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It's good for your gut: How to get started with DIY food fermentation

Jane Corscadden September 13, 2020
diy food fermentation

Have you ever wanted to get started with DIY food fermentation but didn’t know how? Look no further.

Popular across cultures for centuries, fermented food is having a moment right now.

It is becoming ever more popular for health benefits, while during lock-down many people tried their hand at fermentation as they found more free time. I was one of those people.

Fermentation seemed daunting to get into at first but, once I got going, it became strangely addictive.

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Why food fermentation? What’s in it for me?

Fermentation is essentially the controlled rotting of food. Sounds gross, right? But don’t let that put you off.

By this process, naturally occurring bacteria breaks down the food’s natural sugar into acid, specifically lactic acid, which creates more strains of good bacteria.

As such, fermented food is full of this good bacteria – also known as probiotics.  

Food containing probiotics contribute to the well-being of your gut, specifically the microbiome that populates the large intestine.

Increasing your uptake of fermented food and strengthening the body’s microbiome has been shown to have many health benefits. This includes increased brain health, increased bone health, and reducing symptoms of irritable bowl syndrome. All in all, fermented food increases your overall general health.

A healthy gut microbiome could even be essential in long-term space missions!

How to get started with DIY food fermentation

You will need some tools before you can start making all your fermentation dreams come true.

Photo by Jeffrey Coolidge via Getty Images

Behind every good ferment is a good, durable jar. My jar of choice is the Kilner jar. However, other jar brands are available.

What I love about Kilner jars is they are designed to withstand the gas build-up the fermentation process creates. They even include their own fermentation kit to get you started, including an air lock so gas can escape without letting dreaded oxygen into the jar.

Before making your first ferment, you may want to carry out some research to decide what sort of food you want to make.

You could go down the route of making your own yogurt, creating a starter via your own sourdough bread or cutting cabbage to make sauerkraut.

I began watching a lot of Bon Appetit videos during lock-down and was introduced to the wonderful world of fermentation through the It’s Alive series hosted by Brad Leone.

As well as providing great recipes that make fermentation easy, Brad does a great job of explaining the fermentation process for newbies.

What should I make first?

Food fermentation can be as basic or as advanced as you like.

There are three basic types of food fermentation:

  • Lactic acid fermentation – when bacteria converts sugar into lactic acid in food such sauerkraut, kimchi, sourdough, yogurt and pickles.
  • Ethyl alcohol fermentation – where sugar is broken down by yeast into alcohol and carbon dioxide, producing wine and beer.
  • Acetic acid fermentation – fermentation of sugar from grains or fruit into sour-tasting flavours, creating apple cider vinegar.

If you’re just getting started, however, here a few recipes I would recommend trying:

Sourdough

Photo by Anshu A on Unsplash

The real star of lock-down, it seemed as though everyone was making their own sourdough. Making your own loaf is definitely comforting and highly rewarding. It can be tricky but, if you stick closely to a recipe, it’s easy enough.

Firstly you’ll need your own starter. This is fed for a few days before you make your first loaf as you will essentially be curating your own yeast. Put simply, a starter is just equal parts flour and water.

Keep it covered in a warm place, and you’ll see bubbles popping up. This is carbon dioxide releasing as a by-product of the fermentation process. It’s alive! After a few days, use the float test to check if your starter is bread-ready.

Kimchi

This beautiful Korean cabbage side dish is amazing and can be added to a variety of different dishes. Even better, it’s so easy to make. You’ll need a white (or napa) cabbage, salt, radish, Korean red pepper flakes (gochugaru), and any other vegetables you fancy.

Photo by Portuguese Gravity on Unsplash

If you haven’t tried kimchi before, give it a chance – it’ll blow your mind!

Hot sauce

Did you know many hot sauces such as sriracha are fermented? It adds a lovely depth of flavour and, when you’re making your own, you can make it as spicy and flavoursome as you wish.

For my hot sauce I use the Bon Appetit recipe as a base to build from depending on what flavour profile I’m looking for.

I’ve made jalapeno and basil hot sauce using the Bon Appetit recipe as a base and even made a habanero and pineapple one.

A warning, though, the more fruit you add to your sauce, the more sugar – meaning the fermentation process speeds up a lot. Make sure you burp (twist the cap to release gas) your sauce every few days, or this will happen:

Near-misses with explosions aside, it’s a really fun recipe to try out and a great one to mess around with if you’re a fan of hot sauce!

So what are you waiting for? Take the leap and get started with DIY food fermentation today. It’s a great hobby to take up and the satisfaction it provides is second to none.

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Jane is a freelance journalist from Belfast, Northern Ireland specialising in news, culture and politics. She studied Politics at Queen’s University Belfast before completing a Journalism MA at the University of Ulster. Always trawling social media and keeping up to date with the latest trends and crazes, her main interest lies in digital culture and internet trends.