fantastic fermentation

15 Jan 2012

Posted by karen
karen's picture

Microscopic bacteria and fungi - dish me up another serving, please.


Before you stop reading - never to return - I ask you to hang in with me here.

The microorganisms I'm referrring to protect us:

-- by competing with - and conquering - potentially dangerous organisms
-- they teach the immune system how to function when it's exposed to the diversity of unsavoury microorganisms, e.g. those found in soil and untreated water 
And - those living cultures have transforming power to create flavorful, nutritious fermented foods. 

Following are some of the myriad health benefits of fermentation:

-- preserves food - history has is that sauerkraut lasted for 27 months on Captain James Cook's second exploration, preventing his crew members from developing the dreaded vitamin-C deficiency disease we know as scurvy
-- breaks nutrients down into more easily digestible forms
-- increases the nutritional value of certain foods, e.g. sauerkraut has significantly higher vitamin C levels than unfermented cabbage
-- provide lactic acid, food for the good bacteria 
-- creates new nutrients - e.g. B vitamins like folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, thiamin and biotin
-- can function as antioxidants, those scavengers snatching up free radicals (unstable molecules that can wreak cellulor damage, promoting disease)
-- removes toxins from foods, e.g. fermenting grains by soaking them before cooking neutralizes phytic acid, a compound that can block absorption of minerals
-- ancient Chinese medicine states that the unique flavour of cultured foods has a balancing effect that helps cancel out cravings for sugar - and neutralizes/helps assimilate sugar if/when it is eaten with a fermented food

Be watchful of commercially fermented foods:

-- yogurt: pasteurization after the culturing process kills the bacteria so you want to purchase yogurt that states on the label "contains live cultures". Or another way to be certain is to make your own. I have step-by-step-instructions for you.
***Another bonus of making your own yogurt is your opportunity to make your own yogurt cheese, a healthier version of sour cream. It's a simple process of lining a small strainer or colander with a couple layers of cheesecloth and carefully scooping yogurt into it. Let it drain: the liquid left is whey, which can be substituted for water in baking or cooking. My sources tell me this whey can be used as a starter for kick-starting other foods to ferment - some day I'll try it but as yet have no experience to report.
-- store bought sauerkraut is often heat-processed and canned for longer shelf life.  This too I recommend that you make your own. Here's how.
Another favourite fermented food in our house is kimchi. I have tried several recipes: the following is my present go-to. I love this condiment as a a spicy topping on my rice,  spooned over salad, snuggled next to poached eggs, hidden in a veggie wrap......

Kimchi (Korean Sauerkraut)

1 large head napa cabbage – (this type of cabbage will give the traditional look and taste of kimchi)
1 large bunch of green onions, chopped
1 1/2 cups grated carrots
5 or 6 cloves minced garlic (for my taste, more is better, but this is a personal choice)
2 – 3 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger
1/2 – 1 tsp. dried chili flakes
2 Tbsp. sea salt – to taste
(other vegetable options to add: finely sliced daikon or other radishes, turnips)
Cut each napa cabbage leaf if half lengthwise and cut into 1-inch (bite-sized) pieces.
Chop the green onions using both white and green parts. 
Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl.
Massage the veggies with your hands until juices are released.
Pack the kimchi into quart jars, making sure that there is some liquid above the vegetables, and leave a 1-inch of air space on top. Put lids on the jars, without turning them too tight.
Let the jars sit out on the counter at room temp for 3 – 10 days. I let mine sit out for about a week. When the veggies rise to the top in the jar be sure to push down with a spoon to keep them covered by the brine.
Put into the fridge for storage.
(Note: It's the benefit of the fermentation that makes this such a healthy condiment. Amounts of garlic, ginger and chili flakes is totally dependent on how spicy you like your food. This recipe is a variation of one from the Domestic Diva:  whose enthusiasm for all things fermented is contagious.)
Ideas for fermented foods is a list limited only by your imagination and taste. If you're interested at all in this kind of experimenting and eating, I recommend you read Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz: it's a valuable resource - one I give credit to: for much of the information, and certainly the inspiration, for the writing of this post.  
Olives are on my fementation to-do list. Or were. Yesterday I checked out the idea at the Mid East Food Center in Halifax. The only way that's going to happen is if I go to the Middle East/Northern Africa and buy the olives freshly harvested and smuggle them home in a hurry before their condition deteriorates. Thankfully Mid East has a variety of delicious olives besides many other Mediterranean foods. 
Any time is an ideal time for a second serving of an FFF: a fantastic fermented food.



Beth Wagenius's picture

The Kimchi looks wonderful!  I'm going to pick up the ingredients next time I'm at the grocery. Thanks.

karen's picture

We'll both be chopping and "massaging" vegetables this week - I have to pick up green onions yet, otherwise I'm good to go. Thanks for the visit.

Nina's picture

Thank you for such a straight forward recipe! I am always looking for nutritious food to make that doesn't take hours - prep and move on. (I use our crockpot a lot in the winter.)  I made some last year and wasn't sure if it came out correctly but my husband and sister-in-law devoured and loved it, and with no ill effects!

karen's picture

Crock pots are great for quick-prep-and-let-sit. Any favourites?

Nina's picture

I'm big on soups - three bean, split pea, yellow split pea, black bean. Also marinara sauce, chili and anything bean related. We are vegetarians so the crock pot takes me far in the winter. Summer is another story because we tend not to eat heavy foods but that is when we switch to salads and veggies with grains or pasta.

karen's picture

It's going to be bean soup for supper tonight - I cooked up some chick peas yesterday so that's what I'll start with! 

Renee's picture

Karen, after reading this post I was reminded, "oh yeah, I need to try that Miso Soup!". So I went to an Asian food store yesterday where a very sweet lady told me all about how to make the soup, even wrote down the directions. I boiled my kelp and bonito last night to make the broth, oh my. I tried to tell myself, oh it just smells like the sea here in my kitchen, but really after a while.....bleh! My jacket stinks today. Tonight I will try the soup, I'm really hoping I'll like it, really hoping. I have miso paste in my dressing for a cauliflower salad I'm eating today. All this good stuff in my body.

I should tell you too, I bet you would be interrested...while I was doing my cooking last night I watched an episode of The Nature of Things about autism and the links they are finding between it and an imbalance of gut flora. Very interresting, I think you would enjoy it.'s picture

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karen's picture

Wow - I'm impressed. With your story, maybe not the smell :) I've never gone to that much effort to make the broth. Just smelling all that fragrant sea smell probably boosted your iodine levels. Let me know how everything tasted.

That was a very interesting program, and I strongly believe those two are linked. I think the possibilities of food as "medicine" are intriguing, exciting and valid.

karen's picture

Oh no, that's terrible - I saw a red flag when I heard about making the "smelly" broth. Maybe you were using an "original" Oriental version? I just use hot water, adding the sea veggies and miso, green onions: throwing in some bits of tofu, finely grated carrot, a few frozen peas, finely-sliced mushrooms are yummy additions too. Here's a link from my daughter's blog for Miso Soup, which basically makes a larger version of how I make mine. This recipe really is yummy. Let me know okay?

Renee's picture

Yes, this was original alright....the ingredients for the stock. I'll try your recipe, in fact that is what I had in mind the whole time. I just couldn't resist the sweet lady at the store telling me all about how to make the soup. I'll be sure to let you know. Thanks for your encouragement!

Rebecca's picture

Hi Karen, you mentioned soaking grains prior to cooking as a way to fermenting.  Would the benefits apply to soaking steel cut oats overnight prior to cooking?  Thanks.  Just soaked some spelt and will possibly just eat it plain or add to spelt bread.


karen's picture

Soaking oats will give you the same fermented bonus - my fermenting food "bible" recommends you soak oats in double the amount of water, which will be mostly absorbed. In the morning, add more water (up to 3x the original amount of oats) and a pinch of salt. Cook about 10 mins, stir constantly - is going to be creamy and yummy!

Rebecca's picture

Why black sesame seeds over white?  want to make it but have white right now.


karen's picture

The black seeds are more visible, but do have a tendency to darken the brine. (My photo was of a batch I made without any sesame seeds - thus the clearer brine. Whoops!) I've added this note to the recipe instructions, with the suggestion to add the seeds later when you serve the kimchi. Let me know how it turns out!

Rebecca's picture

I tried the Kimchi but used white instead fo black sesame seeds and savoy instead of napa but didn't get a lot of veggie juices with my massaging so added some water and grated ginger.  Had some yesterday.  Yummy.  Between that and roasting kale to make, kale chips, my house didn't smell that great.  Oh well, it all tasted great.  I did the kale with olive oil, apple cider vinegar, honey, salt, pepper, chii flakes and hemp hearts.  Philippe and I like them, the kids won't try them...yet.


karen's picture

A good (confident) cook is one who knows how to improvise! Diluted pineapple juice can be added too if you want more juice. When I initially make a batch, there usually isn't a lot of juice until after it sits a few hours. And now I save whatever brine is left to add to the next batch. My latest foray into fermenting is kefir. I got my kefir "grains" from a contact I made at the market - I love that stuff. She also gave me a kombcha SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacterial yeast) - now that is an interesting specimen. Want to get some kombucha tea started today. Lots of fun. The kale chips sound yummy - the kids will come around eventually...Great to hear from you.

Nina's picture

I made the kimchi on Saturday and there is a strong smell of garlic and something else in my kitchen! I used green cabbage because I couldn't find napa. I'm going to let it sit a week as you suggested. Thanks again for the easy recipe!

karen's picture

The smell of health?! I've noticed the smell dissipate the longer it ferments - or maybe I just get used to it :) Feel free to taste it before the week is out - just to see how it's doing. Thanks for stopping by...

Nina's picture

So the kimchi is STINKING up my house. I had to open the bedroom wndow last night because I could only smell kimchi when I lay down to sleep. How do I know when it is done, or done enough? We tasted it and it tastes good but how do I know if I need to let it develop further? Thanks!

karen's picture

Oh yoi! How much garlic you use, having the lids tight (but not cranked too tight :), and keeping the veggies submerged under the brine (push them down every day) - could all contribute to the smell. Once your kimchi tastes as fermented as you like it, anywhere from 4 - 10 days, it's ready to eat and be stored in the refrigerator. Yours has had 5 days to ferment -probably long enough by now. I let mine sit on the cupboard about a week, but really only notice any smell the first day. 

producer company's picture

I was curious if you ever considered changing the structure of your site?
Its very well written; I love what youve got to say.
But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it
better. Youve got an awful lot of text for only having 1 or two images.
Maybe you could space it out better?

Dawna's picture

You were the first to introduce me to my sauerkraut making! DE-LISH!! :)

I wondered, as J cannot have salt, I've been reading some recipes about making sauerkraut without it. But I wondered how the liquid would be released from the veggies? Any thoughts on this?


Thanks in advance!


karen's picture

To date I haven't prepared fermented veggies without salt, but reputable sources state you can make them using whey, or acidic juicies like lemon juice or pineapple juice. Massaging the vegetables when making kimchi helps release the juices but you need some kind of acid or salt to preserve the veggies from spoiling. I bought a bunch of jars and lids to make a variety of fermented veggies -  I think I'm addicted :)

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