Fermenting Food Culture - A perspective on revival of fermentation practices
Modern times call for a paradigm shift in the way we consume fermented foods. Not because they are ‘better for you’ but because they also solve a larger problems like preserving the perishables, adding value to the supply chain by increasing the nutritional value which is perceived high by the consumers. When fermented correctly, good bacteria outnumbers the pathogens and eliminate anti nutrients thus, safe for consumption. To get people to start the dialogue about fermentation practitioners have to keep doing what they do the best, educate.
I had a conversation with fermentation practitioners from around the globe on what’s in it for the age-old practices in modern times and especially in a post-pandemic world. This write-up is based on my conversation with Kirsten Shockey and Anne Marie Bonneau during our ‘Fermentation Without Borders’ series of talks.
Fermented foods have been consumed in almost every culture and civilisation in the world. Their journey from the back of our kitchen cabinets to the front row seat at the gourmet stores has been nothing but spectacular. Fermenting culture reclaimed the attention in a way that not only preserved our food traditions but also excited us. The advancement is scientist approaches towards live-cultures and their impact of food transformation had led to a revival and faith back in such practices and shows hope for the future.
During my interactions with our guest speakers, I wanted to bring their opinions about the role of fermentation in fermenting local produce to achieve flavours we desire. I spoke with Kirsten Shockey, renowned author of best-selling fermentation-based books- Fiery Ferments, Fermented Vegetables and Miso Tempeh Natto and Other Tasty Ferments. Kirsten’s philosophy to work with what you have sets out the right pace for new practitioners looking for direction. When we talk about India’s love for fermented foods, we couldn’t help but talk about this global craze for kimchi. Whether the fondness was triggered by the love for Korean movies or because of benefits of fermented foods, it is hard to tell the reason but Kimchi is having its moment at the time.
Our conversation touched upon the possibility of making a kimchi variation with Indian spices. This ferment has a lot of room to pay around with, in terms of vegetables to use, techniques to follow and flexibility of using spices local to one’s geography.
For once, kimchi is mistaken more often than not for a specific variation that is made with napa cabbage, seafood, spring onions and gochugaru, Korean peppers. However, Kimchi, is technically any vegetable preserved in a spice blend. In Korea itself there are hundreds of kimchi recipes ranging it from coastal to mountainous adaptations depending on the availability of ingredients.
As for India, the kimchi interpretation is a chance to appreciate the abundance of local produce we receive year-around, the gorgeous cabbages, heirloom carrots, spring onions, cucumbers of all sorts - a cocktail of nutrients that lactobacillus bacteria love to gorge on. Regional take on these produce down south make me want to talk about Ooty carrots, chayote, knol-knol, mountain cucumber and what not.
The spices that and make use of the variety of chilli peppers grown in different parts of the country. From Kashmiri chillies to Bydagi chillies, Gundu, Guntur or Bird’s eye chilli, the choices are plenty.
The excitement to recreate a popular international sensations from hyper local cuisine is something to look forward to.
On a microbial level, different produce and spice blends will produce a unique end product that will differ in taste from the Korean counterpart but will have a remarkable flavour and high population of lactobacillus and bifidobacterium responsible for the health benefits associated with kimchi.
One other remarkable example Kirsten talked about local approach to fermentation is exploring Indian legumes and pulses for making tempeh, the Indonesian ferment traditionally made with soybean cakes and fermented with a rhizopus Oligosporus mold.
We had a long conversation about diverse Indian produce and lacto-fermenting with Indian cucumbers, experimenting with Himalayan plums for an Indian-style umeboshi.
The beauty of fermentation lies in the discovery, deep secret flavours of nature’s bounty unlocking through the power of microbes.
Note: Kirsten’s website Ferment.Works is a gold mine of everything fermented and also includes a free online fermentation course you can get started with anytime!
Continuing my talks for the second time, I spoke with Anne Marie Bonneau, also known as Zero-Waste Chef. She has popularised zero-waste cooking in a manner that embraces the simplest most rudimentary methods of putting food on the table. AM’s secret ingredient is bunch of microbes lurking in her kitchen (PS she loves them) to bring exotic flavours without using fancy and expensive ingredients.
AM talked about her experience fermenting a variety of foods ranging from sourdough, kombucha, ginger bug to kimchi, sauerkraut and apple-scrap vinegar without the need of special fermentation tools or gadgets.
Imagine spending 2,000 rupees of 50 probiotic capsules versus investing 30 rupees on a head of cabbage, making a sauerkraut with it and reaping all the benefits of live-probiotics plus the mind-boggling flavours! Saving up on cash is certainly lucrative too.
Fermenting stuff comes with the benefits of extending the shelf-life of produce. If you were to use up a head of cabbage in 2 servings in cooked form, you will be using the same head of cabbage over a period of 7-15 days in the form of sauerkraut. Imagine how much of produce like vegetables, herbs fruits you can rescue if they were to go bad due to over-buying (esp during lockdown) or laziness. Fermenting vegetables gives the maximum value of our money spent, with just the right knowledge of how to get started.
Learning to ferment brings the power of nourishing back in the hands of nature, i.e the microbes present in our environment.
AM likes to eat at least one kind of fermented food in her diet everyday, her blog www.zerowastechef.com has tons of recipes to make all kinds of fermented foods from scratch in your home kitchen.
The whole concept of zero-waste lies on the foundation of getting maximum value from existing resources and AM has been beautifully demonstrating in her everyday cooking.
Through our chats with Kirsten and AM, I have a strong feeling that we are on the right path of acquiring knowledge and inspiration to bring the practice of fermentation back into practice. It is just a matter of time before live-cultured fermented foods become the new normal and people start appreciating the power of nature in nourishing their lives.