Ferment at home: Flavour bombs that reduce food-waste
Fermentation simply put is the microbial action on foods to bring out desired transformation in flavour, texture and appearance. These transformations eventually impact nutrition and shelf-stability of the fermented food.
Fermentation was primarily used as a food preservation practice in times of famines and harsh weather. Civilisations discovered that keeping foods buried underground, or in cellars in claypots not only kept it from spoiling but also developed appetising flavours. These food traditons were followed in almost all the cultures worldwide. However, in modern times we shifted more towards refrigeration and canning.
The key difference between fermentation and any other popular method of preservation, say drying, is the fact that fermentation uses selective microbes to begin the preservation process. In yogurt making, the lactic-acid bacteria are encouraged to proliferate and acidify milk. This technique changes the physical properties of milk but preserves it for much longer than fresh milk.
In drying, the aim is to deactivate all microbes, good or bad, either by sun or applying heat. For the most part, in making pickle, the first step is to dry out the vegetable under sun completely before adding any spices or oil. Drying kills off all bacteria hence there are no microbes involved in preservation.
Fermentation could either be spontaneous or intentional however, the focus is on desirable and well-intended end results.
Two broad types are fermentation are-
ii) Cultured fermentation
If you want to begin fermenting at home, chances are you have all the ingredients, including the microbes right there around you. The vegetable supplies the microorganisms required to begin the fermentation. All we have to do is make suitable conditions for them to survive, thrive and take over. Take example of yogurt vs kanji, a sour-salty fermented beverage made with black carrots. In the former, we add previously made yogurt to begin the fermentation process, whereas the carrot kanji ferments on its own, because of the naturally occurring lactic-acid bacteria.
There are many ways to begin fermenting. The few underlying components of fermentation steps goes like:
Substrate + Microbes + Time + Conditions = Fermented product
Lets take the example of kombucha to understand the equation-
Sweet Tea liquor + SCOBY + 7-14 days + Open air fermenting vessel = Kombucha
You can practically ferment anything with the above equation whatever your intention is - create flavours, consume probiotic-rich foods or increase shelf-stability, fermented foods sit in the crossroads of gut-health and reviving food cultures around the world. It is a practice that kept humans alive and paved ways for future generations to explore the world of microbes and connect it to gut-health. It gives as us hope that food can indeed be our medicine, a tool to attain health and self-sustenance.