The Buzz: Home Fermentation

What’s the buzz?
Everyone’s talking about getting funky with your food. Is it really that good for you — and is it safe?

What does the science say?
Lots of people are experimenting in their kitchens these days (and not just in Berkeley and Brooklyn). From feeding a sourdough starter for freshly baked bread to keeping a kombucha scoby (the starter for the popular drink) alive to making homemade sauerkraut, home cooks are getting friendly with fermentation. And that’s great, because the buzz about the benefits of eating fermented foods seems to be backed by science. A recent slew of research suggests that keeping the (good) bugs in your gut happy by eating fermented foods, which contain the “food” they like to eat (probiotics), can have many health benefits. Fermented foods have been linked to improved digestion, stronger immune systems, and possibly even managing autoimmune disorders.

Fermenting at home may sound intimidating, but it only requires a few ingredients, a little bit of patience, and, let’s be honest, an appreciation (or tolerance) for strong aromas. Basic sauerkraut, for example, is just heavily salted, thinly sliced cabbage. The salt draws out the water in the cabbage, leaving the crunchy fiber, and that salty brew then supports the growth of good bacteria that preserves the cabbage. Some fermented foods like kimchi, kombucha, and kefir require a more detailed understanding of the process, but can be learned with a little practice and the right recipe. Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz (or his website) is a great starting point.

Now for the safety part. While the lactic acid from the fermentation keeps harmful bacteria from growing, it’s still essential to follow basic food safety principles like starting with clean dishes and work surfaces and washing hands, as these foods are left to ferment for several days to weeks (and are never cooked or pasteurized). Home-brewed kombucha has a higher risk of bacterial contamination than kimchi or sauerkraut, but they all carry some risk. Once fermentation is complete to your liking, store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for several weeks.

What’s the takeaway?
Fermenting at home can be a fun way to try something new in the kitchen while adding healthful and funky flavors to your meals. Not sure where to start? Try our simple homemade sauerkraut or kimchi. Your gut (and taste buds) will thank you.

Read more about how to safely ferment at home. For more recipe inspiration, here are 16 more ways to “get funky.”