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Fermentation as Preservation

This year, everyone is concerned with staying healthy — and staying occupied. One way people are experimenting in the kitchen is through food preservation. Fermentation is an age-old practice of keeping food edible for longer which brings additional health benefits from bacteria, fungi and yeasts. These microbes are good for our gut microbiome (which controls much of our mood and immune response.)

Some of the most popular home-ferments include kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi and other lacto-fermented vegetables. These are easy to make at home and require limited equipment (mason jars, a strainer, and some air-tight bottles). 

Beverages

While we most often come across fermented beverages on weekends in a pint glass, there are many others that provide that same flavorful, bubbly satisfaction without the high alcoholic percentage and calories. These fermented beverages get their bubbles from the carbon dioxide that Symbiotic Cultures of Bacteria and Yeasts (SCOBY) produce as a waste product of consuming sugars. This means that most fermented beverages are low in sugar as well (unless some have been added after the fermentation process is complete.) SCOBYs multiply with every fermentation, since they are feeding on sugar to reproduce. Try posting in your community’s social media groups to see if anyone has extra SCOBY lying around for any of the following fermentations. If not, you can purchase some online

Kombucha

Kombucha is becoming widely popular, with brewers popping up across the state and more people making it at home. Kombucha is made with tea and sugar (or another sweetener like honey or agave), which is fermented by a SCOBY and usually kept in an airtight container to carbonate. It is often flavored with herbs, spices or fruits. 

Milk Kefir

Water kefir bubbling away

Milk kefir is made using raw or pasteurized milk, which is fermented by a SCOBY contained in milk kefir grains. Depending on how long you ferment it for, it can have a sour flavor and even become bubbly! Making your own kefir is much better for your gut than buying it commercially; commercial producers typically use limited microbial communities to be consistent with the product and avoid variable alcohol concentrations (kefir can range from 0.1%-3% alcohol).

Water Kefir

Water kefir is similar to kombucha in its taste and function, and is fermented using a different SCOBY than milk kefir. It contains sugar water with any flavor or fruit blended, and water kefir grains added. The bacteria and yeasts ferment the sugars and release carbon dioxide to create a fruity delicious bubbly water!

Vegetables

Vegetables contain a natural layer of lactic acid bacteria that will begin to ferment them if left alone. This has been a form of preserving vegetables since humankind began. Now, many people preserve their vegetables like cucumber pickles using hot vinegar and spices. However, this is not traditional fermentation and will not contain any of the beneficial microbes, as they typically are killed by heat. Most vegetables can be preserved by coating with salt to remove moisture, packing them tightly in a jar at room temperature, and then refrigerating after 24-48 hours (see our article on kimchi making for a recipe). 

The health benefits of fermenting your own foods are rewarding, but it is also a fun process to watch! Microscopic organisms can reproduce and preserve foods with a visible byproduct – bubbles! It is a fascinating and rewarding experience that is perfect for anyone, regardless of age, diet, or your food budget. 

Fermenters Near You!

Lively Up Kombucha 
Civil Ferments
Cultured Kombucha
Bluestem Farm 
Unity Vibrations Kombucha
Neu Kombucha
The Brinery
Superior Culture 

Resources: 

The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Elix Katz
Check out the ultimate guide to fermentation for a mind-blowing read:

Yemoos Nourishing Cultures
Fermentation starter kits, equipment, SCOBYs and grains

Payge Lindow is the West Michigan Local Food Coordinator for Taste the Local Difference. She lives in Grand Rapids. Contact her at payge@localdifference.org

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