On The Page: The Art Of Fermentation

I have a slew of books to plow through that I already owned but after reading Michael Pollan’s Cooked, I found myself really interested in fermentation. Maybe it’s me being a science geek but I just wanted to learn more! I started baking sourdough bread but I still wanted to know more so I could experiment. Finally, I caved and bought Sandor Ellix Katz’s The Art of Fermentation.

The Art of Fermentation isn’t a cookbook. Although it contains a ton of general guides to trying different types of ferments, it does not contain classic “recipes.” Instead, Katz organizes ferments into general categories and examines how they developed throughout the world. He is clear that there is no one specific way to make any ferment and encourages the home fermenter to experiment and find a taste profile that works for them. While The Art of Fermentation discusses purchased cultures, Katz is clearly a fan of wild fermentation (he also wrote a book called Wild Fermentation).

It might seem like a boring read but I read this cover to cover. The book begins with an exploration of why we might care about fermentation; this “why” of fermenting sets the tone for the entire book. Chapter 1 is entitled “Fermentation as a Coevolutionary Force” and discusses how our digestive tracts evolved along with bacterial communities inside us and in our foods. Chapter 2 discusses the benefits of fermentation to us. Historically, the primary benefit of fermentation was the preservation of food. In our modern world, refrigeration has largely removed this imperative however those interested in more self-reliant living paradigms (modern homesteaders, preppers, etc.) may be interested in fermentation for this reason. Fermentation also is believed to have health benefits. Although the science is still developming, Katz cites peer reviewed studies that point towards boosted immune response, increased nutrient bioavailability, detoxification, and maintenance of flora in the gut. Plus, as Katz points out, the results are pretty darn delicious. It is clear that Katz is a fermentation evangelist and is interested in the entire range of fermentation procedures practiced around the world.

In nearly each and every chapter I found something that I wanted to try making (or at least find someone who had made the live culture ferment to try). I read about wines, meads, cheeses, prosciutto, I read about grain fermentations we would never normally learn about in America, I read about the history of beer like beverages in Africa, and about sauerkraut. It was incredibly hard to not feel like I could make all of the things. (I mean, I can, but I have a full time job and I only need to be growing so many things in my food on top of having worms in my laundry room.) Katz makes fermentation sound so achievable for the average person that The Art of Fermentation is powerfully inspiring. He is also realistic about the number of fermentation projects any one person can handle and encourages home fermenters to barter for ferments made by others.

I am really impressed with The Art of Fermentation (and kind of bummed that I couldn’t make it to Denver last weekend to hear Katz speak at the Cultured Colorado Festival). I am excited to be sharing some of my experimentation inspired by the book over the next few months here on 3Up Adventures (and follow me on Twitter and Instagram for more real time updates). I really recommend this book to anyone but if you’re interested in the intersection between food and science this is for you. Or, if you’re interested in re-learning some fading food traditions that make us more self-sufficient, this book is for you. Or, if you’re looking for ways to make a wider variety of healthful foods, this book is for you.

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