From kimchi to kefir and kombucha, fermented foods are seriously fashionable, and you’ll do well to find a hip menu that doesn’t feature something preserved.
Fermented “live” and “raw” ingredients give your gut a much-needed boost of healthy microbes, the benefits of which have been linked to weight loss, allergy reduction and improved skin issues (all useful in a post-lockdown world).
Health-food shops have been selling fermented foods for decades – and kefir and kimchi can now be found in supermarket meal deals – but the process of extracting the lactobacillus (the good bacteria) from a glut of vegetables really isn’t that difficult to do at home, you just need to follow the rules and have a few essential tools.
We would recommend laying your hands on a large, heavy, non-reactive pot. Any material will do as long as it isn’t aluminium, which can leach into whatever you’re cooking and oxidise ingredients, but WIRED loves the solidity and style of cast iron. Made from 100 per cent recycled cast iron and coated in a thick layer of enamel, the Combekk Dutch Oven (40% off at £165) is available in 24cm and 28cm diameters. With colours ranging from green, grey and black, it features a heavy, flush-fitting lid and precision thermometer built in, giving you greater oversight of your concoctions.
Kilner remains the brand for all your bottling and canning needs, and there’s a reason its core range of rubber-sealed clip and screw-top jars has changed very little through the decades. Then, when you’re ready to increase production, Lakeland has enough draining, straining, lifting, bottling and labelling gadgets to start a cottage empire.
South Korea may have been perfecting their kimchi for thousands of years, but designer Tomonori Tanaka is hoping to make the art of Japanese “tsukemono” – preserved fruit and vegetables – accessible to all with his Picklestone (from $140/£99 – top image). Tsukemono is made by mixing raw ingredients with a pickle brine (salt, chili pepper and konbu) before putting it under pressure using a heavy stone.
Traditionally, these containers are too large for a modern kitchen, but Tanaka’s beautifully conceived fridge-friendly flask can transform your raw ingredients overnight. The weight is made from grey aji-ishi granite excavated in Kagawa prefecture, and the piece of hinoki wood, which rests on top of your pickles, adds its own subtle flavour, too. Once sealed in with the bamboo lid, the weight and brine get to work.
Following the basic rules of fermentation also ensures you benefit from the good bacteria and avoid the nasty ones. Cleanliness is essential to avoid contamination, and anything but sterile containers will shorten your preserve’s shelf life. Always store your ferments somewhere cool, the fridge is ideal, but don’t contaminate jars by double dipping your spoon.
Based in southeast London, Fix8 is a kombucha microbrewery creating delicious (no, really) fermented teas packed with amino acids, active enzymes and beneficial bacteria. Aside from the ready-to-drink variants, it also sells the essential ingredients for making your own, including Kilner jar with tap, loose-leaf tea and a bottle of the same scoby starter from the brewery. Kits start from £33 and include 20 days’ email support from the head brewer.
We’ve barely sliced the sauerkraut of successful pickling and preserving here, but for detailed information and countless recipes, the excellent The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz, published by Chelsea Green Publishing Co (£20), has you covered.
Helen Callaghan, from Kombucha brewery Fix8, can help save your SCOBY and kombucha homebrew from potential ruin. “Kombucha is made from tea, water, sugar and a live culture, known within the fermented world as a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast). This cellulose biofilm is produced by the bacteria found in the kombucha culture, and with every successful kombucha brew, a new SCOBY will form and either attach to the mother or remain separate on the surface of the brew.
“A SCOBY is usually white or light tan, or some shade in-between and should have no sign of mould. A healthy SCOBY will form like a jelly pancake. The SCOBY will appear in mottled colours of brown and black, and will be a soft solid. You can keep any unused SCOBYs in at least 10 per cent of your original starter liquid, which helps prevent it drying out, and can be used again and again to keep creating fresh kombucha.”
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