Fermentation- from funky to fabulous!
Part of a chef’s research involves combing through past trends and comparing them to current trends, and predicting new trends. One “old” trend that had a resurgence in popularity several years ago is fermentation. Immediately after the 2008 economic meltdown home pickling became popular- cucumbers, green beans, peppers, etc. The craze caught on, and these pickled vegetables quickly started appearing first on restaurant menus, and then on grocery shelves. Brands such as Brooklyn Brine and Ricks Pick’s were taking the standard neon green cucumber pickle and bringing it into the 21st century with cleaner brine, better vegetables, and interesting flavors. And once again I see fermentation rising as a top food trend. Not only is fermented food growing in popularity, but it may even be crossing the threshold to Fermentation 2.0, in the form of flavored krauts, yogurts, kimchi, kombucha and soft drinks.
Let’s take a look back to when the ‘trend’ of fermentation first started to gain traction, in the early 2000’s…BC! Evidence shows early cultures of the Neolithic age enjoying fermented foods. The first fermented foods were probably discovered accidentally when certain harmless microorganisms began to ferment food, and early people discovered how delicious it was. The earliest types of fermented foods were leavened bread and cheeses, as well as beer and wine. These were soon followed by East Asian fermented foods, such as yogurt, pickles, sauerkraut, vinegar, and butter…so yes, you have all been eating and drinking fermented foods, but now it is en vogue and trendy!
So, what exactly is Fermentation? fer·men·ta·tion is the chemical breakdown of a substance by bacteria, yeasts, or other microorganisms. During Fermentation, organic matter is decomposed in the absence of air, creating an accumulation of incomplete oxidation products, most commonly alcohol- CH3CH2OH and Lactic Acid- CH₃CH(OH)CO₂H- you’re welcome science geeks! But allow me to simplify, for the non-science folks- Fermentation is basically a decomposition of food, caused by enzymes produced by microorganisms, contributing different flavors, aromas, and textures to food, as well as having the added bonus of naturally preserving the food.
Still a little unclear? Well then let me put it in layman’s, or Chef’s terms, as Chef David Chang describes Fermentation as, ”When rotten goes right”.
So, all of this history and science brings us to the modern-day grocery aisle, where health & wellness, as well as great flavor, are decision drivers for consumers. And Fermented foods deliver in both areas. The fermentation process delivers the live bacterial cultures our bodies need. And fermentation delivers an umami you can only get from the combination of enzymes, microorganisms, and rot.
There you have it folks. Fermented foods contain live bacteria we need, and great flavor we crave! But next time you reach for that kimchi, kraut, or Gouda, don’t think of it as alive, simply think of it as delicious.
Now the trend of eating crickets is a whole other story…