Cultivating the tiny

I’m giving fermentation another go.

I’ve tried fermentation before, with zero success. The red cabbage, apple and capsicum mixture that should have been tangy and tasty… wasn’t. It went nowhere. I could not achieve a bubbly result, despite following instructions to the letter, using filtered water and special non-iodised sea salt. Zilch. I moved on.

Six months ago, I got an infection of helicobacter pylori, the bug that lives in your stomach, gives you stomach ulcers and can, if not treated, lead long term to stomach cancer. It wasn’t nice, but the treatment was worse: brutally efficient, effectively wiping out most of my colony of useful gut bacteria. Since then, I’ve struggled a bit with my internal economy, and finally, I decided it was time to repopulate.

The other day, I acquired a dried kefir starter culture. I like yoghurt a lot, and kefir has a similar flavour profile, but about a million times more good bacteria if home made. (Commercial types tend to be pasteurised, which destroys most of the bugs you want.) Having made and enjoyed my kefir, I let a small second batch over-ferment so it started to separate into curds and whey. I tipped the whey off, and this was my starter for fermented vegies. You use one tablespoon of live whey per 500ml of filtered water, and this is the liquid in which you submerge your chopped, sliced or shredded vegies. I’m not a huge salt fan, and salt fermentation produces a result I find too strongly flavoured – sauerkraut being a case in point. The mild tang of whey fermentation is much more palatable and enjoyable, in my opinion. While the salt does keep the vegies crisper, it’s a benefit I’m willing to sacrifice for a flavour I prefer.

This is my setup: a large 2 litre glass spring-top jar, filled in this case with shredded red cabbage, small cauliflower florets and thinly sliced carrot batons. I tried the old folded cabbage leaf on the top trick to hold things under water, but the mixture was too lively, and when I came downstairs in the morning, the jar was sitting in a large puddle of pink liquid and the leaf was high and dry. So now I have a small glass jar filled with water as a weight. It’s just slightly less in diameter than the mouth of the big jar, so it will let the fermentation gases escape around the outside, but it’s heavy enough to keep everything down under water so nothing nasty can start growing. As the mixture ferments and air bubbles are released, the weight slowly sinks and liquid escapes. Once it reaches the flavour I like, I shall cap the jar and keep it refrigerated to slow everything right down. The liquid from the jar can be used as a starter for the next brew, or I can start fresh with whey from my kefir.

I’m happy to report that my insides seem to be enjoying the new regime now that my biome is being restored.

Amazing what a difference such tiny creatures can make.