At the end of 2012, I found a freaky-looking brew in the bottom of our flat pantry. A jelly lifeform hovered near the bottom, resting on various chinese herbs. I was told it was a mushroom (it’s not a mushroom, it’s a Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria & Yeasts). The brew was delicious. This was kombucha, my first experience of fermented food.
Kombucha stayed in my life because it made me feel great, particularly if I hadn’t been taking care of myself, but it wasn’t until the last year that these living foods have really taken over my pantry, my kitchen benches, my fridge.. As the innumerable bacteria and yeast colonies multiplied so to did the strange brews in jars, crocks and bottles. I was hooked on experimenting with a wider range of ferments and methods, eating some really wild products. Sandor Ellix Katz’s little bible Wild Fermentation still gets pulled out on the regular and I spend what feels like half my spare time tending to my bubbling collection with great interest. I’m going public with my private obsession this weekend, presenting the fermented foods display at the Auckland incarnation of the Fun Palace movement.
For the less obsessed, your diet could be made very much alive with just two additions: One good sauerkraut (it doesn’t have to be cabbage!) and one fermented drink (kombucha, water kefir or natural ginger beer are winners). If you stick to just these, the time investment and kitchen-space invasion will be minimal, with all the (totally great) reputed health benefits of fermented foods – that is, fresh and regular doses of probiotics and the improved nutrient availability through fermentation.
Something unexpected: I’ve found myself treating my food and my plants with more interest and gentleness since living foods took over my kitchen. Not that I was rough or disinterested before, but there’s nothing quite like handling a kombucha SCOBY to remind you how fragile living things are. If fermented foods are a pathway to people taking more care with living things, or even just an interest in their food I am all for it. Long live fermentation!