By Carlynn Woolsey, Foodable Contributor
It might seem counterintuitive to even consider serving “rotten” food to customers, but that is basically what chefs everywhere are doing when plating up portions of fermented cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, and radishes — and these are only the most basic options available when it comes to fermented foods. Believe it or not though, some of the healthiest, tastiest — and currently — the trendiest foods we can eat are bathed in their own bacteria.
There are two basic methods used to ferment foods. The first method is characterized by the transformation of sugar to alcohol using yeast (think beer). The second is commonly referred to as lacto-fermentation because lactic acid is produced when fruits and vegetables are mixed with salt and deprived of oxygen. The time it takes for a mixture to ferment can vary from a mere couple of hours to months, and in rare cases, it can take years.
Our forefathers (and likely their fathers before that) fermented food not only because it tasted delicious, but because it preserved it, too. Fermentation essentially produces ‘good’ bacteria, which in turn prevents any ‘bad’ bacteria from forming. As you might imagine, this fact was especially important before the advent of refrigeration and modern-day preservatives. Pickled roots, grape leaves, and sauerkraut are all traditional fermented foods.
Fermentation has seriously evolved over the last several years, and products that have been relatively under-the-radar in the past are now at the forefront of the culinary scene. A few of these products include:
Kombucha – A fizzy, fermented black tea that can contain up to seven microorganisms at a time, which will help to keep your digestive tract healthy and provide a natural energy boost. Mixologists are brewing their own versions, enhanced by fruit, honey, and chia seeds.
Kimchi – This spicy Korean cabbage dish is currently being served up next to noodle bowls and hamburgers alike.
Coconut Yogurt – As more consumers turn to dairy-free diets, this yogurt is becoming increasingly popular because it still packs the same probiotic punch as Greek and regular varieties.
The Name Game
Big name chefs are, in part, driving the sales of these products as they tout the use of fermented foods in their own restaurants. David Chang is leading the charge by turning a portion of his New York City-based Momofuku empire into a fermentation test lab and production facility. In November of 2013, Chang gave a lecture at Harvard University in which he described fermentation as “when rotten goes right.” It appears to be going right for the likes of Marc Vetri and Jean-Georges, too, as they are also advocates of in-house fermentation practices, making their own cheeses, meats, and pickled vegetables.
Beyond the Trend
As if the accessibility factor alone is not enough to encourage you to eat fermented foods on a regular basis, consider that they are extremely healthy and easy to make at home, as well. The bacteria present in these foods encourages the production of intestinal flora that can heal digestive problems, boost overall immunity, and aid in weight loss.
DIY beginners might want to start by tightly packing a Mason Jar with shredded cabbage and a pinch of salt to create a basic sauerkraut. The mixture will be ready after sitting sealed, at room temperature, for 3-5 days. For the more advanced, try making your own lacto-fermented pickles by covering sliced cucumbers in a brine of filtered water and salt, with layers of garlic cloves, herbs, and grape leaves. Once the brine turns cloudy, the pickles will be ready, and you can snack on the latest good-for-you trend!