Revive the ancient art of fermentation in your kitchen
All kinds of hipsters and do-it-yourselfers are tackling home fermentation projects these days, reviving a craft dating back to antiquity, when the lack of refrigeration, out of necessity, led to the invention of preserved foods that would last longer and taste better.
Nowadays, ancient fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi, and beverages such as kombucha and kvass, have been shown to help balance the bacteria in the intestinal tract, boosting the good bacteria that protect the body while reducing inflammation.
Fermentation also makes vegetables like raw cabbage easier to digest and can enhance the uptake of nutrients.
“The Neolithic tradition of fermentation has sparked modern use of and interest in probiotic microbes,” Robin Foroutan, a registered dietitian nutritionist wrote in Food & Nutrition magazine. “From Korean kimchi and Indian chutneys to the ubiquitous sauerkraut, yogurt and cheese, global cultures have crafted unique flavors and traditions around fermentation.”
To help local foodies learn more about this delicious science, Pepperwood Preserve — a 3,200-acre nature preserve serving as a living lab for conservation — hosted a spring retreat in early April to teach some of the ancient preservation techniques for everything from hard cider to sauerkraut at the Dwight Center for Conservation Science.
“Over the past several years, a fascination with fermentation has infiltrated our culture,” said Margaret Boeger, youth and community project manager for Pepperwood Preserve. “The fermentation movement has included pickling a wide variety of root vegetables, brewing up tasty beverages, baking hearty and healthy breads, and producing rich cheeses and yogurts.”
The retreat started out with a workshop on beet kvass and a demonstration of making sauerkraut presented by two young craft people who work in Sonoma County.
Beet kvass from Ukraine
Adam Johnston, president of Biotic Beverages, produces five flavors of organic, vegetable kvass drinks in Petaluma: Beet, ginger, turmeric, lime and pineapple. He started the business four years ago, when there was only one other kvass-maker in the country. Biotic Beverages is now the third largest producer in the nation.
“Kvass is from the Baltic region,” Johnston explained. “The Russians make it with bread, sugar and raisins with yeast. Biotic Beverages makes it with vegetables, like they do in the Ukraine.”
The sour-sweet beet kvass provides the healthy properties of beets, which are detoxifying for the liver and beneficial for the bloodstream, enhancing the uptake of vitamins and minerals, from Vitamin A and B6 to calcium and zinc.
“It was the most popular drink in 19th-century Russia, consumed by the rich as an occasional refreshment and by the peasantry on a daily basis,” Elena Molokhovets wrote in “Classic Russian Cooking.”
“The drinking of kvass in late Tsarist Russia had become a culture-laden act that helped to define one’s Russianness.”
Unlike kombucha, which is made from sugar, tea, water and a scoby (a symbiotic blend of yeast and bacteria), vegetable kvass is fermented with salt and flavored with extras like ginger, citrus, carrots, beets and pineapple.
The resulting drink is a healthier alternative to kombucha because it has no refined sugar and a lower level of alcohol.
“You can make these products at home safely and easily, and they’re kid-friendly,” Johnston said. “We’re seeing a trend away from sugar.”