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3 easy fermented food projects



Boost nutrition, save money, and teach your kids about food

3 easy fermented food projects


Our ancestors used controlled fermentation to preserve food, while making it easier to digest and more nutritious. Home fermentation projects give us a sense of history, while communities of beneficial, live creatures grow in our kitchens.

Registered nurse Celeste Thomas points out that modern methods of pasteurization and antibiotics kill off helpful digestive bacteria, which fermented foods restore. She cites the benefits of “good” bacteria for breakdown of food, absorption of nutrients, endocrine support, and skin health. When your kids help with homemade ferments, they learn about chemistry and nutrition while watching and tasting the day-by-day process of transformation.

READ MORE: Good Gut Bugs: An Endangered Species

Pickles

Thomas suggests making pickled vegetables of all kinds—especially crunchy ones like cabbage, carrots, beets, and celery--always begin with organic veggies to avoid bacteria-killing pesticides. Fill a well-washed jar with clean vegetables, add fermentation starter (available online), fill again with filtered water, cap the jar, and set it in a cool, dark place. Over the course of a week or two, taste your product daily until it reaches a level of sourness you like, and then refrigerate the jar. Start with eating a spoonful a day, until your body adjusts to the new nutrients. After a week or two, you can eat freely.

If you don't want to deal with starter, you can make pickles using brine (salted water), according to this time-honored recipe from fermentation expert Sandor Katz. You can use other vegetables besides cucumbers if you wish.

Kombucha

This drink is popular and widely available but expensive and not as flavorful as the kombucha you make at home. A kombucha culture (also called a mother or a SCOBY) looks like a flat, stalkless, tan mushroom, but it's actually a community of microorganisms. You can buy one online, or ask around on social media for a neighbor who's making kombucha. Every batch or two, the culture doubles in size and can be separated into two equally functional pieces.

Put two teabags (black or green tea) in a clean glass bowl with ¼ cup of sugar. (Unrefined sugar is tastier, but white sugar will work.) Pour in one quart of boiling water. When the water cools to room temperature, remove the teabags. Put the kombucha culture in the bowl with ½ cup of liquid from the previous batch. Cover with a clean towel and set aside. Depending on the temperature, the culture will take from a few days to two weeks to turn sour. Dip a taste out daily until you like the flavor, pour off the liquid to drink, and reserve the culture and ½ cup of liquid for the next batch.

Kefir

If you have the equipment to keep a jar warm, it's not hard to make yogurt, but kefir is a similar product that can be made at room temperature and is less fussy. Again, you'll have to start with a culture (a handful of tiny, spongy, off-white grains), which can be purchased online or obtained from neighbors.

Fill a clean jar with milk, add the kefir grains, twist on the lid, and wait. Depending on temperature, if will take a few days to reach your desired flavor, so taste it daily. When it's ready, strain out the grains and reuse them in the next batch. The product will be more or less thick, according to the type of milk and the length of fermentation. It goes well on cereal, in smoothies, or if you make it with half-and-half, as a dressing for soups and stews.



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