Wild Culture: 10 Fermentation Projects for the New Year

Fermentation with fervor

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If you haven’t been fermenting anything in your kitchen, now is the time. Fermented foods are not only good for your health, they’re fun. And the options are practically endless—from breads to brews to funky vegetables, there are plenty of fermentation projects both big and small. If you’ve been dreaming of taking a dive into the world of fermentation, there’s no better time than the new year, so I’ve rounded up 10 fun things to get going in your kitchen in the upcoming 12 months.

1. Sourdough bread
2015 was the year that I started a sourdough starter, and I’ll never look back. Making your own bread with a natural starter is a glorious process, and one that’s entirely dependent on the wild yeasts already in your kitchen. Not only do breads made with natural starter taste better, they’re even better for you. The fermentation process helps to break down gluten and make it easier for the body to digest, which is why some people who have a sensitivity to gluten can tolerate sourdough bread. Not only that, but thanks to the natural yeast, sourdough bread comes with an extra dose of B-vitamins. Looking to start your own sourdough starter? Here are a few resources that I refer to regularly:
Book: Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition and Craft of Live-Culture Foods by Sandor Elliz Katz
Book: Do Sourdough: Slow Bread for Busy Lives by Andrew Whitley
Online: Breadtopia

2. Sourdough pancakes
I personally have never been a fan of traditional American pancakes. They’re too fluffy and flavorless for me (which is maybe why you have to douse them in maple syrup for them to taste like anything). Sourdough pancakes, however, are another story entirely. You make them with the same starter that you use for your bread, and if you just remember to prep the batter the night before you’ll be one your way to flavorful pancakes the next morning.

3. Honey garlic
Honey is an amazing product. Pots of it have been found—still intact—in Egyptian tombs. It has been used as food, as medicine and as a beauty product. It can also be used to harvest wild yeast, like with the simple kitchen project of honey garlic. It’s as simple as putting raw honey (preferably local) and fresh, peeled garlic cloves together in a jar and letting them do their thing. Once the fermentation has started you can eat the garlic cloves, or use in cooking. The honey can work great as a salad dressing or used in other sauces. Some people swear by cloves of honey garlic to soothe a sore throat. Check out this recipe as a guide.

4. Sauerkraut
Some people get intimidated by fermentation projects because they feel that they don’t have the right equipment. But remember this: humans have been fermenting things for centuries, far before they had access to specialty kitchen stores. Which means that for most fermentation projects, you don’t need a long list of special gadgets. For example, if you have a mason jar and cabbage, you can make sauerkraut. This is an easy way to make a small batch of the fermented cabbage dish, a perfect introduction to fermentation.

5. Pickled onions
Pickled onions are an excellent addition to sandwiches or atop a salad, and they’re another great introductory fermentation project. Most pickled onions are actually made with the “quick pickle” process—a method of making a brine with vinegar and sugar. While tasty, you won’t get the same probiotic benefits as with a lacto fermentation. This requires onions, water, salt and a little time, but once you have waited for them to reach their desired taste, you’ll be well rewarded.

6. Hot sauce
At a barbecue, on eggs or on tacos, a dash of tasty hot sauce can turn a good dish into an excellent dish. Good news: you can make your own hot sauce by fermenting chili peppers. Like with other fermented goods like pickles, you’ll find that the taste that you get from fermenting will be much more unique and complex than the hot sauce you find at the grocery store. Plus it makes for a perfect gift for your friends who love spicy food.

7. Chutney
The favorite Indian condiment, chutney is like jam for savory dishes—and who doesn’t love putting jam on things? Chutney can be made with any number of fruits, like apples, pears,, or apricots. Even rhubarb can be fermented into a chutney. Recipes will differ, but in general, chutneys are made by combining fruit (fresh, and sometimes dried) and a sweetener and then letting them ferment for a short period of time, up to a few days. Nuts are often added for an extra textural and flavor element.

8. Ginger beer
Ginger, water and sugar are combined together to make what’s called a “ginger bug.” This is basically a “starter” for naturally fermented drinks, among them the popular ginger beer. I made this regularly during last summer and it became an instant favorite. It’s very gingery and not overly sweet, perfect on its own or with a dash of bourbon for a killer whiskey ginger.

9. Fruit scrap vinegar
For anyone looking to avoid food waste, this fermentation project is for you. Let’s say you made an apple pie and are wondering what to do with the peels. Or you have a few overripe strawberries. Or you peeled a pineapple. You add them to a jar with a little sugar and water, wait for a couple of weeks, then you have homemade fruit vinegar. You’re basically upcycling your fruit scraps.

10. Ketchup
Say goodbye to the Heinz bottle. In the summer, gather up a bunch of fresh tomatoes to make tomato paste (or if it’s the off season, you can buy the canned stuff) and kick off your first batch of fermented ketchup.

Anna Brones is the author of The Culinary Cyclist and Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break and runs Foodie Underground, a site about real food for real people. Wherever she is in the world, she can often be found riding a bicycle in search of excellent coffee.

Photo by Damanhur Spiritual EcoCommunity CC BY-ND