Overcoming My Fermentation Fears


I wrote an article recently for the organization HandPicked Nation about my former fear of fermentation. I am no longer afraid of letting food sit on a counter or in a pantry, because I understand the power of probiotic foods. This method of food preparation has been around for centuries, and for good reason. Here is an excerpt from the article:

In ancient Egypt apple cider vinegar was used as an internal and external antiseptic. In the 1500s sailors discovered that sauerkraut, loaded with vitamin C, could prevent scurvy during their long expeditions. Asian countries have relied on fermented soy for years in the form of natto and miso.

These cultures intuitively understood the health benefits without fully understanding the microbiology behind fermentation. Modern science has shown that bacterial cells in the body outnumber human cells by a factor of 10 to 1 (see this Scientific American article for more information). These cells comprise our microbiome and offer a rich source of protection for the human body. The bacterial physiology goes something like this: Beneficial microbes produce numerous metabolites. Lactic acid found in sauerkraut, fermented milk, and other food is one of these metabolites. The metabolites help crowd out harmful bacteria, essentially offering a self-regulating, safe antibiotic. Introducing lacto-fermented food is like sending in military reinforcements.

Since more than 70 percent of our immune system lies in the digestive tract, it makes sense to build up our microbial army.

Once convinced of the value of fermented food, I faced my fear of preparation. I can chop vegetables for a salad, but can I pound cabbage, add salt, and trust that it will turn into something edible? Can I handle sour milk?

I began with dairy kefir. Drawing on our local farmer’s goat milk, I purchased kefir grains online. I combined the two, and voilĂ ! Goat kefir. The sour taste was a bit of a shock, but I slowly adjusted and (to my surprise) so did my taste buds.

Gradually I built up the courage to try sauerkraut. After a couple of botched jobs, I quickly learned there are no shortcuts when it comes to fermentation. It’s far better to use the proper equipment and follow directions. Creativity comes later.

Soon I mastered yogurt. Twelve months later I tried fermented fruit leather. In time I tried water kefir. Most recently I dazzled my family with lacto-fermented ketchup.

It’s been more than two years since I embarked upon my fermentation journey. I see the difference in my family’s health as well as my own. I find great reward in my at-home pharmacy and love the feeling of satisfaction every time I place a freshly-made ferment on my pantry shelf.
To read the entire article, visit the HandPicked Nation website.

Below is a tutorial from our momsAWARE Natural Year Challenge showing the steps involved in preparing sauerkraut. For the recipe and printed step-by-step instructions, see our Natural Year Challenge: Food Edition - Make a Vegetable Ferment.