part 3 in this series: How to Know When Your Ferment has Gone Bad.

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