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Fermented Beverages: A Quick Introduction

by on January 09, 2020 4:30 AM

My small business and commercial kitchen is nestled in bucolic Penns Valley, where I’m fortunate to live among so many authentic humans committed to growing real food. It would be impossible to live here for any length of time and remain untouched by the sincerity so many demonstrate toward soil, water and air quality and humane animal husbandry. I’m incredibly fortunate to call Central Pennsylvania home and so many farmers friends.

I have the pleasure of working with nature in what most wouldn’t immediately consider to be an agricultural venue, and yet, without nature’s magical microbial life graciously transforming the substrates I provide and turning those into the microbially rich beverages of the kombucha, water kefir and Jun (I also ferment cabbage, but will save that for another time), I wouldn’t have anything to offer the residents of Centre County and beyond at markets, and certainly not a small business.

When invited to share my world of cultured and fermented beverages with you, my immediate thought was, “why reinvent the wheel?” I figured I should employ the language of the spectacular human who ignited my own curiosity and passion.

So to quote the brilliant and charismatic, Sandor Katz, a living legend in the fermentation world for helping to reinvigorate global interest in the elegant and humble process of fermentation, here’s a beautiful snippet that I hope might be the catalyst to spark your interest in kombucha, water kefir and Jun, that I am pleased to cultivate for you.

“Wild fermentation is a way of incorporating the wild into your body, becoming one with the natural world. Wild foods, microbial cultures included, possess a great, unmediated life force, which can help us adapt to shifting conditions and lower our susceptibility to disease. These microorganisms are everywhere, and the techniques for fermenting with them are simple and flexible.

“Wild fermentation involves creating conditions in which naturally occurring organisms thrive and proliferate. Fermentation can be low-tech. These are ancient rituals that humans have been performing for many generations. They are a powerful connection to the magic of the natural world, and to our ancestors, whose clever observations enable us to enjoy the benefits of these transformations.

“By (consuming) a variety of live fermented foods, you promote diversity among microbial cultures in your body. Biodiversity, increasingly recognized as critical to the survival of larger-scale ecosystems, is just as important at the micro level. Call it microbiodiversity. Your body is an ecosystem that can function most effectively when populated by diverse species of microorganisms. By fermenting foods and drinks with wild microorganisms present in your home environment, you become more interconnected with the life forces of the world around you. Your environment becomes you, as you invite the microbial populations you share the earth with to enter your diet and your intestinal ecology.

“Wild fermentation is the opposite of homogenization and uniformity, a small antidote you can undertake … using the extremely localized populations of microbial cultures present in your environment, to produce your own unique fermented foods. What you ferment with the organisms around you is a manifestation of your specific environment, and it will always be a little different. Do-it-yourself fermentation departs from the realm of the uniform commodity. Rediscover and reinterpret the vast array of fermentation techniques used by our ancestors. Build your body’s cultural ecology as you engage and honor the life forces all around you.

“Fermentation makes foods more nutritious as well as delicious. Microscopic organisms — our ancestors and allies — transform food and extend its usefulness. Fermentation is found throughout human cultures. Hundreds of medical and scientific studies confirm what folklore has always known: fermented foods help people stay healthy. Many of your favorite foods and drinks are probably fermented. For instance: bread, cheese, wine, beer, mead, cider, chocolate, tea, pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, salami, miso, tempeh, soy sauce, vinegar, yogurt, kefir and kombucha.”

Joan Karp is the founder and chief cultivator at Mount NitaNee Kombucha in Millheim, which is soon to be expanded to Keystone Cultures. In next week’s edition, Karp will offer readers a glimpse on what it takes to brew these special drinks.

Joan Karp is the founder and chief cultivator at Mount NitaNee Kombucha in Millheim, which is soon to be expanded to Keystone Cultures.
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