by Martha Gonzalez RD,LD,CLC; BVHS Clinical Nutrition Manager
Before there was refrigeration, there was fermentation. While fermented foods may seem like a new trend, it is actually one of the oldest ways to preserve food, dating back thousands of years. Although it is a common practice around the world, many people are still unaware of how it works. Simply put, fermentation is the breakdown of sugars into simpler compounds such as acids, alcohol and CO2. This process results in safe food preservation by inhibiting harmful bacteria.
The recent emphasis on gut health has brought about an increased frenzy for eating more fermented foods. For years, yogurt and kimchi have been promoted for their beneficial probiotics, but it was not until recently that people started looking deeper into why these and other fermented foods are healthy. Fermentation produces good bacteria, leading to a healthier gut when consumed.
Although there are many fermented food options at the grocery store, more people are beginning to ferment their own foods at home. There are factors that must be in place to ensure the final safety and quality of the product, including the use of safe food and cooking tools. Proper temperature, a correct amount of salt, and adequate storage time are also important to produce a safe and quality product. Additionally, the National Center for Home Food Preservation states there must be a certain level of acid to prevent food poisoning. Furthermore, it is important not to alter the amount of vinegar, food or water in a recipe, as the proportions are created to give the best outcome.
The temperature for fermentation to occur is based off the type of food being preserved. If the temperature is too low, it can either take longer to ferment or possibly not ferment at all. However, if it is too high, the food may become soft and lack quality. Proper temperature also ensures harmful bacteria are destroyed and no new bacteria can grow.
Although there are countless recipes to choose, Food Safety News advises only using tested recipes. This ensures that both the amount of salt and storage time will be correct. Only certain types of salt, such as pickling or canning salt, should be used. Common table salt or salt that contains iodine may affect the process or prevent it from taking place. Additionally, inaccurate storage time may reduce the quality of the food, resulting in a softer product the longer it is stored. Once fermentation has occurred, Food Safety News advises that food should be placed in the fridge or a root cellar to slow down the process. This allows the food to be stored for months without losing quality or taste.
Eating fermented foods can lead to a healthier gut, but the proper safety and quality measures must first be put in place before trying the process out at home. Ask your nutritionist for more tips on how to start fermenting your own products.