Fermenting has become very trendy of late but is really a process which has existed in our food culture for thousands of years. Fermentation is a process of chemical breakdown of a substance by a bacteria, yeasts or other micro-organisms.
This sounds very complicated but it is actually quite simple and is the process by which wine or beer is made.
Natural fermentation was used originally as a way to preserve foods to make fresh ingredients last longer. Cheeses and yoghurts are other common foods which are achieved through their own particular forms of fermentation, in fact if you look more into how pervasive fermentation is in what we eat, we might realise that without it, our cupboards and fridges would be pretty bare.
The processes which are most accessible for home cooks are usually grouped under the banner of ‘wild fermentation’ which simply means that the yeasts that naturally occur in the air are harnessed to produce naturally occurring ferments, like the way in which sourdough bread is made. Lactic fermentation is another easily accessible form of fermentation where lactic bacteria breaks down sugars into lactic acid which naturally preserves food and makes it more digestible.
This process includes foods like kraut and kimchi. Particular bacterial processes of a more specific kind are also becoming more and more popular and available for home use. Kombucha is a fermented drink that uses a type of live bacteria called a ‘scoby’ which stands for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. These can now be bought as starters in health food stores.
When foods are fermented they develop naturally occurring probiotics meaning that they contain good live organisms which are incredibly beneficial for our gut health, immune system and digestive systems.
When making fermented foods be aware that while they will often have a sour flavour but should never taste or smell off. If something you make has an unpleasant aroma or flavour then throw it out.
Fermentation requires a clean work environment and sterilised jars and utensils are also needed.
This is the ultimate hot sauce, to be used with a little caution as yes it is very hot, but the contrast of zing from the fermenting process and the vinegar makes it addictive even as its burning your tongue. The oil will mellow it out a good bit and give it a smoothness so don’t be too frightened.
We use this on absolutely everything, fried rice, eggs, grilled meat and vegetables, toast, bloody Marys and salad dressings. This is a hot sauce for all occasions.
Achiote is a Mexican ingredient and are the crushed seeds of a particular plant. It is usually in the form of a paste and is available from specialist stores. If you cannot find achiote just leave it out.
2 garlic cloves
400g fresh red chillies
50g of dried red chillies
3 tbsp of achiote
2 tsp of smoked paprika
3 tbsp of sea salt
3 tbsp of sugar
250ml of rapeseed oil
180ml cider vinegar
Crush the garlic, slice the chillies (fresh and dried), place in a food processor with the salt and sugar. Blitz until well macerated and transfer to a pint-sized glass jar, pressing the chillies down until they are submerged in their own liquid.
Cover the jar with a cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band.
Place the jar in a cool dark place for between two and five days. The liquid will ferment and form bubbles in this time and also a slightly sour smell.
Heat the achiote in a small pan with the paprika and rapeseed oil until lightly simmering. Cool the oil and strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl to remove the achiote.
Pour the fermented chillies into a food processor along with the achiote oil and cider vinegar and blitz until very smooth. Pour into a sterilised sealable bottle and keep in the fridge.
The fermented hot sauce, when opened, should keep in the fridge for three to four weeks.
Kombucha is a fermented drink made from tea. It requires a strange, living bacteria called a scoby which looks sort of like a floating piece of rubber.
Some health food stores now sell starter scobys but if you can’t source one, then you can use store-bought raw unflavoured kombucha to grow your own using this same process. The scoby will grow in the fridge over time.
To make 2.5 litres:
2 litres of tap water
6 tea bags (we use Barry’s gold blend) (Green tea can also be used)
170g caster sugar
1 medium scoby
300ml of the liquid the scoby came in or a previously made kombucha
Tap water generally has chlorine in it which can affect the cultures in the kombucha from developing. To avoid this, boil the water well in a large saucepan to remove the chlorine.
Take the water off the boil and add the sugar and teabags, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.
Leave to brew for around 6-10 minutes before removing the teabags. Cool the liquid until it is at room temperature.
Sterilise a large 3 litre kilner jar and pour the liquid in. Add the scoby and the 300ml of the liquid the scoby was sitting in or 300ml of another kombucha (unflavoured).
Cover the jar with a clean cloth and secure with a rubber band. Remember to label the jar with a date and contents.
Leave for five days at room temperature, away from direct sunlight.
After five days the kombucha should be ready for tasting, although it can be left for longer if you wish the flavour to be more or less acidic or sweet, the longer it is left the more acidic it will be. We usually leave the kombucha for between six to nine days. This is the base for an unflavoured Kombucha. It should be mildly fizzy. The Scoby will grown over time in this liquid. If you wish to drink it at this first unflavoured fermentation stage, leave it in the fridge.
We encourage you to explore different flavours which can be added after the five day fermentation step. Flavours can be from a myriad of sources from fruit juices and spices to herbs and foraged flavours like woodruff and lemon balm.
The point where you either bottle or add flavours to your kombucha is known as the secondary fermentation. You can add fruit either fresh, frozen, dried or as a juice. The ratio should be around three tablespoons per litre. Herbs will require experimentation as they all have different levels of strength.
Bottling the kombucha in a sealed flip-top bottle that has been sterilised will allow the kombucha to become properly fizzy. To do this, decant through a fine mesh to remove any sediment, scoby or whatever you have used to flavour the liquid into a sealable flip-top bottle. Keep this for between two to 14 days depending on the levels of fizziness, depth of flavour and acidity you want for your kombucha. After two days or so, taste the kombucha, this will also serve to ‘burp’ the kombucha which is essentially releasing the built up pressure in the bottles, this is important if you want to avoid an explosion.
We are both absolute sandwich fiends and nothing completes a good sandwich like a good sauerkraut or its spicier Korean cousin kimchi.
These are both super easy examples of fermentation which can be made by anyone in their kitchen using simple ingredients and equipment. All you need is a sterilised kilner jar, some cabbage (along with other optional vegetables) salt and a little time. Nothing could be simpler.
The Apple and Ginger Kimchi isn’t a traditional kimchi as such but more of a spicy kraut. We like to call it kimchi because we use it in the exact same things.
For the Classic SauerKraut
1 medium green cabbage
1 medium carrot
1½ tbsp of sea salt
1 tsp of caraway seeds (optional)
For the Apple and Ginger Kimchi
1 Chinese cabbage
4 spring onions
2 tbsp of seasalt
2 green apples
1 clove of garlic
2 red chillies
A thumb-size piece of ginger
Thinly shred the cabbage using a mandolin, box grater or sharp knife and do the same with the carrot. Place in a large bowl and rub the salt into the cabbage and carrot. Add the caraway seeds if using and pack into a sterilised kilner jar.
Weigh down with a clean weight or small plate that will fit inside the jar and leave in a cool dark place for two days.
The salt will release moisture from the cabbage and carrot and this liquid should be fully submerging the shredded vegetables. If there is not enough liquid then top it up with salted water.
Leave for at least two weeks to ferment before opening at which point you should leave it in the fridge and consume within one month.
Apple and Ginger Kimchi
Shred the cabbage and slice the spring onions thinly. Place them both in a large bowl along with the salt and rub everything together with clean hands until the cabbage has started to release liquid.
Leave for two hours, massaging every now and again until all the liquid from the cabbage has been released.
Meanwhile, core the apple and slice into thin matchsticks, no need to peel.
Peel and grate the ginger, crush the garlic and finely chop the chillies. Add the apple, chillies, ginger and garlic to the cabbage mixture and mix well. Pack into a sterilised kilner jar and cover loosely with the lid, but do not seal.
Leave in a cool dark place for around two weeks.
When it is ready seal the lid and place in the fridge where it should keep for several months.