Sunday, July 1, 2012

Fresh reviews: The Complete Idiot's Guide to Fermenting Foods

Fermenting foods is something most of us don't ever contemplate trying, but which can massively improve our health and save us money. 

Thankfully Wardeh Harmon from GNOWFGLINS has just written The Complete Idiot's Guide to Fermenting Foods, paving the way for many of us to give it a try. 

Fermenting foods used to be common practise in home kitchens before the food industry turned to methods suited for large-scale food production such as canning, pasteurisation and vinegar pickling. 

As Wardeh says:
"These methods made food "safe" in the sense that they would be shelf-stable, travel far, and taste the same, batch to batch. The downsides, however, are not insignificant: modern pickled foods are less nutritious and impart less complex and pleasing flavours."
Health benefits of eating fermented foods
Fermented foods populate our guts with beneficial bacteria and provide food for these bacteria. I've already talked about beneficial bacteria in my review of Gut and Psychology Syndrome, so please read it if you'd like to know more.

In short though, it's vital that beneficial bacteria coat our digestive tract as they pre-digest our food and play a crucial role in our immune system. Eating fermented foods encourages these beneficial bacteria and discourages the harmful bacteria that might try to take their place.

Fermented foods also contain high levels of enzymes, which help us digest food. This quote from Wardeh on page 15 of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Fermenting Foods helped me better understand why the enzymes in fermented foods are so vital:
"In our lifetime, our bodies produce only a finite amount of enzymes. Overall enzyme production slows down with aging, and additionally, the body prioritizes making digestive enzymes over metabolic enzymes. Do you see the problem here? If our bodies make digestive enzymes (that could be provided through food instead), we make fewer of the metabolic enzymes that keep our bodies functioning optimally. The smartest thing for us to do is eat more foods rich in digestive enzymes.
"So what are those foods? The answer might surprise you. Most people think that raw, fresh foods provide an abundance of enzymes. Yes, they do provide enzymes - but not that many. On the other hand, fermented foods provide digestive enzymes in abundance. (Cooked foods provide none.)" 
Could eating enzyme-rich fermented foods be an anti-aging miracle cure? Where do I sign up?

Ferment your own food at home
Wardeh spends the first few chapters explaining the principles of fermenting so you're well set up to understand how it works before you even get to a recipe. 

She has divided the recipes up into different sections where she provides further instructions specific to the section she's talking about:
  • Vegetables, eg. salsa, sauerkraut, relish and pickles
  • Fruits, eg. chutney, fig butter and fruit leather
  • Condiments, eg. nut butter, mustard and guacamole 
  • Nonalcoholic beverages, eg. beet kvass, lemonade and kombucha
  • Alcoholic beverages, eg. Scottish ale and Czech Porter
  • Beans, eg. hummus, tempeh and natto
  • Grains, eg. sourdough pancakes, waffles and bread
  • Noncheese cultured dairy, eg. kefir, smoothies and icecream
  • Simple cheese, eg. kefir cheese, smierkase and feta
  • Meats and fish, eg. German sausage, pepperoni and pickled salmon
For all you gardeners out there, fermenting foods is a great way to preserve excess bounty from your garden so you can eat it year round. And the fermentation process makes produce healthier than if you were to eat it fresh. What other food preservation technique can you say that for? (None.)

Note: To ferment many foods you need a good source of whey, which means you need a good source of raw milk. Raw milk is superior to pasteurised milk anyway, so it's worth getting in contact with your local Weston A. Price Foundation Chapter to find out where you can purchase raw milk near you.

Wardeh points out that you don't need any fancy equipment to ferment foods. People have been doing it for thousands of years with the most rudimentary of tools, so this doesn't have to be an expensive exercise. 

It also doesn't require food to be cooked, which makes it very energy efficient.

For all her recipes, Wardeh gives instructions using the most basic kitchen equipment, although she also describes the specialty equipment that is available and which can make things easier/safer.

Wardeh has provided photos of some of the more specialty equipment such as crocks and air-locks, which is helpful. The entire book is in black and white though, and I think it would benefit from some colour photos of the various recipes and tools to make it really idiot-proof.

Why I recommend this book
Wardeh Harmon has already proven her knowledge of fermented foods through her GNOWFGLINS website and sourdough e-course. She lives this topic and has a wealth of knowledge to share, which is why I think it's wonderful that she was approached to write this book.

Wardeh has tackled a subject matter that could be quite daunting for the average home cook and demystified it. 

If you want to ferment your own foods but don't know where to start or feel too nervous to try, get yourself a copy of this book. 


  1. Speaking of fermenting I'm currently growing a rye sourdough starter. Let me know if you'd like some too and I can pass some on when it gets going.

    Also I was wondering if I could get some more water kefir grains from you as we'd like to get in to drinking it again.

    Did you know that you can also ferment eggs? I haven't tried it yet, but I intend to soon. (they've been on my list of things to try for a few years now).

    - Jessica

    1. Thanks Jessica, I would love some of your rye sourdough starter. Have you ever tasted fermented eggs? It's not something I can get my head around, but then I've never seen or tasted one.

  2. Im really sensitive to sugar, including lactose. Fermentation uses the sugars in whey doesnt it? Does that mean that when the fermentation is finished, the sugar is all used up? Ive tried kefir, but dont think i fermented it long enough and it caused my back pain to return. My herbalist wants me to go on to fermented foods and Ive ordered the GAPS book, but need a better understanding on how to eliminate the sugars so I can eat these foods.


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