Well may you ask what is fermented food and what, exactly, does it have to do with cheap healthy meals? If you, like so many of us, are fed up with the lack of quality and nutritional value of produce sold in grocery chains and want to avoid GMO foods, fermentation offers a world of healthy alternatives buy healthy sourdough bread.
Before we jump into those let’s answer the question “what is fermented food?” Back in the days of Napoleon, one of his court favoured scientists was a fellow by the name of Louis Pasteur. Although we owe much to Louis in our ongoing fight against disease, historians have shown that he plagiarized the work of a contemporary.
Professor Bechamp, a physiologist was probably the most acknowledged biological scientist in France at that time. Although his theory on germs differed widely from Pasteur’s, he did not have any political clout with emperor Napoleon. Hence, Pasteur’s theory was adopted.
Ironically, the one important discovery of Bechamp, which Pasteur plagiarized, was about fermentation. It is to the imminent physiologist’s credit that this is the very area where Pasteur’s germ theory breaks down.
Cultures, literally throughout the world, have for centuries successfully harnessed the aid of “good germs” to combat Pasteur’s pathogens without even knowing what germs were! Scientist are just beginning to understand how crucial and beneficial these traditional, often ancient, fermented dishes are.
From oriental dishes like miso, tempeh and natto, through the well known sauerkraut found in Roman texts to cassava in the tropics and hosts of others, such as the famous sourdough, people have derived superior health benefits from fermenting food. These foods not only provide a powerful defence against disease they vastly aid in digestion.
By providing our guts with live cultures to aid in breaking down food and assimilating minerals we are improving our longevity. This takes the burden off of our pancreases and allows them to provide enzymes for other critical body functions.
Aside from all of these health benefits, the greatest advantage fermenting foods has, especially for cheap healthy meals, is natural preservation. I am just getting into gardening and with the long Canadian winters, fermentation allows for homegrown organic vegetables year round.
Not everyone has a garden, but co-op vegetable gardens are an alternative rapidly growing in popularity. The problem with either of these choices is the amount of perishable vegetables produced in a short period of time.
By planning crops of vegetables conducive to fermentation, like cabbage for sauerkraut or carrots and ginger, for example, you can easily process large volumes in a short time. The process is really quite simple. I can process a couple of large cabbages into sauerkraut in a couple of hours.
It simply involves shredding, then pounding the cabbage to release the juice and adding whey, which is a natural byproduct I get from making cream cheese from fermenting milk with a kefir culture. I stuff this into mason jars and nature does the rest.
After leaving this a few days at room temperature I move it to a cool root cellar. Now that I am a bit ahead of the game I can leave it for the 6 months that the connoisseurs say it takes to come to full bloom.
Admittedly, there will be some busy and full days during harvest, but the results and savings, not to mention health benefits make it a rewarding project. Once a taste is acquired for the tangy, slightly sour products the chore fast becomes a labour of love.
If you haven’t experienced many fermented foods, quite possible as they are out of fashion, think of sourdough bread, famous for its cultured taste. The sweet thing about fermentation is that you don’t need to be a scientist or lab technician, it is a simple kitchen chore.
I am sure with a bit of instruction young children could do it. It is a form of food preparation and preservation that predates writing, found in cultures throughout the world and ancient history.
Fermented food does not limit itself to vegetables. There are many refreshing, healthy, inexpensive beverages that you can make at home. These include kombuch, ginger ale, kefir as well as beers, wines and ciders.