Fermentation: Bad Food, Still Good

Brooke Newberry
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Fermentation is older than everything. Its ancient roots crawl way back to 6,000 BC, when our ancestors were maniacally trying to figure out how to get drunk and preserve fresh milk (oh hey, yogurt). This historical preservation is essentially just a measured rotting – it will happen organically and only slight human intervention is needed to control its course. Though for modern day purposes, the process is a means of manipulation and an indication of cultural identity. As opposed to praising fermentation as a proper preservation method, the funky practice is admired as a darling in the kitchen because it makes specific foods stronger, more gastronomically interesting, and more nutritious.

A metabolic call to action is what ignites the magic process in home-fermented vegetables and fruits. During fermentation, food is exposed to bacteria and yeast, which feed on the sugars in food. The food’s environment becomes acidic so quickly that it has no time to become rancid. The result of all this microbial devouring is lactic acid, a preservative that also harvests probiotics in the healthy foods we read about or see Jamie Lee Curtis eating on television. Think of fermented foods as partially digested foods. Sounds gross, but in reality, those probiotics, enzymes, and vitamins produced during fermentation are pros at curating good bacteria and peacefully balancing our digestive systems.

The scores of fermentation are transformed flavors, textures and smells that appeal to the acid receptors on our tongues. Many fermented foods already exist in our diets: bread, cheese, wine, beer, vinegar, chocolate, yogurt, kimchi, pickles, sauerkraut and miso are all fermented foods. As an aspirant sterile country, we have been fighting bacteria in our food for years. Now ironically, the trend is to embrace it.

Check out Fermentation on Wheels, a rot-happy campaign on kickstarter. The project comes from Eugene, Oregon, and the good people who brain-birthed it are pitching a yearlong tour of small farms across the country. The tour will promote sustainability and teach fermentation, but really, their passion project is a plea to fund the pollination of the rest of our brains. Help them study the link between food and its source as they bring back what they’ve learned about the importance of connecting people with their food source. We’d love to help these folks help people get their hands dirty, minds curious, and back into the kitchen.  


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