On day 1 of my yearlong self-care challenge, I’m learning the art of fermentation as part of my journey toward cultivating a personal self-care practice. Why fermentation, you ask? As a registered dietitian, I’ve always been intrigued by traditional methods of food preservation.
Back to My Roots
My great-grandparents in rural Ohio canned a lot of food from the garden. They also used salt-curing and smoking techniques to ensure they had enough food to last throughout the winter months. Back then, there weren’t many other options. Supermarkets were a long drive from the farm, and convenience foods just didn’t exist. Somehow, the idea of learning how to ferment made me feel more connected to my family.
I must admit, fermentation has always been a little scary for me. As a dietitian I’ve spent my career working diligently to prevent food-borne illnesses, so the idea of encouraging bacterial growth somehow felt counter-intuitive.
But oddly enough, it was my curiosity that grew as I learned more about the health-promoting microorganisms that are found in fermented foods.
The truth is, anaerobic fermentation (a process that occurs in the absence of oxygen) creates an environment that isn’t suitable for pathogenic bacteria. In fact, many believe it to be even safer than raw food.
But what kind of bacteria thrives in this acidic, low-oxygen environment?
Nutritional Benefits of Fermentation
But beyond preventing the growth of harmful bacteria, fermented foods also contain beneficial bacteria that help make nutrients more bio-available and strengthen our microbiome. As a result, we get the added benefit of being able to absorb more health-promoting compounds. This process, known as pre-digestion, is part of what makes fermented foods so desirable.
Learn more about fermentation in this Conversations with Smart People interview.
The Learning Process
After receiving a fermenting crock* and a copy of The Art of Fermentation* for Christmas, I promptly got to work. Following author Sandor Ellix Katz’s (extremely loose) guidelines for fermenting sauerkraut, one Sunday afternoon I filled my crock with lightly-salted shredded cabbage, topped it with water, placed the weight stones and lid on top, and walked away.
Each morning for several days, I impatiently raised the lid to peek at the contents. But it never seemed like much was happening — other than the cabbage sinking slowly into the abyss.
But one magical morning I walked into my kitchen to unmistakable sour aroma of fermenting cabbage. Suddenly it was happening – and what a Happy New Year to me!
It’s clear this is going to be a new obsession because I’m already thinking about what to ferment next.
*Living Upp is a participant in the Amazon Associates Program, which means we earn a commission from qualifying purchases.