Fermentation contributes to the preservation of foods by using key ingredients – sea salt, lack of oxygen and cool temperature – to protect the food so that it doesn’t spoil. Rather, it ferments so that it preserves the foods and the nutrients they contain, making them healthier for you to consume.
The three main types of fermentation are:
- Ethyl Alcohol – This process of fermentation is produced by bacterium and yeasts. Carbon dioxide and ethanol are the waste products of this type of fermentation. The process can produce such products as wine, bread and beer.
- Lactic Acid – A fermenting process that uses bacteria such as those common in fungi and yogurt. You may have experienced a somewhat sour taste when eating yogurt that’s cause that the lactic acids.
- Acetic Acid – Bacteria derives energy from the oxidation process which occurs when ethanol is fermented. Bacteria is commonly airborne and can be found in fresh apple cider and beer that hasn’t been sterilized.
Fermentation is a simple process that has been used for generations to preserve foods and also preserve the overall nutrition you can get from consuming them. Without it, we could not enjoy some of the wonderful and tasty foods that we enjoy today, such as olives, wine, sausages and yogurt.
During the fermentation process, three beneficial organisms help do the work of fermenting the foods and impart the taste and nutrition that we expect from the food out of the process. They are:
- Yeast – A one-cell fungi that you know best from baking bread or brewing beer. This micro-organism converts sugars into alcohol, acids, carbon dioxide and water.
- Molds – Multi-cell organisms that produce enzymes that break down the food so that the organisms can consume it. Some forms of molds are undesirable, such as those we see on food left in our refrigerators too long.
- Bacteria – One-cell organisms that eat starches and sugars contained in foods. They have a cell wall, but don’t have an organized nucleus or organelles.
Without these helpful organisms, we wouldn’t have the fermentation process. Some strains of the organisms can be harmful for us, but by knowing the food preservation process, it’s possible to kill the harmful ones and use the beneficial ones so that we can eat the food and benefit from it.
Preserving Your Own Foods by Fermentation
Fortunately, we can ferment and preserve our own foods with very little equipment. There is also a ton of information on the web about preserving foods. It’s easy and quick and will save you money on your grocery budget.
Before acquiring the tools you need to begin the fun of fermenting your own food, you should know that sanitation plays a key role in preserving the foods safely.
Some of the things you need to remember are that you don’t need a completely sterile condition to ferment foods, but you do need a sanitary working environment. This means your kitchen and the utensils and other tools you’re using for the process should be washed thoroughly (either in the dishwasher or by hand) and let the air do the work of drying them.
The goal here is to prevent spoiling organisms from taking control of your food and rendering it inedible. Don’t be discouraged if you do happen to have a spoiled batch of fermented foods. It takes time to learn the techniques used in the fermentation process.
You don’t need a ton of equipment to ferment food. And, the equipment doesn’t have to be expensive.
Here are some tools that can help pave the way to preserving your own food:
- Canning Jars – There are so many sizes and shapes of canning jars that you’ll be able to find at your local hardware store, grocery store and from online resources such as Amazon. The 32 ounce, wide-mouth jars seem to work best for preserving veggies and dairy, but you can find smaller or larger, depending on your need. Try and find the ones with airlocks.
- Plastic Containers – Plastic isn’t the best choice for food fermentation, but if you do choose plastic, be sure to purchase the ones that are BPA-free (BPA is a chemical compound that’s often been linked to health problems such as heart conditions, infertility and diabetes). Don’t use a plastic container that has previously held toxic materials.
- Food Processor – It’s especially helpful to have a food processor if you’re preserving veggies. One that comes with slicing and grating attachments are the best. The slicing portion is great for making sauerkraut and the grater is good for carrots, beets and most root vegetables. Use the S blade for chutneys.
- Strainers – Have two plastic strainers (1.5 oz. and a 4-inch) available to strain kefir (from milk kefir grains). Use cheese cloth or a tea towel to make a thick yogurt or kefir. Use the 4-inch strainer to strain the milk kefir when the grains are small.
- Yogurt Maker – Once you start making your own yogurt, this will be your favorite fermenting tool. No electricity is needed and you can make up to ½ gallon of creamy and delicious yogurt at one time. Be sure to completely fill the yogurt maker so that the temperature can be maintained for up to 20 hours.
- Fermenting Crock Pot – You can find many brands and sizes of high-quality (and high price), ceramic crock pots. If you find that you love fermented foods, they would be a great investment. Use for fermenting sauerkraut, kimchi and other veggies such as carrots, pumpkins, beans, peppers and much more. Gases can escape from a crock pot, but air cannot enter.
- Miscellaneous items – In your basket of fermenting tools, keep a collection of cotton tea towels, rubber bands, weights and other items. The towel (cheese cloth is good) can be placed over a jar and tightened with a rubber band. You’ll find your own items that you like to help you during the fermenting process.
It’s so much fun to preserve your own foods and it’s easier than ever. When you take the time to learn about the fermentation process and make your own, you’ll be amazed at the difference in texture and taste and how it makes store-bought items much less desirable.