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Routt County CSU Extension: Fermentation shouldn’t be scary

There is a science experiment happening on my kitchen counter. Mason jars of bubbling vegetables, a thermos of souring milk and an iffy-looking gelatinous disk floating in tea. My husband, the science teacher, shakes his head in disbelief at the sight.

In equal measure, I have received reactions of both interest and fright, but calm down — fermentation can be safe and good for your health.

For many, fermentation represents the latest food trend, but it’s actually been going on for thousands of years in different cultures. On any given day you have probably consumed a fermented food or beverage. Beyond the obvious beer and wine, fermentation plays a role in the creation of coffee, vanilla, yogurt, kefir, cheese, sourdough, kimchi, olives, miso, cider and the list goes on.



My fascination with fermentation started as an exploration of its role in food preservation. Vegetables that might rot within a few weeks can be fermented and kept for several months. Early homesteaders to the Yampa Valley kept a crock of fermenting cabbage near the stove where it eventually became sauerkraut. That crock supplied the family with a safe source of nutrition throughout the winter.

Lactic acid fermentation or lacto-fermentation is the method that I have been experimenting with. It involves a simple process where vegetables are submerged in brine, allowing the naturally occurring Lactobacillus bacteria to convert the sugars in the produce into lactic acid. The high acidity and added salt create conditions that promote the good bacteria and suppress the growth of pathogenic organisms. All the while, the food is becoming easier to digest and developing a unique taste and texture.



Fermented foods function as probiotics, which means that the living micro-organisms that they provide are beneficial to the body. Restoring good bacteria to a digestive system that has been depleted by antibiotics, age, illness and other environmental factors is a huge benefit of the live-cultures found in fermented foods. While there is a lot of research still needed to fully understand the value of probiotics, there is an emerging body of evidence confirming the health benefits.

This past year I convened a group of friends that also enjoy fermenting. We share recipes, cultures, starters and plenty of stories of fermentation failures and successes. We meet as a loosely formed fermentation study group. Affectionatel,y we call ourselves the Fermentos — a term that fermentation guru Sandor Katz uses in his book, “The Art of Fermentation,” to describe people who ferment.

If you would like to learn more about fermentation, join Routt County Extension and our fermentation study group for an introduction to the art and science of home fermentation — Fermentation 101. The program will be at 6:30 p.m. March 18 at the Bud Werner Library Hall. The presenter will be Ali Hamm, a PhD candidate in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Colorado State University.

Karen Massey is a registered dietitian nutritionist and family and consumer science Extension agent with Colorado State University Extension in Routt County. Call 970-879-0825 or email karen.massey@colostate.edu with questions.


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