A couple of years ago, a friend of mine convinced me to try drinking kombucha in order to get some probiotics in my system during a particularly pesky bout of digestive struggles (I’ll spare you the details). She warned me that kombucha is an acquired taste, but told me to just grin and bear it at first until I could get used to it. I’ll admit that the first sip I took was a little weird, but by the time I finished the whole bottle I was hooked. I felt thoroughly refreshed, and I didn’t really care if its purported healing properties were placebo or not. The problem is that kombucha tends to go for about four dollars a bottle at health food stores. It wasn’t until recently that I realized how effortless it is to make, and I realized what I fool I had been for maintaining such an expensive habit.
Kombucha is just one of many things that can be easily made at home through fermentation. Here is a little fact guide about fermentation and why you should do it, with links to in-depth how-tos!
What is fermentation?
I’ll try to explain fermentation without getting too science-y (because I’m not a scientist, and I also don’t think science-y is an actual word). But basically, fermentation is the process of converting sugar to acids, gasses, or alcohol. More specifically, yeast converts sugar into alcohol (aka beer) and bacteria convert sugar into lactic acid. People have been fermenting food and beverages for thousands of years as a means of preservation. Sander Katz, the author of The Art of Fermentation, calls fermented foods “the flavorful space between fresh and rotten.” This may sound gross or it may sound appealing to you, but you probably don’t realize how many fermented foods you already consume on the reg!
Why is fermented food good for you?
The internet is a crazy place to try to find accurate health information, with the incredible amount of pseudoscience out there. So I will try to avoid making any false health claims. Like I said, I’m not a scientist, so make sure to talk to your doctor before taking my word for any of this. That being said, the probiotic benefits of fermented foods are pretty widely acknowledged.
It may sound counterintuitive to ingest foods that encourage the growth of (healthy) bacteria. However, probiotics get their good reputation for a reason. Tons of strains of bacteria live in your gut and help you digest food. A healthy gut is extremely important to your overall health because links have been found between gut bacteria and numerous diseases. Consuming probiotic foods is one of many ways to improve the health of your gut and in turn boost your immune system, prevent UTI’s, treat IBS, fight food-borne illnesses, etc. It is especially important to consume probiotic foods when you’re having diarrhea or taking antibiotics (you could be killing off or shitting out the good bacteria which, therefore, needs to be restored).
Side note: Fermenting foods is also good for your wallet. The process of fermentation is quite cheap because the tools are a one time purchase. Once you have all the tools you need, fermentation allows you to preserve foods for longer so they don’t go to waste.
What can I ferment and how?
Here are just a few options for things you can make using fermentation:
Sauerkraut – This is probably one of the easiest things to make through fermentation. Basically, all you have to do is chop up some cabbage and veggies, lightly salt them, squeeze the juices out into a jar, and submerge the veggies in their own juices in the jar. All that’s left to do from there is wait! Here is a more in-depth guide for sauerkraut.
Kombucha – IMO kombucha is the most fun thing to ferment because you can get super creative with it. The process starts with a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast), which is a pretty much just a funny looking blob. You brew some tea (usually green or black tea), add some sugar, put it in a big ass jar, add the SCOBY, then cover the jar with a breathable material. After a few weeks (the timing depends on how much you are brewing) you can do a second fermentation. This is where you can get creative and add all sorts of flavorings! My favorite combination that I’ve made thus far has been apples and cinnamon. This guide will tell you all you need to know about making kombucha.
Yogurt- Long story short, to make yogurt you heat up some milk, add a spoonful of already made yogurt with live cultures (store bought or from a previous batch) as a starter, and keep the milk hot for several hours. It seems super easy because it is. But you do need the right tools to keep the milk heated to the right temperature for several hours. A lot of people just use a slow cooker. If you want to get a little fancier and make thicker yogurt you can use a sous vide machine (also great for making perfectly cooked steak!) or a clay pot. Here is a guide for yogurt making.
Kefir- Kefir is very similar to yogurt but it is thinner and has more active cultures in it, making it that much more beneficial. Kefir is also super easy to make ...seeing a trend here? All it takes is some milk and some kefir grains (which aren’t actually grains but instead contain the bacteria and yeast that acts as a starter for the kefir). Step 1. Add kefir grains to milk. Step 2. Let sit. It’s that easy. Literally. Here is some more info for making kefir.
The list of what you can make goes on including kimchi, pickles, beer and so much more. I hope you have as much fun with it as I do. Happy fermenting!
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