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.
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!
(photo by nadja.robot)