I was so excited when I got to the Oregon Country Fair last weekend to learn that Sandor Katz was going to be one of the featured speakers! He is so knowledgeable about fermentation, and a great speaker. I was able to hook up with him before his presentation, and we got to “talk shop” for a few minutes about some fermentation techniques I’ve been researching.

Sandor has a great way of connecting with his audience. Here are some of the highlights of his talk:

  • All food goes through a transformation, from “freshness” to a point where it returns to the soil.Fermentation is basically the process of controlled transformation that can occur naturally or with intervention. Refrigeration is basically a technique for slowing down transformation. Before refrigeration, people used fermentation to preserve food so they didn’t have to eat it all the same day they caught it or harvested it.
  • The easiest way to begin learning how to ferment is with vegetables – it’s as simple as putting vegetables in salt water and waiting!
  • According to the USDA, there has never been a case of food poisoning reported from fermented foods. This is because the act of fermentation kills off the “bad” bacteria with the “good” bacteria.
  • Fermentation transforms foods in a number of ways: It “predigests” the food by breaking down the fibers and starches, making it more digestible. It breaks down difficult-to-digest proteins, such as those found in soybeans, into their component amino acids, making the nutrients more available. Fermentation detoxifies food, by breaking down compounds from cyanide (found in certain fruit seeds and pits) to phytic acids, and possibly even some pesticides. Fermentation adds nutrients to food, primarily in the form of B vitamins, which are basically from an accumulation of microbial bodies that multiply during the fermentation process. It also adds metabolic byproducts from the microbial bodies, such as isocyothianates, vitamin K2, and nattokinase.
  • We’ve been indoctrinated in our society to think of bacteria as “bad”, when in fact we couldn’t even survive without bacteria. While it’s true that some bacteria are hostile to humans, the number of bacteria in our bodies actually outnumber the cells in our bodies by a factor of 10 to 1! Bacteria synthesize nutrients for our cells to use, enabling digestion, immune function, and even reproduction!
  • Because of the “war on bacteria” that our society has been waging through the overuse of antibacterial soaps, antibiotics as medicine and in animal feed, etc., there are great volumes of antibacterial products even in our drinking water. Fermented foods help replenish the natural and valuable bacteria in our diets.

 

One of the most valuable things Sandor told the group was that it’s important to remember that bacteria are living organisms, and every fermentation project you do at home is likely to produce a slightly different result. This is why sometimes your yogurt is thick and sometimes it’s runny; sometimes  your sauerkraut is tangy and crunchy and sometimes it’s softer and sweeter, etc.

For me, this is one of the joys of eating real food! Every meal is a new adventure!

Sandor Katz runs the website Wild Fermentation. He has also written two books on fermentation – Wild Fermentation and The Art of Fermentation.