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Fermented foods gaining fans

  • Jennifer Harris gives a talk on fermentation and making pickles at the Arlene Francis Center on Sixth St. in Santa Rosa, Wednesday, July 31, 2013. (Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat)

Most people who make their own fermented foods — preserved products such as sauerkraut that contain live bacteria — fall into it by accident.

But as they start to do more research, they discover an amazing world of ancient foodstuffs boasting all kinds of extra benefits, from complex flavors to improved digestion and health.

"By eating fermented foods, we increase the biodiversity of the flora in our intestines," said Jeff Cox of Kenwood, author of the new book "The Essential Book of Fermentation." "When you have a constant flood of good guys, the bad guys can't get a hold."

Jennifer Harris, who organized the Farm to Fermentation Festival last weekend in Santa Rosa, said it's an exciting time to be sharing her fascination with fermented foods with others.

"People are slowly getting more comfortable with it," she said. "And they're starting to think of bacteria as sexy, like a glass of red wine."

While the popular kombucha (fermented tea drink) can be found across the country, The Shed in Healdsburg may be the first in the nation to offer a "fermentation bar," showcasing kombuchas and hard ciders as well as tasty "shrubs" — drinks made with sweet-sour vinegar syrups.

"I think we're a little ahead of the curve here in Sonoma County," said Mary Karlin of Petaluma, whose latest cookbook, "Mastering Fermentation," is due out Tuesday. "Wild yeasted bread has been going for 15 years or so. Then cheese became the new bread, and now kimchi (Korean sauerkraut) is the new cheese."

Karlin, who teaches cooking classes all over the Bay Area, starts her students off with some of the more popular and accessible fermented foods.

"At The Fork in Point Reyes, we do fermented dairy," she said of the farmstead center in West Marin. "So we do cultured butter; creme fraiche, which is easy; cream cheese; and dairy kefir (a yogurt-like, fermented-milk drink).

Like many health seekers, Karlin has made the sour, effervescent kombucha part of her daily routine.

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