Wild Fermentation Goes Mainstream

I know it’s wild. Those of you who ferment your own dill pickles, relish, sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, chutneys, and other fruits and vegetables probably feel like you have a sign pasted to your forehead that reads: WEIRDO.

But, apparently, fermentation has become all the rage in San Francisco. Tara Duggan of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote a feature-length article on the trend which includes a handful of yummy sounding recipes.

She writes:

Canning may still be having its comeback in this DIY era, but traditionally fermented vegetables – such as sauerkraut, kimchi and barrel-fermented pickles – take urban homesteaders to the next level of old-style food preservation. An easy and delicious way to put up the harvest, fermenting appeals both to the slow food and the health food crowds. It also fascinates those curious about food chemistry, whether a professional cook or passionate home tinkerer.

In that one simple paragraph, Duggan summarized what so many of us have learned since we began our own adventures in home fermentation and reclaiming traditional foods — this growing movement is a big tent where so many are welcome.

Who loves wild fermentation?

  • Locavores — those committed to eating local, seasonal food
  • Slow Foodies — those committed to bringing back pleasure & tradition into the cooking and dining experience
  • Urban & Rural Homesteaders — those trying to be self-sufficient and preserve their fruits & veggies for later use
  • Raw Foodists — those committed to eating as many raw, living foods as will keep them in good health
  • Traditional Foodists — those committed to preserving food traditions in the face of an industrialized food supply
  • Nutrition Nuts — those who are committed to getting excellent nutrition through a diet of healthy, nourishing foods

There are probably even more groups I’m forgetting. The point is, we all have entry point into our journey towards Real Food, and along the way we start to see others traveling with us who may have come by a different route, but who are still headed to the same place.

The rest of Duggan’s article is worth a read (particularly the recipes!), but I’d like to wrap up this post by quoting her final section:

So, is it really safe?

Leaving foods unrefrigerated for two weeks or more can be disturbing to those who weren’t raised with a crock of pickles in the hallway. But U.S. Department of Agriculture research service microbiologist Fred Breidt says properly fermented vegetables are actually safer than raw vegetables, which might have been exposed to pathogens like E. coli on the farm.

“With fermented products there is no safety concern. I can flat-out say that. The reason is the lactic acid bacteria that carry out the fermentation are the world’s best killers of other bacteria,” says Breidt, who works at a lab at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, where scientists have been studying fermented and other pickled foods since the 1930s.

Breidt adds that fermented vegetables, for which there are no documented cases of food-borne illness, are safer for novices to make than canned vegetables. Pressurized canning creates an anaerobic environment that increases the risk of deadly botulism, particularly with low-acid foods.

So, there you have it — a representative of the USDA saying that fermented foods are safer than canned vegetables, safer than raw vegetables!

So, if you haven’t made your own sauerkraut or bottled your own kombucha, what’s stopping you? Get busy!

This post is my own entry into today’s Fight Back Friday carnival. For more stories, recipes, tips, news, and anecdotes from the Real Food Revolution, go check it out!

(photo by nadja.robot)


  1. says

    Wow, I had no idea my alma mater has been studying fermented foods since the 30s! The safety concerns have made me a little bit hesitant to venture into fermenting foods. But the more I read, the better I’m feeling about it. I’m currently growing a SCOBY per the instructions you have posted here, so I guess that’s a start!

    Mary Ellen

  2. says

    Somehow, an article in the San Fransisco journal doesn’t make this displaced Seattlite turned Iowan feel like any less of a weird here in the Corn Belt.

    And don’t forget about the miracle of Water Kefir!!


  3. says

    Fantastic post! So interesting! Plus what I love about lacto-fermentation (other than the nutrient content that is preserved and the probiotic state) is that you can easily do small batches of your favorites, you don’t need a pressure cooker or other “canning” equipment AND it doesn’t overheat your kitchen in the middle of the summer!:)

    Can’t wait to go check out the recipes . . .



  4. says

    Sarah — I love that about lacto-fermentation, too.

    Vin — Yeah, it’s so rare that when it happens I’m floored!

    Sarah from Iowa — Not to worry. Just start converting all your friends, and VOILA, you’ll be the head of a Real Food Revolution right their in the corn belt. :)

    Mary Ellen — You bet it is! Let me know how it turns out, okay?

  5. says

    So, ferment doesn’t always equal alcohol?

    I’ve got strict driving conditions (here in Victoria, Australia) as a young driver, and I’ve always wondered when you guys rave about “fermented foods” what you were talking about.

  6. says

    Alison — Right. Fermented foods are foods that are organically broken down into simpler substances; basically, when something’s fermented, the carbohydrates are turned into either alcohol or beneficial acids by the yeast or bacteria introduced into the culture. That could mean traditional alcoholic beverages, but when I talk about fermented FOODS, I mean: cheese, sour cream, yogurt, traditionally prepared sourdough, traditionally prepared sauerkraut & pickles & chutneys & soy sauce & salami, and traditionally prepared beverages like kombucha, kefir, etc.

  7. says

    After reading this article, particularly the line about how Lactobacilli are great anti-microbials, I tried an experiment. I had bitten my tongue and was developing what promised to be a doozy of a canker sore. I swished my mouth with kombucha, and the next morning…no sign of the canker sore. I’d be curious to see if others could replicate this; I’m not sure if kombucha cures canker sores or if it was just coincidence!

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