We’ve identified fermented foods as one of the key menu trends for 2021. I caught up with Amy and Sam – founders of local startup The Fermentation Station – to find out why we should all be putting a focus on fermenting this year!

So… What is fermentation?

Fermentation is roughly defined as the chemical breakdown of a substance by bacteria, yeasts or other microorganisms typically involving effervescence and heat. It’s a naturally occurring process that can be harnessed to produce a wide variety of food and drinks.

What are some examples of fermented foods and drinks that we might already be aware of?

Fermented foods and drinks hail from many cultures around the world and are used in many ways – the most common ones that most people are aware of include bread, beer, wine, cheese, and yoghurt. Digging deeper, we find more tradition foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, soy sauce, ginger beer, miso, sake, pickles and preserves of various fruit and vegetables. There’s also fermented cured meats, vinegars, milk and water kefirs, tepache, fish sauce, kvass and kombucha.

Why should we be eating more fermented foods?

Fermentation is actually the natural process of our digestion system, so anything fermented already gives your body a jumpstart to help with that process. Fermented foods aid our gut health, increase nutritional bioavailability, contain probiotic “good” bacteria, boost our immune health… And they taste great too!

What’s the connection between fermented foods and probiotics? Is fermented food really that good for our gut health?

Probiotics are live microorganisms with gut health benefits, and fermented foods contain a wide range of these bacteria including various strains of Lactic Acid Bacteria (LAB) that are classed as probiotic. There are many claims of probiotic benefits and a wide range of bacteria is proven to be beneficial to overall gut health. As naturally fermented food and drinks contain this range of bacteria they are the better choice when compared to mass produced pasteurised options.

As with anything too much can be a bad thing so start small and see how your body feels. A lot of people can experience bloating when they first try fermented foods, and for people with low immunity introducing bacteria can be dangerous so always contact your doctor before making any significant changes to your diet.

Is all fermentation veggie / vegan?

Not all ferments are veggie or vegan, of course cured meats, pickled fish and fish sauces all contain animal products. You can get vegetarian friendly cheese without animal rennet and dairy based ferments such as milk kefir. Some ferments use animal products as an ingredient for example kimchi can contain fish sauce which would make it non-vegan friendly. All of the products we make are plant based and vegan friendly – a decision we made based on our own lifestyle, but also from a sustainability point of view.

All this talk of bacteria… Are fermented foods safe to eat?

Absolutely! People have been eating them for centuries but as with any food or drink product it’s all about control. When we ferment, we are creating very salty, low oxygen, high acid environments that provide hospitable environments for the bacteria we want to thrive, and a deadly environment for the bad bacteria (for example C. Botulinum which causes botulism which can be deadly in rare cases).

How can we incorporate more fermented foods into our diets?

Start small. Pop some sauerkraut on top of your scouse, add a little kimchi to your ramen, a little splash of fermented hot sauce on your scrambled eggs. Try a kefir or kombucha instead of your usual soft drink. We have a blog on our website called pickle on a plate because we didn’t want our ferments to sit at the back of the fridge or cupboard and never get used, so if you need a little inspiration that’s a great place to start.

One of our favourite ferments is kimchi because it is so versatile and can be added into so many dishes, we highly recommend adding it to a cheese toastie for a funky umami spicy hit to cut through the gooey cheese. Keep the kimchi liquid or juice and mix it with butter or mayo to create a new condiment, it can also be used in a Bloody Mary to great effect.

With a little bit of training and practice, you can also make your own ferments at home. Reduce food waste by fermenting or pickling any spare veggies – one of the first ferments we tried was lacto-fermented tomatoes. These can be tossed into a salad with some sourdough croutons and rocket for a simple side to any pasta dish or blitz them up with some garlic and extra virgin olive oil and use them on top of a bruschetta.

Can I safely ferment my own foods at home?

Yes, and please do! Just keep a few things in mind:

Use fresh produce or bits from the fridge that need using up, but don’t use something past its best. If it’s mouldy, fermenting is only going to make it worse!

Everything that is going to be used needs to be clean, so gather all of your equipment together first, then wash with hot soapy water and then rinse thoroughly again with hot water. Aim to use glass fermenting vessels – Kilner jars work well as do jam jars. Keep the lids closed but remember to open the lid and “burp”them daily to start with, as they will produce a lot of gas and can explode if left unopened for too long.

Some recipes call for 2% in salt of the weight of whatever it is you are fermenting, do not adjust these ratios as they are crucial to the fermentation process and keep the bad bacteria at bay. You want to keep the ferment submerged in the liquid; the easiest way is a Ziploc bag filled with some water as it moulds to the shape of the jar.

Remove any scum or white yeast growth which appears on the top of your ferment. This won’t do you any harm but it’s best to remove it in case it alters the flavour or progresses into more mould. Use your own judgment if it looks inedible, bin it and start again.

Finally – keep your ferments in the fridge to extend their lifespan and slow the fermentation process. Always use a clean spoon or fork to get it out the jar, don’t double dip, and scrape down the sides once you’re done to ensure that they’re not contaminated in any way.

If you’re interested in finding out more about fermenting – including some fantastic courses designed to help you start fermenting at home – why not check out The Fermentation Station Website or visit their Instagram Page!  

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