Introduction to Fermentation


Fermentation transforms and preserves food through the action of microbes. People started fermenting food thousands of years ago, motivated by a need to have food to eat beyond the growing season. Today, we have other ways to preserve food, and we can easily get it from places with different growing seasons. But fermentation persists. Some people are interested in fermented foods because of the interesting flavors that are created; some are interested in these foods because of their vitamins and enzymes, or their organic acids and “good bacteria.”

Basic vegetable fermentation involves just two ingredients: vegetables and salt. Spices add variety. Use organic veggies and spices to avoid chemicals that might interfere with the fermentation process. And, use salts that are minimally processed and free from additives. Frontier Co-op ingredients are key for these reasons. 

More than Preservation

While consideration of the benefits of eating fermented foods may have contributed to their widespread popularity in traditional cultures, there is no doubt it's having a major effect on their current resurgence. The increasing interest in fermentation goes hand-in-hand with the growing awareness of probiotics, since fermentation creates foods abounding with those beneficial bacteria. Fermented foods are typically raw foods, tying them in with another dietary trend.

But while they may contribute to a healthy diet, the main reason fermented foods have found their way into so many of the world's culinary cultures is their varied and appealing taste. (Their generally bold and pronounced flavors are "microbially induced flavors," in science-speak.)

Fermented foods include the familiar and distinctive flavor of sauerkraut, Asian miso and kimchi, Russian kefir and kvass, and even French wines. Fermented foods evoke descriptors as diverse as sour, tangy, earthy, rich, smooth and sublime.

Salt and Water

Many people are wrongly convinced that fermentation requires extensive set-ups and risky processes. Although some complex applications (e.g. home brewing) can be demanding, simple fermentation is easy, requires little preparation, and almost always yields good results.

You can make your own simple fermented vegetables or fruits with just salt, water and time (most of the time it takes is waiting for the natural process of fermentation to run its course). We suggest a pinch of seasoning as well.

You just need to make sure your ingredients are the right ones for the job. In particular, the salt and water you use will greatly affect the process and results of your fermentation

Choosing the Right Salt

Common table salt, for example, is NOT a good choice. It likely contains iodine and anti-caking agents that could inhibit the fermentation process. Naturally harvested salts that aren't subjected to the common commercial processes give the best results. 

Our sea salts and hand-mined Himalayan pink salt are harvested with natural, environmentally friendly methods. Given little or no further processing, they retain trace minerals and other natural components that add flavor, and often color, to the salt.

Choosing the Right Water

Clean water is also essential to successful fermentation. Water straight out of the tap is NOT a good choice. The chlorine or chloramine that municipal water treatment plants add to water supplies to kill harmful bacteria also kill the beneficial fermentation bacteria. Unfortunately, many bottled waters, often in spite of being labeled "spring" water, may contain the same process-inhibiting chlorine and chloramines that are in your tap water. Good, tested well water will work — as long as it doesn't contain minerals like sulfur and iron that can affect the taste of your fermented foods. Your best bets are to use water filtered through an activated carbon filter or distilled water.

The Resurgence of Fermented Foods

These flavors are being embraced — and enhanced — by restaurants, influential chefs, celebrities, bloggers and food manufacturers. Commercial fermented food manufacturers have begun introducing additional flavors to add variety to their products. Our recipes show you how you can make your own inexpensive fermented foods, seasoned to your own tastes with items from Frontier Co-op.