What would you do without your refrigerator? How would you keep all that food from spoiling? You might do what Dave did with an old refrigerator. Or you add salt, give it time, and depend on fermentation. Fermentation is a sound and safe method to preserve food that’s making a comeback thanks to surging interest in heritage foods, health, and of course flavor.
These traditional ways of preserving food line up with the values of today’s heritage food movement. I attended this year’s Austin Fermentation Festival sponsored by the Texas Farmers Market. The festival is an educational event that “celebrates all things fermented in Central Texas” with classes, displays, and sales.. Lots of fermented products were available: wine, beer, cider, bread, kraut, vinegar, cheese, kombucha, various vegetables, and fresh produce from local farmers.
Fermentation for digestion
I can’t do justice to all the whys in one blog, but it boils down to fermenting benefits digestion, benefits overall health, and benefits taste. Fermented foods are easier to digest because friendly bacteria pre-digest what the human gut doesn’t handle completely. That’s why certain foods, primarily dairy and grains, are better tolerated by some people if they are fermented, like yogurt, kefir, and sourdough bread.
The activity of friendly bacteria augments the flavor of food. Just like the taste of food cooked in a wood-fired oven can’t be duplicated in a conventional oven, fermented food has subtle tastes that can be attained no other way.
When it comes to grains, many authorities believe phytic acid is troublesome. It “binds to many minerals, including zinc, magnesium, calcium, and iron” so “eating large quantities of phytate-containing foods results in mineral deficiencies” (See this article on Mark’s Daily Apple.) However, the good news for bread lovers is that fermentation deactivates phytate. That means bread raised by air-borne leaven tastes better and is easier to digest.
Way of life
The buzz word that ties it all together is “nourishing.” Whether it’s supporting farmers markets; cooking in a wood-fired oven; making kraut, beer, and sourdough bread; there’s great satisfaction (and taste) in practicing traditional methods of food preparation. I came away from the festival enthusiastic, inspired and carrying lots of fermented items: bread, mead, cheese, kombucha, and olive oil.