Why Ferment Food and Drink?

Fermentation, particularly wild fermentation – fermenting plant material such as vegetables and berries with their own, endogenous wild yeasts – has increased in popularity in recent years. Kombucha, Kefir, Sauerkraut, Kimchi have all become noticeable first in wholefood shops and now creeping into the supermarkets and becoming slightly more mainstream. You probably already eat many fermented foods – wine, beer and bread being the most obvious and also some yoghurts, cheeses and pickles.

Fermentation is a great way to preserve abundance, be that a big bag of reduced veg going out of date in your local supermarket or your or your neighbours’ ridiculously successful cabbage patch. Giving a little time to prepare and process this bounty will result in tasty food or drink for months to come, with many people considering the fermented end product to be tastier than the starting ingredients. Many folk also find fermented foods easier to digest – food that might cause some digestive problems raw are easier on the system once fermented. Fermented food and drink is also thought to be beneficial to our gut microbiome – being a “live” food with digestive bacteria.

Beginners’ Tips

Fermenting can seem daunting, with horror stories about explosions, mould and fears of wasting food by just making a mess of things. Below are some notes on areas to be aware of, especially for the first time fermenter:

  • Cleanliness: do take care to clean carefully your containers, any utensils and your hands. If you have a dishwasher this is one way to get things very clean. Alternatively you can boil jar and bottle lids and dry glass containers in an oven to kill off unwanted microbes. The easiest way for a ferment to go wrong is for the wrong kind of microbes to get in and disrupt the process. And also, don’t worry if/when this happens to you – most of us have had a ferment go mouldy at some point and the smell may haunt you but it is something of an initiation rite of the true fermenter
  • Temperature: you will find things slower to ferment in colder environments and quicker in warmer environments, so the time of year will effect how long you need to leave something to ferment. From feedback from dozens of people who have been on our fermenting workshops and from our own fermentation experiments – we have found that the exact temperature of the environment isn’t the most important element. We’ve found that consistency of temperature is the most important aspect. For this reason, finding a fermentation spot where you are means, avoiding windows (direct sunlight), doors (drafts) and radiators or fires (direct heat). If you have shelf out of the way of these things, place your fermenting container there. For additional temperature consistency you can insulate your container by wrapping a towel or tea towel around them.
  • Which Plants to Use: for your early attempts with fermentation, use plant material that is ripe and therefore full of natural plant sugars that aid fermentation. As you progress with your skills, you may want to start experimenting with over-ripe fruits, but this is something to be a wee bit cautious with as there is a very fine line between over-ripe and mouldy – see above about unwanted microbes. If you can forage or organically grow your plant material from clean areas, they will be covered in plant yeasts so will ferment more quickly – please, don’t wash them, you’ll lose most of their lovely yeasts. If you are buying your plant material, think about how it was grown and the packaging. If you can source plant material which is organically it won’t have been sprayed with chemicals which will likely inhibit fermentation. Further, most plant material in an enclosed package with no air holes has chemical/s within the packaging to preserve it for longer – this will potentially inhibit fermentation. So, given a choice between fermenting with Mint leaves in a growing pot and those in a sealed bag – choose the growing pot. Similarly, with a choice of chilies in an enclosed package versus those which are loose or in a package with air holes, choose the chillies which can still breathe. We talk about this more in our online course Kitchen Herbal Medicine

Fermented Drink Recipes

Below are 2 recipes for fermented drinks, the first – Wild Berry Kvass – is a great way to use foraged berries, especially Blackberries. If you’ve ever felt a bit daunted at the thought of picking enough berries for jam, this is the recipe for you, requiring just a handful of berries and one jar.

Our second recipe – Kombucha – uses mainly ingredients that you’ll find in your kitchen. You will need to acquire a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeasts) – this is the starter for your Kombucha. We recommend asking around locally for a donated SCOBY rather than buying online. Local SCOBYs will be living in an environment similar to yours so should settle in more quickly and be fermenting away before you know it.

Wild Berry Kvass

  1. Pick a large handful of fresh berries – Blackberries are very good for this
  2. Place them in a small jar and fill with purified water – either by boiling it in an open saucepan for 10-15 minutes then cooling or using a water purifier
  3. Close the jar tightly and leave for 2-4 days somewhere with regular temperature (see Temperature Notes), checking for bubbles forming on the top from Day 2
  4. When bubbles start to form, open gently
  5. Drink the liquid – this is your Kvass and use the berries in smoothies, with oats or in other sweet things, they will also be a good source of bacteria unless you cook them

Kombucha

  1. Make 1 litre of black tea using 1 teabag and 1 tablespoon of sugar – make more if your container is larger, just increase the tea bags and sugar in proportion
  2. Allow to cool
  3. Place the cooled tea in a large container with a SCOBY and starter liquid
  4. Leave with the lid loosely on / open and covered with a light cloth / muslin – you want the air to get in but not any dust or insects
  5. Leave for 4-7 days somewhere with regular temperature (see Temperature Notes), taste every day from day 4
  6. When it is tasting sour, decant the SCOBY and enough liquid to cover it into a smaller jar & either start again at 1. or keep in the fridge
  7. The remaining liquid is Kombucha, you can drink this as it is if you like
  8. You can also flavour the Kombucha and/or ferment it again to add fizz
  9. FLAVOUR: add fruits, herbs and spices to flavour the Kombucha – I like Raspberry (use frozen) or Blueberry & fresh Turmeric
  10. SECOND FERMENT: place your Kombucha & any flavourings in 500ml-1l bottles
  11. Leave in your kitchen for 1 week with the lid on tightly – if you don’t like fizz, put it in the fridge now
  12. Keep an eye on it and when you notice bubbles at the top, tighten the lid and keep in the fridge
  13. Kombucha can be taken as a long drink – mixed with still or sparkling water (not hot water as this destroys the bacteria) or added to salad dressings, porridge

Find Out More

Our Kitchen Herbal Medicine Course has a fermenting section, covering food and drink https://grassrootsremedies.podia.com/kitchen-herbal-medicine

Modern Wild Fermenting Ambassador, Sandor Katz, has written many wonderful books on fermenting and regularly posts about his fermenting travels around the world https://www.wildfermentation.com/

 

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