By Carie Birkmeier EBS STAFF

Despite a surge of products like kombucha and tempeh popping up in markets around the country, the process of fermentation is not a new concept. In fact, it is among the oldest food and beverage preparations. Our ancestors used fermentation as a preservation process for thousands of years, but modern technologies caused it to go by the wayside.

Fermentation has resurfaced in the past few years, perhaps as a health kick or simply as a trend in modern kitchens. Regardless of the reason, fermented foods are becoming more standard in many forms, ranging from drinks like kombucha and kefir to proteins like tempeh—a fermented soybean product popular among vegans.

A fermented food is one whose sugars have been broken down into acids by natural bacteria, creating a product that is uniquely tangy. If you’re unfamiliar with this flavor, sauerkraut and yogurt are two common fermented foods that have this trademark taste.

So, why are fermented foods good for us? There has been recent research into a collection of bacteria that lives in our gut called the microbiome. When functioning normally, the microbiome ensures that our digestive system runs smoothly. When the balance of gut bacteria becomes out of whack, it can result in symptoms like bloating, inflammation and heartburn. Fermented foods replenish your gut with the good bacteria that are naturally present in these foods.

Foods like kombucha, kefir, miso and other fermented products are becoming more and more available in supermarkets and specialty stores.

Making fermented food at home may seem intimidating but it is actually quite easy. All you need to get started is some fresh vegetables. Cover them with salt water, leave at room temperature, pack tightly and wait. Try this easy recipe next time you want to take a dish to the next level:

Easy sauerkraut

2 heads cabbage, shredded

1/4 cup salt

1 tablespoon caraway seed (optional)

2 quart-sized mason jars

 

Clean all jars and utensils well before starting. Place cabbage and salt into a large bowl, and massage the salt into the cabbage. Let sit for 10 minutes until juices release.

Stuff cabbage into mason jars, and pour over any liquid from the bowl into the jars. If necessary, add water to just cover the cabbage. Weigh down the cabbage with a fermentation weight or a smaller mason jar filled with water. Cover jars with a clean cloth and seal with a rubber band or twine.

Wait two to three weeks, sampling it occasionally until your sauerkraut is flavored as your taste buds desire. The finished product will store in the refrigerator for up to six months.