U.S fermentation fetishist and author, Sandor Katz, chats to bmag about growing popularity for fermented cuisine and the nutritional benefits.
Sandor Katz Q&A
For those who aren’t aware of the methods, please explain fermented cuisine:
Fermented foods and beverages are those transformed by the action of microorganisms. Some of our most celebrated delicacies, and some of our most common staples are fermented, including bread, cheese, cured meats, beer, wine, coffee, chocolate, vinegar and more.
What are the nutritional benefits of eating these foods?
Fermented foods are so varied that it is impossible to generalise their nutritional benefits, but the process of fermentation transforms nutrients in some general ways.
First, it predigests nutrients, making many dense compound nutrients that it can be difficult to digest into simpler more easily bioavailable forms.
Second, it breaks down certain compounds in foods that can be toxic, removing toxicity.
Third, the process enhances B-vitamin values in foods and contributes unique micronutrients, some of which have been found to have great therapeutic benefit.
Finally, certain ferments (which we will be focusing on in the workshops) have live bacterial cultures intact that are probiotic and can help to replenish and diversify bacterial populations in our intestines.
I consider these live cultures, which can improve digestion, nutrient assimilation, and immune function, to be the most profound nutritional benefit of fermentation.
What are some common fermented products consumers can already buy in Australia?
Many of our most basic daily staples are products of fermentation. Some examples of live culture foods that are commercially available are sauerkraut, kimchi and other fermented vegetables (if they have not been heat processed for greater shelf stability), yoghurt, kombucha, and miso.
Are there any risks involved, and if so, what?
Fermentation is extremely safe and has been used throughout history as a strategy for food safety. That said, it is important to understand the parameters for safe and effective fermentation, and in terms of eating them, like anything, moderation and diversity is appropriate.
How did you first come to experimenting with fermentation?
I’ve always love fermented foods, but it was when I started gardening, when I got started in a practice of fermentation. I was faced with a fleeting overabundance of cabbage, and turned to fermentation–as our forbears did–as a strategy to preserve this abundance for later consumption.
What are your favourite foods to ferment?
I love to ferment vegetables, particularly radishes and turnips, because I typically have huge abundances of them and they are so delicious fermented. I love yoghurt and kefir, another style of fermented milk.
I love to make sourdough pancakes, generally savoury vegetable-cheese pancakes. Any food can be fermented, and many of the greatest delicacies around the world are products of fermentation.
What do you see for the future of fermentation in modern diets?
I think that because of the widespread use of chemicals that kill bacteria indiscriminately (antibiotic drugs, antibacterial cleaning products, chlorinated water) it has become more important for us than ever before to consciously replenish and diversify bacterial population in our intestines. We need live-culture ferments like never before.
Join Sandor in his workshop ‘The Art of Fermentation’ at the Brisbane Multicultural Arts Centre from February 7-9. Tickets and more details via website.