Why You Shouldn't Wrinkle Your Nose At Fermentation | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

Why You Shouldn't Wrinkle Your Nose At Fermentation

Play associated audio

It's delicious, it's nutritious and it's basically rotten. Fermentation is a hot culinary trend, and, as Weekend Edition food commentator Bonny Wolf explains, the preservation process gives food a flavor unique to time and place.

People you know may intentionally be growing bacteria in their homes — on food, outside the refrigerator. And they are doing it to make food safe, and nutritious.

They are doing what cooks have always done: fermenting food.

For decades, we have fought against bacteria in our food. And now we're being told to make love — not war — on germs.

Before you wrinkle your nose, consider this: If you have ever eaten bread, cheese, chocolate or yogurt, or drunk beer, wine or coffee, you have had fermented food.

There are bad bacteria. But many are beneficial.

OK, non-scientists, stick with me. Fermentation is the process in which bacteria and yeasts feed on the sugars in food. That creates lactic acid, a preservative. It is what Bill Schindler, a fermenter and anthropology professor at Washington College, calls "controlled rotting." The results are the probiotic foods you hear about: miso, tempeh, the fermented tea called kombucha.

The nutrients are intact, the foods are easier to digest, and new flavors have been created.

Katy Chang, an award-winning kimchi maker, says fermentation is magic. You make nutrients and flavors that didn't exist before, using what's in the air around you.

This taste of time and place gives your food what some fermenters call "microbial terroir." Yeah, like in wine.

Chefs, artisan food producers and just plain folk have been touched by fermentation magic. New York superchef David Chang is working with a Harvard microbiologist to try new things at his Momofuku fermentation lab, like pistachio miso cashew tamari.

Sandor Katz is considered the guru of fermenting food. He calls himself a "fermentation revivalist," trying to bring back an ancient tradition.

In his introduction to Katz's book, The Art of Fermentation, food writer Michael Pollan says we've been living in an age of Purell. He calls fermentation "an eloquent protest against the homogenization of flavors and food now rolling like a great, undifferentiated lawn across the globe."

Katz says he wants to demystify fermentation so people won't be afraid. Then, maybe, we can all feel the magic.

Bonny Wolf is managing editor of American Food Roots.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

WAMU 88.5

Arlington Artisphere Likely To Close Next Summer

With Arlington's county government tightening its belt, the county manager is recommending that the Artisphere arts center in Rosslyn close up shop next year.

NPR

A History Lesson On The Philippines, Stuffed In A Christmas Chicken

Rellenong manok is a deboned chicken filled with a jumble of ingredients. If it seems hard to pin down how this dish got all its fillings, it's because of the complexity of the Philippines' culture.
NPR

GOP Sens. Rubio, Paul Square Off Over Cuba Policy Shift

Rubio, appearing on ABC's This Week, lashed out at Paul, who has expressed support for opening trade with the island nation after a decades-long embargo.
NPR

Obama Calls North Korean Hack 'Cybervandalism'

On CNN's State of the Union, the president expanded on earlier remarks he made criticizing a decision by Sony Pictures to pull distribution of The Interview.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.