A Dietitian Explains How to Ferment Your Own Food
Our resident Swisse dietitian, Simone Austin, is here to tell you how to create some fermentation magic in your own home.
One of the most popular wellness trends of 2018 was undoubtedly fermented foods, with the trend set to get even bigger in 2019. It started with the once-obscure tea drink, kombucha, going well and truly mainstream, and now fermentation is the word on everyone’s lips (and plates).
The concept of fermenting food is certainly not new and many cultures have been onto the health benefits of fermentation for many years. You only need to look to Japan (miso paste), Germany (sauerkraut), or Korea (kimchi) to understand its timeless popularity.
What the F is fermentation?
Fermentation is a metabolic process in which microorganisms such as bacteria, yeast or fungi convert organic compounds – usually carbohydrates such as sugar - into alcohol or acids. It involves the production of energy without oxygen1 and has many benefits, such as:
- Persevering food, which can extend a food’s shelf life and reduce waste.
- Making food easier to digest, for example, in fermented yoghurt, the lactose is broken down into individual sugar molecules, which for some people can help with absorption2.
- Reducing cooking time – foods that are tough or difficult to digest or unpalatable raw can be improved by fermentation.
- Adding microbes to the gut by creating a supply of live “good” bacteria.
The good thing about fermenting is that you can do it at home relatively simply and without a large cost. Before fermenting at home, it’s important to understand that you are producing bacteria, so some care is needed to ensure it’s done correctly.
Home pickled vegetables
Fruit and vegetables have bacteria on their surface. When placed in an oxygen-free environment, such as in a jar with oil or salted water, the bacteria turn the natural sugars in the fruit or vegetables into lactic acid. This acts as a preservative and creates the tangy flavour.
How to ferment your own fruit and veggies:
- Grab a clean jar.
- Layer your fruit or vegetables (e.g. carrot, onion, capsicum, cauliflower) and add herbs and spices.
- Cover with salted water, making sure they’re totally submerged.
- The pickling is done when you think they taste good – this could be a few days or few weeks and is down to personal preference.
- Refrigerate after opening.
Sauerkraut is made in the same way, by shredding cabbage and ensuring it is all submerged below the salted water. You can add caraway seeds if you like, as they enhance the taste. The cabbage releases liquid during the fermentation, so ensure it stays under the waterline and screw the lid on hard.
Kombucha is a fermented tea with a tangy flavor and low sugar content, so it’s a perfect addition to water as a drink of choice.
You can make your own kombucha by using a culture of bacteria and yeast called a “SCOBY” (which stands for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast). It’s basically a thick, rubbery mass which aids the fermentation process and can be purchased from reputable health food shops or via online retailers. Add your SCOBY to a solution of sugar and tea, and ferment for 1-4 weeks.
During the fermentation, the bacteria and yeast ferment the tea and sugar, to make the sour tasting drink. It also produces acetic acid and other compounds as a result of fermentation, which can support inner wellbeing. Be sure to discard your SCOBY if you notice mold, an unpleasant smell or signs of decay.
Including a range of fermented products in your diet is a great way of introducing different bacteria to your gut, where fermentation in your body occurs. There is still a lot to discover and learn in this area, however we do know a healthy balance of gut bacteria is beneficial to our inner wellbeing.
- Kim et al. 2016, ‘A Review of Fermented Foods with Beneficial Effects on Brain and Cognitive Function’, Prev Nutr Food Sci, Vol. 21, No. 4, pp. 297–309, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5216880/
- Macro et al. 2017, ‘Health benefits of fermented foods: microbiota and beyond’,Current Opinion in Biotechnology, Vol. 44, pp. 94-102, https://isappscience.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Marco-health-benefits-fermented-foods-ISAPP-rev-17.pdf