Beginner's guide to fermented foods

Fermenting is a simple, tasty way to preserve food with added health benefits. Learn how to ferment your own vegetables for a homemade kimchi or sauerkraut

Pickled radishes in a jar

Chances are you’ve been eating fermented foods your whole life, maybe without even realising it. So many of the everyday staples we take for granted – like wine, tea, cheese, bread and chocolate – are made using different fermentation processes.

What is fermentation?

Fermentation promotes the growth and life cycle of good bacteria to transform the flavour and shelf life of ingredients.

How does it happen?

Funky fermented ginger lemonade
Good bacteria

All vegetables are covered in the good bacteria lactobacillus, and when you slice up, grate and squeeze them with salt, they release their juice, which mingles with the salt to create a brine. Once contained within this briny environment, lactobacillus multiplies and begins to break down the ingredient, digesting the natural sugars and transforming them into lactic acid, which creates the tangy flavour and a sour environment that keeps the growth of nasty bacteria at bay.

While products like kimchi and kombucha have only become trendy in the UK in more recent years, people have been harnessing the natural process of fermentation all over the world for thousands of years. 

As many people are cottoning on to the appeal of naturally fermented food, it’s becoming less scary, and something we increasingly want to do for ourselves at home, rather than relying on industrially produced versions. Many of these have been pasteurised and therefore are no longer ‘alive’, or as health-giving or flavourful. Beginning with fruit and vegetables is a good introduction.

Fermenting food at home

The brilliant thing is that it’s very simple to do at home – all you need are some sterilised jars, vegetables, muslin, baking parchment and a bit of patience.

Essential know-how

Sterilise your jars

You can buy special preserving jars, but I always have so many glass jars knocking around and reusing them is a great way of cutting down on waste. You’ll need wide-mouth jars (I reuse old pickle jars) to pack in all the ingredients, and it’s really important to sterilise your jars to avoid the growth of the wrong sort of bacteria, which could make you ill. I use 500ml jars for these ferments.

  • To sterilise them, heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4.
  • Wash the jars and lids thoroughly in warm soapy water, then leave to dry on the draining rack, drying the lids with a clean tea towel.
  • Put your jars on a shelf in the oven for 15 mins, then remove with oven gloves.
  • Once cool, they are ready to use. 

Try your hand at fermenting your own food at home with these easy to follow recipes... 

Quick kimchi
Simple sauerkraut 

Read more about the health benefits of fermenting and 'good' bacteria. 

Have you tried fermenting food at home? Let us know in the comments below...

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