What is it really like to make fermented foods?
Gut health is big news at the moment. And since this is where good health starts, it’s a trend we’re hoping sticks for a long time. Fermented foods such as kefir, kombucha, kimchi and sauerkraut have hit the headlines too, for the huge benefits they can deliver to your gut. Packed full of friendly bacteria and much more, these foods are a great addition to your daily diet.
Just the thought of making fermented foods often puts people off before they’ve even started. It sounds like something that could take lots of time, involve complicated equipment and not taste very nice after all the trouble. We wanted to dispel that myth and so took on the challenge of making our own.
What it is really like to make Kimchi?
by Rebecca Hodgson
When I was asked to try and make Kimchi I quickly googled it and after seeing images of what looked like odd cold tomato-flavoured cabbage I figured why not, it can’t be that bad. The ingredients on a recipe look pretty standard & I’ve probably got them all apart from the ingredient ‘daikon’.
Cut to me one week later trying to find individual Korean radish/daikon/mooli on an online supermarket after the local shops have failed to provide, but 2 days later delivery driver Kenneth hands over the radish.
The first step of cabbage-chopping goes well, but then I pull the salt out of the cupboard and turns out it’s not free of iodine/ anti-caking agents however it’s now 6.30pm on a Sunday and it’s just going to have to do.
I massage the salt into the cabbage then cover it with the water and a plate then balance heavy bottles of oil on top and leave it well alone for 2 hours.
Now I had chosen to forgo the glove advice at the cabbage-massage stage but 24 hours later I’m really wishing I had used them for this next step: grating the garlic. I have scrubbed & washed my hands so many times and neither soap, salt, baking powder, toothpaste nor lemon has been able to remove the smell. Heed my advice – use the gloves!
With my hands now washed & with a new aroma of Eau De Garlic Hands, I look to the next ingredient on the list: fresh ginger, which I missed the word ‘fresh’ when reading the ingredients. What if it’s something in the fresh ginger that helps the fermentation, what if I’ve got garlic hands for life for nothing?! However a couple of recipes seem to use ground ginger so I grab that out of the cupboard and add the other ingredients to form a lumpy paste.
Next I have to prepare the Korean radish into matchsticks. I peel a layer off the radish only to reveal what looks like a hairy leg! However persevering and peeling through this weird layer leaves me with good normal-looking white radish. Whilst chopping I’m really wishing I’d spent money on those vegetable slicers that look amazing yet you know you’ll only use once and after 1 minute of carving I give up on matchsticks and end up with radish cigars instead. 2 hours later the cabbage still looks exactly the same, but I have no idea what it’s supposed to look like anyway so on we go.
After washing the cabbage for about 5 mins (surely that’s the same as washing something 3 times) and - remember this - squeezing as much liquid out of the cabbage as possible, I put the cabbage into a clean and dry bowl.
The next step is mixing some chopped spring onions with the lumpy paste into the cabbage, thus really cementing the garlic-hands-for-life thing, and pressing it into a large preserving jar - or 2 small jars in my case.
“Put the kimchi into the jar. Press down well until the salty liquid rises above the vegetables."
Salty liquid? Liquid? Unless a muscle guardian angel chose to give me super-strong muscles at the aforementioned cabbage-squeezing step, I’m missing something. I re-read the instructions again and no, there really is only the 3 tablespoons of liquid in this mix. I have no idea where everyone is getting the liquid from in their kimchi but after pressing it down as much as I can the mixture is still only slightly damp at best, definitely not “rising above the vegetables” so I dump the rest of the leftover filtered water over the top, put the jars in 2 jiffy bags each (to keep the smell inside) and leave them in containers to prod at over the coming days while the fermentation takes place.
The next few days are really easy as all that's needed is to open the jars and squash the solids down back underneath the brine. After 2 full days of fermenting the jars have much more liquid in them which has come out the ingredients so perhaps less filtered water should have been added earlier, but it definitely still needed some at the time.
After it's fermented for 5 days, I open the lid and after the initial very strong garlic/vinegar aroma has dissipated, I try some and surprisingly it's actually not that bad! It smells quite sweet up close and it doesn't taste too sour - I really like pickled cabbage and this is kind of similar. I can imagine that it would go really well with quite a lot of foods, so points for versatility!
Although there were quite a few trials and tribulations I definitely would make Kimchi in the future, just with plenty of gloves and triple-checking I have the correct ingredients before starting!
What is it really like to make sauerkraut?
by Rachel Bartholomew
- 1 white cabbage (sliced into fine slithers and then roughly chopped)
- 1 tablespoon Himalayan pink salt
- 1 glass jar with screw lid
- 1 mixing bowl
Ingredients and tools assembled on the worktop at the ready, I took one look at my glass jar and the cabbage, and quickly decided there was no way I was going to fit a whole cabbage in there! I decided on plan B and started off with just half a cabbage and half a tablespoon of sea salt, but once I’d chopped it up, added the salt and massaged it with my hands, it had reduced in volume so much that it only half filled the jar so I switched back to plan A and decided to do the other half too! I managed to fit a whole cabbage into a fairly small jar, which was the first surprise in the process.
The process of making sauerkraut is actually pretty easy. Once you’ve chopped up the cabbage, all you need to do is add salt (after a bit of research I settled on Himalayan pink salt). You then massage the salt into the cabbage with your hands (a bit like the way you would knead bread dough) for a few minutes. I wasn’t convinced that this process would draw enough water out of the cabbage for it then to be completely submerged in the jar and thought I would need to add more water. A second surprise though and I was soon left with a bowl of very limp cabbage soup!
All that was left to do was pour the cabbagey water mixture into the jar, press down with a fork to make sure all of the cabbage was completely submerged under water and tightly secure the lid.
I then left the jar on the kitchen surface at room temperature for 3 days. The only job needed each day was to take off and replace the lid to release the build up of gas from the jar.
After 3 days I tasted the sauerkraut and it was actually pretty palatable. It tasted salty and slightly vinegary, something I would definitely use as an accompaniment to grilled fish perhaps, or in a salad. I’ve left the sauerkraut in the jar and it’s continuing to ferment. It now looks like it needs a bit of extra water adding though to keep the cabbage submerged so I’ll do that and hopefully keep it going for a month or so. Next time I think I’ll experiment with red cabbage and look into adding some spices into the mix too, we’ll see how that goes…
What is it really like to make Kefir?
by Sarah Sharpe
As a typical busy mother of two I am always looking at ways to cut corners so I have always opted to buy my friendly bacteria in the form of ready-made fermented products such as kefir and sauerkraut or as probiotic capsules or powders to use as a top up when necessary. That’s why I was unsure about making my own at first, but I find that I am now a convert for several good reasons.
Kefir is a traditional fermented milk product that contains beneficial bacteria and yeast. It is a similar process as the one used to make yoghurt but kefir is much more beneficial and contains a higher quantity of the probiotic bacteria and yeasts. This makes kefir an excellent choice for anyone who enjoys natural yogurt but it packs a much more powerful punch.
With kefir I find that I prefer the creamier tasting ones and I’m not such a fan of the stronger fizzier ones so I have spent quite a lot on trying to find one that I like on its own. This can be time consuming and costly so mainly I end up popping it into a smoothie or similar to add benefit to my usual routine without the taste being an issue. This means that the flavour/brand matters less to me.
When it comes to making kefir at home I find that my nearly 2 and 4 year old keep me on my feet so I was nervous about the extra time it would take but once I started researching it I was surprised at how easy it was. And at how much I would be able to make from just one sachet of starter culture. I ordered some sachets online after checking the reviews of several companies. If you have a cow’s milk allergy then look for brands that provide instructions for use with alternative milks too. The brand I used gave instruction for goat’s milk, coconut milk, almond milk and even fruit juice kefir as well as low lactose milks.
Each sachet makes around a litre of set kefir starter which can then be split into ice cube trays and frozen ready for when you want to make up a fresh batch of kefir and each fresh batch can be re-cultured a few times too. Far from being complicated, all I needed to do was heat a litre of milk and add a sachet. It was useful to have a thermometer (mine is a milk thermometer that was a few pounds online) to be able to monitor when I hit the right temperature for heating and for when it was cool enough to add the sachet but I think you can probably grow to get a feel for this if you make it often as it is essentially heated to just before the milk starts to rise in the pan and cooled to just above body temperature so it should feel slightly warm still in its container. Once the sachet was added I envisaged some kind of elaborate process but actually I just popped it in a warm location in the kitchen (high up next to the cooker). I was grateful that I read the notes about not using an airtight seal as I do prefer a less “fizzy” taste and I had filled my jar reasonably full. There are some cautions about sealed containers as the fermentation process will give off gases so if you like it to be fizzy then be sure to only fill the container to two thirds full and try not to leave it for too long!
Once the initial process had been followed I then waited for 48 hours for the milk to ferment and set. I had a bit of liquid on the top and a solid portion for the most of it, which is a good sign that the fermentation has occurred. I had a busy day so I hadn’t been able to keep an eye on it and taste test as some of the reviewers recommended. As a novice kefir maker this can be handy as you can get to taste it, as it ferments, to see how strong you like it to be.
Next, I took out a few tablespoons (for my first batch of kefir) and put a lid on the rest and shook vigorously to mix it all back together. It all went into the fridge after that to halt the fermentation process.
A few hours later I could then portion out the bulk mixture into an ice cube tray for the freezer so I can make new batches easily whenever I like. I could also then mix the few tablespoons of reserved kefir with lukewarm milk for my first useable batch. I allowed this to incubate for a further 4-8 hours. Again, as I prefer the creamier taste I went with a shorter time frame. If you like a stronger taste then you can leave it for the full 8 hours. It also depends on your preference for whether you like it to be a thinner drinkable consistency or if you like it to be more like yoghurt. Kefir can be a good substitute for yoghurt in many recipes so this would be handy if you were planning different recipes to be able to whip up different thicknesses to suit. Also, the longer you leave it the more beneficial bacteria so I think for future batches it will depend on how I want to use it. For this first one I was keen to try it on its own to see what it tasted like.
All in all I decided that the learning curve has been worth it. I have a freezer that is well stocked with starter for me to be able to keep making more and all for the amount of time that I have spent online looking for different brands!
Making your own fermented food – it’s easier than you think!
I think we’ve all been surprised at how successful our first foray into making fermented food has been. Sure, there’s things we perhaps would do differently next time, but that seems to be a normal part of the process, and if what everyone says is enough to go by, you soon get a feel for the process and can then start to make your own tweaks along the way. If you’ve been inspired by our efforts and are thinking of having a go, we’d wholeheartedly encourage you to do so. It’s much easier than you think, and a brilliant step to take, not just for your gut health, but for the wider benefits that brings to your overall health too. Good luck and let us know how you get on!
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