There are so many trends in food; sometimes I find it hard to keep up. Some new and hip digestible concepts spread like wildfire across New York and Paris, stretching from Chicago to Tokyo, and reaching every food mecca around the world. But in true artistic form, it isn’t the invention of something new, but rather the reimagining of something that has existed for a very long time. And nothing seems to be truer for a food trend than fermentation.
Across the foodie world, today’s chefs have been fermenting everything they can find in the kitchen. People are craving the funky and sour kick. So what exactly is fermentation? Well I am so glad you asked! Essentially, fermentation is the process of little microbes converting carbs and sugars in to alcohols and acids. That’s right—your favorite cold beer and glass of wine are thanks to the funky little organisms snacking on things like grains, veggies and fruits.
There are three main forms of fermentation: lactic acid, which we will be diving in to; ethyl alcohol, used to produce wine and beer; and acetic acid, used more for making vinegars and ciders. So let’s focus on lactic fermentation in the food world. Health nuts have been singing the praise of fermented goods for the gut health it can assist with. Cultured yogurt is obviously in every grocery store, and with a surge in Middle Eastern dishes infusing in to every day cuisine, yogurt sauces and curries are popping up on menus nationwide. The cool tartness is a great balance for spice.
Best known for lactic acid fermentation is the effect it has on cabbage — by way of Kimchi and sauerkraut. Cabbage naturally reacts to salt and airborne bacteria to begin the fermentation process, and it has been a great way to increase the life of the harvest for the winter months. Dating back more than 2000 years, Kimchi has been made with Korean radishes and cabbage, and a wide variety of regional additions such as onion or even salted fish. It is a sour meets spicy meets funk that honestly has this chef digging back in for more. Sauerkraut, the European little brother of Kimchi, is still a favorite sausage topper for most of the world.
Koji, miso and black garlic are all the delicious and Umami bomb results of fermentation. (Umami is the fifth sense of flavor — an addition to sweet, sour, salty and bitter.) So if you are looking to add that unique element of flavor to your repertoire, then maybe a little home fermenting is up your alley. My favorite resource for all things fermented is The Noma Guide to Fermentation by Rene Redzepi and David Zilber. It is an awesome resource for this favored funky flavor.