The big buzz about fermented foods is that they’re actually pretty good for you. Scientists are piling up research that shows how kombucha, yogurt, pickles and other fermented foods support your health. But there’s another side of the fermented food craze that doesn’t get as much attention—making fermented foods is fun. If you’ve been wondering how to easily ferment foods at home, read on for some tips and tricks to make fermented foods in your own kitchen.
Health Benefits of Fermented Foods
- It’s been reported that the people of South Korea tend to live longer - and many researchers believe that kimchi, a traditional dish of fermented cabbage and spices, may have something to do with it. According to one review of research into the health benefits of kimchi, the pungent Korean food can help you lose weight, improve your blood sugar, keep you regular, improve your cholesterol profile, boost your brain power and keep you feeling young longer.
- According to Maxine Smith, a registered dietician at the Cleveland Clinic, the compounds in kombucha, a fermented drink made from tea, have been associated with lowering cholesterol, lowering blood sugar, increased antimicrobial action, decreased rates of cancer, and improvement of liver and GI function.
- Dr. David S. Ludwig, a professor of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, notes that fermented foods appear to be helpful in promoting healthy gut bacteria. One recent study concluded that fermented foods are a good source of live lactic acid bacteria, which many researchers have concluded are beneficial for a wide range of chronic diseases and conditions.
- A 2017 overview of the health benefits of fermented foods published by the International Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics found that the health benefits of fermented foods include improved insulin sensitivity/reduced insulin resistance, improved glucose tolerance, reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes, improved total cholesterol, weight loss benefits, lower levels of depression, improved mood and a reduction in muscle soreness.
How to Safely Ferment Foods at Home— It’s Not That Hard
If you cruise the pages of Amazon, you’ll get the impression that you need all kinds of specialized equipment to ferment your own foods. There are sauerkraut pounders and kimchi crocks, yogurt makers and fermentation locks, fermenting weights and even heating pads to keep your pickles warm. You could spend a fortune on this new hobby—but surprise! None of that is necessary. While some things, like nifty fermentation lids to fit your mason jars, can make things a lot easier, you don’t actually need them. Here’s what you do need:
- A fermentation vessel: A non-metal container in which to ferment your foods. Wide mouth mason jars are especially popular for smaller batches.
- A cover: Generally, you’ll want a cover that can be loosened to allow gas to escape as the food ferments.
- The right salt: Avoid table salt. Buy either sea salt, canning salt or pickling salt.
- Cleanliness: If you check out recipes for fermenting foods, you’ll read a lot about the importance of maintaining a clean environment. This is important because you don’t want to introduce the wrong types of bacteria into your food. You don’t have to—or even want to—go to extremes, though. Sterilize your equipment and containers with hot water before you get started, and wash down your work area with soapy water.
- Optional: A starter. Depending on what you want to make, it may be easier and more reliable to add in the bacteria you want to encourage.
Basic Yogurt Recipe
Yogurt may be the easiest way to get started fermenting your own food. All you need is milk, plain yogurt with live cultures and a way to keep your yogurt warm as it matures.
Start to finish: 60 minutes (Fermentation time: 8 to 12 hours)
Servings: 8 (8 ounce servings)
- 1/2 gallon milk. Whole and 2 percent milk make the creamiest yogurt, but skim milk works.
- 1/2 cup plain yogurt. Make sure to check the label for live cultures.
- In a large, heavy pot, heat the milk over medium heat until just below boiling. If you use a thermometer, that’s just about 200 F. If you don’t, just watch for tiny bubbles around the sides of the pot.
- Turn off the heat and let the milk cool until it is just warm, about 112 F. If you can touch it without burning your fingertip, it’s about right. Give it an occasional stir to keep a skin from forming on the top. If a skin does form, just stir it back in or scoop it off.
- Mix some of the warm milk with the yogurt to thin it out, then add it to the milk and stir well to mix it all in.
- Cover the pot and put it in your oven, but don’t turn the oven on. If your oven has a pilot light, it will keep things toasty warm. You can also wrap the pot in a towel to help insulate it.
- Alternatively, ladle the yogurt into 1/2 pint mason jars and cover them loosely. You can also use repurposed food jars with lids; just make sure to clean them thoroughly. Place the filled jars on a cookie sheet or in a roasting pan, cover them with a towel and put them in the oven as above.
- Let the yogurt sit overnight undisturbed. When it’s set, tighten the lids and transfer it to the refrigerator.
Kombucha Made Easy
Kombucha starts with sweetened green or black tea, and turns into a sparkling, effervescent, sweet-sour beverage through the magic of fermentation.
Start to finish: 60 minutes (Fermentation time: 7 to 10 days)
Servings: 15 (4 ounce servings)
- 3 1/2 quarts of water
- 1 cup sugar (plain old granulated sugar)
- 8 tea bags (black tea or green tea)
- 2 cups kombucha. For your first batch, buy a neutral, unflavored kombucha at the store. After this, you can use kombucha from the last batch as your starter.
- One scoby for each fermentation jar. You can buy these, beg them from a scoby-making friend or even make your own.
- In a large pot, bring the water to a boil. Remove it from the heat and stir in the sugar until dissolved. Add the tea bags and let the tea steep until the water is cooled.
- Remove the tea bags and stir in the kombucha starter tea.
- Transfer the mixed tea to one or more glass jars, leaving a few inches of head space at the top.
- Gently slide the scoby into each jar.
- Cover the jar with paper towels, coffee filters or a tightly woven cloth, and seal it with a rubber band or string.
- Let the kombucha ferment for seven to 10 days in a warm spot in your kitchen away from direct sunlight. You’ll see the new scoby forming in the jar. It may or may not attach itself to the old scoby. Either is fine.
- Start tasting the kombucha after seven days. Let it keep fermenting until it reaches a flavor that you like.
- Remove the scoby from the jar. You can start another batch of kombucha with it immediately if you’ve already prepared the sweet tea for the base. Just put the scoby on a clean plate until you’re ready for it. Measure out 2 cups of kombucha to use as starter for the next batch.
- Pour the rest of the kombucha into narrow-necked bottles using a funnel. Cover and refrigerate them, or keep one out to enjoy while you get your next batch of kombucha started.
Small Batch Sauerkraut Recipe
Sauerkraut is low in calories and high in vitamin C. It’s also easy to make, especially if you use a food processor to cut down on the most time-consuming part: cutting up the cabbage.
Start to finish: 120 minutes (Fermentation time: 2 to 3 weeks)
- 1 or 2 heads of cabbage, shredded, or about 3 1/3 lbs.
- 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon of canning or pickling salt
- Remove the outer leaves of the cabbage. Rinse the heads to remove any dirt. Core and quarter each head. Shred the cabbage into long thin strips, or use a food processor.
- Sprinkle the salt over the shredded cabbage in a large bowl. Mix it well with your hands to make sure all the cabbage is coated. Let it sit for about 10 minutes until the cabbage wilts and starts releasing its juices.
- While the cabbage is sweating, sterilize a large mason jar and lid in boiling water.
- In a 2-quart mason jar or covered crock, pack the salted cabbage firmly.
- Press the cabbage down firmly until it is submerged in its own salted juices. A pestle or sauerkraut pounder makes this a lot easier.
- Cover the jar loosely. You want it just tight enough to keep air out of the jar.
- Let the sauerkraut ferment at room temperature for two to three weeks, checking it regularly to see if it’s bubbling. The bubbles are signals of active fermentation. When the bubbles stop, the kraut is ready.
- If the sauerkraut is not completely submerged in liquid, top up the jar with a little boiling hot weak brine—about 2 tablespoons salt to a quart of water. Cover tightly and refrigerate until you use it up.
Fermented bananas have all the health benefits of fresh bananas, with an added probiotic boost and a whole new taste experience. They’re also amazingly easy to make.
Start to finish: 20 minutes (Fermentation time: 12 hours to 2 days)
Servings: 4 (2 ounce servings)
- 2 to 3 ripe bananas
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 probiotic capsule
- 1 cup filtered water
Note: If you decide to make more fermented bananas after your first batch, you can eliminate the salt and the probiotic capsule and substitute a few tablespoons of liquid from your last batch.
- Slice the bananas about 1/4 -inch thick.
- In a sterilized, wide-mouth mason jar or other glass container with a lid, add the water.
- Dissolve the brown sugar, sea salt and the contents of the probiotic capsule in the water.
- Add the bananas to water.
- Cover the jar loosely and let it ferment for 12 hours to two days in a warm, dark place. This one is a judgment call. The warmer it is, the faster your bananas will ferment. Bananas started with leftover banana juice will usually ferment faster than those started with powdered probiotics. Use the sniff-and-taste test to judge how far along in the fermentation process they are. Over-fermented bananas will taste alcoholic or like vinegar instead of sweet and fizzy.