For the 21st episode of Homesteads and Homeschools, we enjoy a cold fermented beverage and have a discussion with fermentation guru Sandor Katz. We discussed some of the basics of fermentation, as well as the health benefits of not just fermented food, but bacteria and some of the problems with humanity’s desire to create a sterilized environment. There is an extra bonus episode for supporters of the show.
I can’t tell you when I started dabbling in ferments. My earliest recollection is trying to make some country wine in my basement when I was probably thirteen or fourteen. It was a total crap shoot. I put some sugar in a mason jar, threw in some fruit and a bit of yeast, then flipped the jar over into a wider basin of water to create a seal of sorts. Needless to say it turned out poorly and was unsuccessful. (I’ve since made some palatable stuff…) Into college I dabbled with brewing beer and trying to make some ‘shine, but it wasn’t until I lived in South Korea for a year that I really started a love affair with fermented foods, all thanks to kim chi. It is a goal of mine to one day make some kim chi that actually tastes like an ajumma made it, and not some stateside grocer, but that’s a story for another day.
There are a million different fermented dishes you can make, some are time consuming, require special tools, and mountains of time, others, like oatmeal, are extremely simple. I first came across this idea reading one of Sandor Katz’s books. (I couldn’t tell you which one; they’re all excellent.) Almost everyone these days have heard of overnight oats. Some folks will soak them overnight, some cook them overnight in a slow cooker, some soak them and eat them raw the next morning. It may sound loopy, but here’s the basic reason why:
Oats and other grains contain phytic acid. Phytic acid is known to bind to certain nutrients therefore hindering the bodies ability to absorb these nutrients. Soaking (particularly in an acidic environment) helps to break this phytic acid down. You can achieve an acidic environment by using whey – kefir, yogurt, etc. – apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, or anything else you can think of that might lower the pH. You can also skip the additives and really let those oats ferment naturally lowering the pH of the solution. Typical instructions will call for the oats to be soaked in cold water, or even left in the refrigerator, over night; the problem is, this cooler environment doesn’t allow for much fermentation. Ideally, you want to soak your oats on the counter from 12-24 hours to really break down the phytic acid, but there’s more.
Fermented foods have particularly rich flavors, sweet and sour, tart, tangy, and dense. If all you want to do is break down some phytic acid, soak your oats for 12-24 hours in a warm environment. If you want all the funky flavors of a delicious fermented dish here’s our technique.
Before I even throw the oats in the mason jar, I toss in a handful or raisins. The raisins add some sweetness and some naturally occurring yeast (which is a good thing.) If you don’t have raisins, other fruits with naturally occurring yeast can work – berries, apples. Once the raisins are in, I add my spices: usually some fresh minced ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and turmeric. When I can find it, I’ll use garam masala, or if I’m having a later afternoon snack, I’ll throw in a bit of curry powder. If I
want it a little sweeter, I’ll add in some ripe banana. Really the possibilities are endless, and it is up to you and your taste buds
The amount of oats, and size of container I use depends on who’s going to be eating them with me. My son is not a big fan, but my daughter will eat a whole cup if I allow her. Once the oats are in, I cover them with water, screw on a lid, and let them go. On average, I’ll wait a good two days, though less when it’s summer, and a little longer in the winter. The trick is to really let the fermentation kick in. Typically, mid-way through day two, I’ll start to see tiny bubbles welling up from below and it begins to look like one big gloppy mess. When I see these things, I’m know I’m good to go.
These really are one of the simplest fermented dishes you can make. Once you’re happy with how the little guys are doing with your oats, it’s time to cook them. Dump them in a pain, and cook. I use a low heat, and stir. Because they’re so dense and gloppy, they tend to burn a little bit if you let them go without stirring for too long. If they’re too thick coming out of the jar, you can always add a little water.
When the oats are warmed thoroughly, we serve them! (Imagine that…). Typically we don’t add sugar, but on occasion my daughter can convince me that they need a little Maple Syrup. Either way, they’re delicious.
Addendum: We have experimented with adding chia to the ferment, this requires more water. We have also tried this with grits, and steel cut oats. The soak times for steel cut oats is a little longer, but both turned out equally as well. Other ways to reduce phytic acid is to sprout the item in question (think beans.)
I’m always searching for fun easy ferments (or even more difficult ones) so if you have any favorites, let me know in the comments.