Fermentation has traditionally been used to preserve a surplus, to make the inedible edible, or to transform a product into something more desirable. In modern times we don’t use it so much for preserving abundance, but it is used to create new flavours, or products, that are difficult or impossible to create in other ways.
Some techniques are very widespread, like lacto-fermenting vegetables with salt. Others are more regional, such as the use of mold on grains, which is mostly confined to Asia.
As the food supply has industrialized many traditional ferments are at risk of being lost. For example, a whole class of African ferments is being replaced by bullion cubes. Industrialization may also be affecting the way fermenting by-products are being used – or not. In community-scale fermenting it seems that the by-products are used, sometimes for animal feed, (whey), or to create other products, (kasuzuke).
Groups of Fermentations
Trying to categorize fermentations is easy and hard. Many are easy, pure, lacto-fermented pickles or a straight-up conversion of sugar to alcohol, but there is a lot of cross-over. Even turning grains to alcohol often uses an intermediate step such as mold.
- Carbs to alcohol, (and on to vinegar, if you’re not careful!)
- Lacto-fermented vegetables, (and fruit!). Salt makes this happen.
- Mold on grains, (koji, natto, tempeh)
- Milk (cheese, yogourt)
- Meat (ham, some sausage), and meat/carb mixes, (other sausages, ribs!)
Surprising Things I learned
Tofu can be fermented! I had always thought of tofu as an end product, but it doesn’t have to be. To be safe, tofu should have an initial fungal ferment using mold, then there can be subsequent ferments, (often lacto), to enhance flavour. Meat also needs a multi-pronged approach to preservation, and usually only one of those prongs is fermentation.
It possible to add a bunch of carbs to meat and get a lacto-ferment going in the carbs, and the acid from the lacto-ferment pickles the meat.
I finally learned what the processes mentioned on coffee bags mean: it’s how much of the fruit is left on the bean during the fermentation/drying process. Intentional fermentation seems pretty new in coffee. The processes are: Natural, where the whole fruit is fermented, Honey, where the skin is removed but the pulp remains, and Washed, where only the bean remains. Washed the way most coffee has been processed, and is supposed to give a "cleaner" flavour, and the more fruit is left on the more interesting flavours may develop.
The concept of a never-ending brine looks interesting to me and I’d like to try it. In fact, there are several ferments and recipes using ferments from the book that I’d like to try. It would be fun to get into koji, but I really don’t have the space.
I ate a peanut butter & kimchi sandwich, it was pretty good. It might even be good with jam, (but I’m not sure. Maybe I’ll do some testing).
Sandor filmed a series called the People’s Republic of Fermentation in China. It’s available on YouTube and seems like it would be interesting.