Fermentation 101

What is fermentation?

Fermentation is much like cooking except it uses microbes instead of heat to transform food.

Technically speaking, it is the digestive action of microorganisms and their enzymes–particularly amylases, proteases, and lipases–that transform or break down the carbohydrates, proteins, and fats in food, respectively. 

What kind of transformation does this microbial action do to food?

Benefits of fermentation
  1. Preserves food. Fermentation is a food preservation technique found in almost all culinary traditions. The most popular ones are kimchi from Korea, miso from Japan, and sauerkraut from Germany. In the Philippines we have bagoong among many others. When done right, it creates a selective environment that limits what can grow, cultivating different kinds of microorganisms that inhibit food spoilage and prevent the development of pathogens or toxins.
  1. Promotes health. Fermented foods are among the most nutritious foods, supporting our immune function. The process of fermentation also makes food easier to digest and nutrients more easily absorbed by our bodies. Remember that ferments are not magic bullets, though; they need to be part of a combination of factors, such as exercise, sleep, and increased consumption of whole plant-based foods.
  1. Enhances flavors. Enzymes during fermentation break down carbohydrates, proteins, and fast into simple sugars and amino acids, and release unique volatile flavor and aromatic compounds. This why a lot of chefs consider it the final frontier in flavor-making. As Sandor Katz says, “Between fresh and rotten, there is a creative space in which some of the most compelling flavors arise.”

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