The smell, appearance and funky taste of fermented foods can be a challenge for some. That used to be the case for me too. But nowadays I feel like I get to eat something delicious with the added bonus of extra vitamins!
What initially started out as, "I’m not too sure about that…" has turned into a curious and joyful, "I’d love to try some more!"
Before you get all worked up thinking that fermented foods are weird and exotic and too "out there," let's remember that beer, wine, cider, some dill pickles and some quality salami and pepperoni are fermented products too.
There are so many different fermented foods and they are becoming increasingly easy to get your hands on, so it's a fun and exciting journey to undertake. Just remember that pasteurized fermented foods have been heated past the point that can destroy a lot of their health giving benefits.
Let me introduce you to a few fermented products you may not know well, but will grow on you if you give them a chance.
The favorite among fermented goodies right now is probably kombucha. It is a bubbly, slightly sour drink that I have seen flavoured with everything from berries and citrus to ginger and herbs. It is made using room temperature tea, something sweet and adding a ‘mother’ to the mix. A mother is effectively like yeast but in a tough jelly form. To me, kombucha is like healthy soda. Depending on how it is made, some people find it a little sour but once you know what you are in for it’s a pretty tasty treat. I even had friends mixing it with liquor a few years back in Hamilton.
Miso has been on my radar for at least a dozen years but I realize that I am a professional cook so it might not be quite as familiar to others. My parents love it. Miso is typically made with fermented soy beans and salt. It often contains rice or barley and I’ve even had a great one made with chickpeas. It’s a delicious addition to soups and salad dressings and has lots of umami – the much sought-after sixth flavor often referred to as ‘meaty’. A little goes a long way with this stuff so be careful not to overdo it.
Kimchi and sauerkraut
Kimchi and sauerkraut are kissing cousins. Both are basically cabbages fermented and flavored with salt, herbs, spices and occasionally other vegetables. The longer they are fermented, the stronger the taste. Sauerkraut tends to be fairly mild and that’s why it has been around ballparks jazzing up footlongs before we even heard a whisper about kimchi. Kimchi is sauerkraut's spicier, more exotic relative. A Korean ferment with chilies, garlic, ginger and other vegetables – often carrots, radish and green onion, I think it makes just about any stir-fry or noodle bowl just a little bit better.
I have some friends who got into fermenting just about anything they could get their hands on. Not all of what they made was to my taste, but there was no denying their enthusiasm. Recently, fermented foods seem to be popping up everywhere. I have tried a fermented beet drink (Kvass) which has an earthy and grounding taste. I've run across a fermented tomato paste which turned out to be a classic Italian condiment and kombucha is now on tap at some of my favorite eateries - a clear sign of the booming interest in fermenting.
If you are feeling adventurous, making your own sauerkraut isn’t too hard. There are lots of recipes online and Elix Sandor Katz – considered by many to be the guru of the current fermenting craze - has a couple of books that can lead you down the rabbit hole of fermenting fun. My only advice is to follow your nose.