With fermented foods becoming one of the biggest food trends in the last few years and again in 2019, Natural Chef and Fermentation Expert, Nena Foster, explains to us why it’s all the rage.
From the famous Noma Fermentation Lab to the high street, fermentation and fermented foods have seen a revival. And according to the likes of Harper’s Bazaar, Open Table and Whole Foods and other food trend spotters, 2019 is set to be the year that fermented foods go fully mainstream. Once foods of the super health-conscious and grannies from Eastern Europe, fermented foods are rapidly popping up on restaurant menus, filling supermarket chillers, and more people are starting to make their own at home. And let’s not forget the fun, youthful rebranding that won’t let you forget—cabbage is now cool. You can find out more about Nena on her Instagram.
Fermented foods are earning their hype for a few reasons.
The changing food scene and millennial foodies’ quest for new and exciting flavours are heralded as one of the reasons for the rise in popularity of fermented foods, but also the conscious movement to think more sustainably about how we engage with the food system and reduce our own food waste. There is also a growing body of fascinating research into gut health that suggests there are multiple physical, mental and digestive health benefits associated with eating of fermented foods. Greedy foodies, green credentials and health aspects aside, many are also turning to make fermented food and drinks as a hobby, and the drinks, in particular, are gaining popularity alongside the sobriety movement. But, if you’re still trying to work out why everyone is banging on about kimchi and kombucha, read on.
In terms of flavour, there is no other cooking or food preparation technique that replicate the flavour of fermented food. To chefs and foodies, this is what excitement is made of—using these punchy, tangy, sour, but pleasantly rounded flavours to create new exciting dishes and dining experiences. Those forever in search of umami will know that nothing quite rounds a dish or satisfies the palate like a bit of something fermented. So, for chefs and foodies interesting in finding uncharted and unique flavours, fermented foods deliver.
Fermented foods also appeal to those of us concerned with sustainability within the food system and reducing food waste.
Historically, fermentation has been used as a method of preserving food. Whilst we have more means of keeping food fresh than we did 100 years ago, we are wasting much more. Globally, 1/3 of the food produced for human consumption is wasted (Food & Agriculture Organization of The United Nations, Key Facts). So in efforts to waste less by turning surplus veg into something that can last and nourish for months, people are turning to the once-forgotten science/art of fermentation. As well, fermentation is also a way for food growers to preserve gluts of nature’s best seasonal offerings—I’m already dreaming of the different ways to ferment my excess summer tomatoes.
Let’s talk about the health benefits
The fermentation process offers a host of additional nutrients, including B vitamins, which are made more accessible or bioavailable to the body as a result of the bacterial fermentation process. It’s not only the additional nutrients that make fermented foods a winner among the health-conscious and the increasingly health-curious, but also the promise of probiotics from the live bacteria within the ferment. Depending on the ferment and whether it is commercially or domestically produced, you can expect to find what is called lactic acid bacteria (LAB) such as species of Enterococcus, Lactobacillus, Lactococcus, Leuconostocand Bifidobacteria, to name a few. The species of bacteria occur naturally in a healthy human gut and functionally possess antimicrobial and antioxidant properties, as well as producing enzymes that aid digestion and absorption of nutrients (Tamang, J et al (2016) Functional Properties of Microorganisms in Fermented Foods, Frontiers in Microbiology, 7: 578). And there are many, many different levels of evidence that suggest that looking after our gut microbes, which includes, but is not limited to the consumption of fermented foods, has a host of health implications and benefits (Valdes, A (et al) (2018) Role of the gut microbiota in health and nutrition, BMJ, 361). From a preventative health measure, to ease the symptoms of IBS to reducing anxiety, many people are turning to fermented as a tool for health and symptom management.
And finally, as far as hobbies go, if you’re into craft beer or sourdough, you just might be into fermenting. Once bitten by the fermentation bug I have seen many become hooked on the joys of experimenting and swapping tips, tactics and recipes with fellow fermenters. Many of these folk are also into it for the culinary aspects as well as the health benefits, but it is love tinged with the wild-eyed fascination at the sight and sound of a ferment ticking away, I happen to also fall in this camp. Once I learned to ferment, I was hooked and thankfully, I have many friends, family, neighbours and students all who reap the (gut health) benefits.
If you want to know more about fermented foods and want to know where to start when making your own, or you are a seasoned fermenter after a bit of good-humoured cabbage chat, head over to www.thebrineclub.com, Nena’s latest fermentation venture, and find out more about the exciting online fermentation school and community. You can also find Nena on Instagram @nena.foster.food and on the same handle over on Facebook.
Easy Fermented Salsa
A delicious, fresh and zingy salsa that pairs well with just about anything! Feel free to use a mixture of colours and shapes of tomatoes to make it more flavourful and eye-catching! It is a great way to use up and preserve gorgeous tomatoes come summer. The sweet tang of the tomato pairs well with the citrussy Aleppo chilli flakes gives the salsa a fresh citrus kick.
When fermenting it is important to use a clean, airtight jar. It is important to use pure salt, fine Himalayan Pink salt is recommended. For this recipe, you can use a 1L jar or 2 smaller jars. It is also important to ensure that the veg remains under the brine while it is fermenting.
500g of mixed tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 large red onion, finely diced
1 ½ tsp Aleppo chilli flakes
5-7 cloves garlic, finely sliced
25 g fresh coriander, chopped
13 g Fine Himalayan pink salt
2 tsp raw apple cider vinegar (with the Mother, the bacteria responsible for kickstarting the fermentation process)
- Add the chopped tomatoes, onion, chilli, garlic and coriander into a large plastic or ceramic bowl.
- Shake over the salt and mix until the salt is well combined and the ingredients are mixed.
- Next, add apple cider vinegar and stir.
- Pack the salsa into a clean 1L glass, airtight jar with the mixture, pressing down so that the brine rises above the vegetables. You can use your onion skins to cover and help keep the salsa under the brine. Simply seal the jar when ready and set it out on your kitchen side to ferment.
- After a day or so, you will see bubbles form and rise in the jar, which means it is fermenting. The salsa will need to ferment for 3-4 days depending on the temperature in your kitchen. Label and date the salsa to keep track of the fermentation time
- When the time is up, taste the salsa, it should be tangy and slightly fizzy. Transfer it to the fridge when ready to eat and to store. Use within 1 month.
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Nena is a freelance Natural Chef and mum of 2. As a freelance chef she does a lot of different things, including teaching cookery and fermentation, developing recipes for brands and other chefs and working as an assistant food stylist, food writer and menu consultant. She left a career as a public sector consultant to retrain and while it isn’t easy starting a new career, she hasn't looked back since!