What’s the most important thing you want novices to know about fermentation?
SK You already love
fermented foods and eat them all the time, as almost everyone does,
because they are so central to most culinary traditions. Don’t be
intimidated about making them at home. Be a conscientious objector in
the war on bacteria and embrace bacterial foods.
You’re immunocompromised. Do you worry about contracting nasty bugs like Listeria or E. coli from uncooked foods?
SK Acidic ferments are
extremely safe. According to the USDA, there has never been a case of
food poisoning from fermented vegetables documented in the United
States. Even if the veggies had been subjected to contamination, the
indigenous bacteria would overwhelm the contaminants. For testing
purposes, researchers have intentionally introduced Listeria, E. coli
0157, and salmonella to ferments, and when they analyze the results in
the lab they can no longer find evidence of the contaminants.
What about raw milk? Louis Pasteur saved a lot of lives when he
figured out that heating milk killed potentially deadly bacteria.
SK I don’t drink random
raw milk. I drink it from a small dairy farm whose practices I trust
and admire. I agree that pasteurization makes sense for the general
U.S. milk supply, but I think the public-health dogma has lost sight of
the fact that it is a salvage protocol for milk produced by animals
living with inadequate pasture.
Is there anyone who shouldn’t eat fermented foods?
SK Children should not
consume foods or beverages with a lot of alcohol. Diabetics should stay
away from sugary ferments. People with candida, too, should avoid
ferments based upon sugar or carbohydrates. People who are immune
compromised or in frail health stand to benefit from live-culture foods
but should introduce them slowly, beginning with tiny portions.
What would you suggest as a maiden project for home fermenters?
SK Fermented vegetables in
all their glorious variations—hot sauce, corn relish, sour pickles,
dilly beans, kraut, kimchi, etc.—are what I keep coming back to, what I
eat daily, and what I strongly recommend as a first home fermentation
project, because it is easy, fast, intrinsically safe, so good for
us, and requires no special starters or equipment.
The Down and Dirty
By Marie Myung-Ok Lee ’86 / January/February 2013
January 7th, 2013