q&a with home fermentation author + a giveaway!by caroline
Mention the word “fermented” in a group of people and you’re bound to get a number of reactions, starting with the mildest (“What do you mean fermented foods are healthy?”) to the most turned off member of the bunch (That stuff is disgusting! What’s wrong with you?!)
But the truth is there’s nothing wrong with consuming fermented foods, and in fact there are so many things that are oh-so-right. And guess what? So many of the foods that are a part of our everyday culture (Beer anyone?) come from the process of fermentation.
- They introduce beneficial bacteria into the foods we eat.
- They enhance the existing nutritive power of foods (e.g. Think cabbage is healthy in its original state? Try it fermented for an extra nutrient boost!)
- They change the taste and texture of food. (Yum!)
Fermentation is a process in which food or liquids are exposed to bacteria and yeasts, either naturally through the air or via inoculation. The good news is the process of fermentation is so jam-packed with beneficial microorganisms that they completely knock out the ones that can be harmful. Magic, huh? Fermented foods include ones with which you might be more familiar (cheese, yogurt, wine, beer, sauerkraut) and others with which you might not know much about (kombucha, tempeh, kvas).
Still not convinced? I recently had an opportunity to take a class with Jill where we made sauerkraut and I was so pleased to learn not only how easy the process was, but how it quickly put to rest my concerns with home fermentation. Our ingredients were simple: cabbage and unrefined sea salt, plus minimal tools (a cutting board, large bowl, knife and Mason jar). Once my friend, Maggie, and I got to work, we were delighted by our end products. There’s just something extra special about creating healthy foods from scratch!
Lucky for you, Jill took some time out to answer some questions for me that I thought would be helpful to all of you. Ready to learn more? Let’s go! (Pssst … there’s a surprise at the end!)
sincerely caroline: So, tell us a bit about how you first became interested in fermentation.
jill ciciarelli: I’ve been interested in fermentation for a long while, but thought that I needed a ton of equipment and lots of room in order to be an effective fermenter. It turns out, that’s not true. My friend Liz offered me a kombucha SCOBY and said that all I needed was a large jar. After that I was sold. I hadn’t before considered small-batch ferments! From there, I was unstoppable.
sc: How have fermented foods and beverages improved your personal health?
jc: Since I started regularly eating fermented foods I have noticed three distinct changes in myself. The first noticeable change was how my skin cleared up. I suffered from embarrassing breakouts and I thought I had left that behind in my teens. When I started eating fermented foods regularly, my skin became so clear and glowing! Clean eating in general helped me see improvements, but I believe it was fermented foods that really helped the most.
The second thing I noticed was my mood improved. Like so many people I have issues with depression and anxiety, and when I cleaned up my diet, a lot of that changed. I can’t say that it’s been a cure-all, but I have surely noticed a marked improvement in how I’ve felt – emotionally speaking – since adding fermented foods.
The third change has been in my overall health. I haven’t gotten colds or flu nearly as often as I once did, and when I do catch a sniffle, it’s been minor and short lived.
sc: Do you have any particular “success” stories from your clients or readers who have incorporated fermented foods into their diets?
jc: I did have a client who was a Diet Coke fiend – she drank multiple cans a day! Now she’s kicked her habit and is a kombucha making maven. She sends me photos of her SCOBYs and we swap stories about flavorings, fermentation strategies, and stuff like that. I am so proud of her! Diet Coke and other soft drinks are no longer a part of her diet.
sc: What would you recommend as a starting point for someone who is new to fermentation?
jc: Buy a copy of Fermented! Seriously! I wrote it with a beginner in mind because I was a beginner once too. It walks readers through all kinds of fermentation styles and types and there are 16 basic recipes just in part 1 of the book that will get the rookie fermenter started with easy and tasty recipes. Part 2 is a cookbook structured with the seasons that helps readers take basic fermentation to the next level.
Editor’s note: Jill really is spot on with breaking down the process of fermentation, so that it is appealing to and understandable for anyone from a rookie fermenter to an experienced one who is looking for a fresh spin on old favorites.
sc: We hear a lot of people who say, “I would love to start making my own fermented foods (or kombucha), but … it kind of scares me.” How do you respond to these concerns?
jc: I understand the trepidation. We are taught that bacteria is all bad and we need to slather ourselves in antibacterial gels and soaps and sprays and culturing bacteria for food fermentation goes very much against this instinct! However, food fermentation is so very good for our bodies and we need to keep our gut healthy, so in my opinion it’s essential. To those who are a bit nervous, I say take the plunge! We have been fermenting foods for thousands of years. There are no recorded cases of anyone dying from eating fermented foods. Use your best instincts – if you ferment something and it doesn’t look or smell good to you, don’t eat it. You haven’t lost anything but the few dollars it cost for the ingredients and a little bit of time.
The rewards are worth it! Take the plunge!
sc: What about this one: “When you ferment something, doesn’t it contain alcohol?”
jc: I get asked this a lot. Yes, one of the byproducts to fermentation can be alcohol and some fermented products are alcoholic – beer, wine, mead, hard cider, and sometimes kombucha and water kefir. However, the overwhelming majority of fermented foods contain little to no alcohol at all. Those products that can contain alcohol usually have a miniscule ABV (alcohol by volume) as to make it negligible and safe for those who are sensitive to it and even children.
sc: What are some surprisingly fermentable foods?
jc: Meat! Not a lot of people realize that many popular meat products are actually fermented. My favorite is corned beef or corned pork.
sc: Can you share a major goof you’ve experienced while fermenting?
jc: The great thing about fermentation is that it is very difficult to goof up. The very nature of the craft encourages imagination and improvisations and I always encourage people to get creative with their ferments. That said, not every flavor combination is a good one and I’ve definitely tried some things that have turned out to be culinary clunkers. I’ve also had kombucha get moldy during fermentation. That’s a showstopper! Once you see mold on your kombucha, it’s time to toss it and start over. Other than that, I prefer to call my goofs “kitchen artistry” because so many things I thought would be bad turned out to be rather tasty.
What a great interview, right? Chatting with Jill about fermentation completely removes any scary feelings you might have about the process. It just feels like you’re chatting with a great friend who knows a helluva lot about bacteria!
Wanna learn more about fermentation? Win a copy of Jill’s book, Fermented, by leaving a comment below in the “Comments” section. (You have one of two choices: You can use the Facebook comments tool or the traditional comment form directly below it in order to earn an entry.)
All you have to do is leave a comment that tells us why you are interested in learning more about fermenting. The contest is open now through Friday, September 13th at 11:59 p.m. EST. Entries are limited to one per person. CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED.
Enter away! And be sure to sound off in the comments with any questions you might have about fermentation. Thanks again, Jill! ♥
Jill Ciciarelli is a food lover, kitchen adventurer, board-certified holistic-health coach, and keeper of the blog First Comes Health. With a bachelor’s degree in psychology from The Pennsylvania State University, a bachelor’s degree in Italian language and literature from the University of Pittsburgh, and certification from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in holistic health, Jill has channeled her various passions into instilling a desire for long-term health in her clients. She has helped them reach their health and wellness goals by advocating an ancestral way of eating and serves her community as the Weston A. Price Foundation chapter co-leader. You can find her fermenting and experimenting in her urban high-rise kitchen and follow along with her on her website, First Comes Health. Jill lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with her husband, Brian (aka Dude), and Quincy, the sweetest kitty in the world.