my name is phillip

This is my little corner of the internet

I like books, music, cooking, Gardening, mountaineering, and building embedded systems

The Art of Fermentation

The Art of Fermentation

Author: Sandor Katz
Rating: 5/5
Last Read: September 2018
Who Should Read: Cooks, experimenters, and those interested in traditional food practices from around the world

Reading Deep Nutrition reinvigorated my interest in fermentation. I kept a sourdough starter alive for many years, but never branched out much beyond making my own bread. My starter died during one of my frequent trips to China while working at Apple, and I let the venture rest for a few years.

I searched around to find books about fermentation and came across the work of Sandor Katz. I started with The Art of Fermentation, his survey of fermentation techniques from around the world, rather than Wild Fermentation, his book of recipes.

If you are a creative cook or an experimentalist,The Art of Fermentation is definitely the place to start. Rather than provide recipes and proscriptions, Katz shares methods, guidelines, and inspiration. The central theme of the book is essentially, "you can't go wrong" and "it's all fine". Got some mold on top of your vegetable ferment? Scrape it off, remove discolored layers, and keep going. Don't like salty pickles? Scale it back. Ferment whatever vegetables you like. Mix and match flavors. Try new approaches and flavor combinations - the worst thing that could happen is some of your pickles are destined for the compost pile. Katz's style is comforting and encouraging - it's impossible to read the book without being inspired to start some fermentation experiments of your own.

Since reading The Art of Fermentation, we've been fermenting food on a regular basis. Every week I refresh two heirloom yogurt cultures (Bulgarian + Greek) and a cultured buttermilk. We have a beautiful German pickling crock on the counter which is kept full of Chinese pao cai. We finish breakfast and dinner with a small glass of beet kvass. I've always got a batch or two of sauerkraut in progress, along with other vegetable fermentation experiments: brussels sprouts, beet greens, carrot greens, cilantro stems, asparagus trimmings. My first batch of pickles for hot sauce is tucked away for the next three months. We have a home-style chili paste that tastes infinitely better than packaged pastes. Soon I'll gather the courage to ferment my own fish sauce, which involves allowing whole fish with their organs intact to ferment and liquify over a few months.

The Art of Fermentation enabled me to be a more creative cook. And the best part of all is that it feels like I am always cooking while lovingly tending to my many projects.

"Between fresh and rotten, there is a creative space in which some of the most compelling flavors arise."

Mind Map

I didn't end up making the mind map as I normally would... But I did capture these notes.

My Highlights

This is one of the few physical books I've purchased in the past few years, so this is a smaller set of quotes than usual. The majority of the highlights below come from the introduction, as the rest of the book is focused on methods for fermentation.

"Is it possible that, rather than humans "discovering" alcohol and mastering its production, we evolved always already knowing it? Anthropologist Mikal John Ansvel (check name) points out that "all vertebrate species are equipped with a hepatic enzyme system with which to metabolize alcohol." Many animals have been documented consuming alcohol in their natural habitats.

[Food storage] primarily consists of keeping foods dry but not too dry, cold but not too cold, and dark. But it is not easy, with limited technology, to create ideal conditions for storage.

What is fascinating about the concept of coevolution is the recognition that the processes of becoming are infinitely interconnected.

One of the most interesting points raised early on by Katz is that refrigeration can be viewed as a historical bubble:

  • Has been available for only a few generations
  • Predominantly available in affluent regions of the world with readily available electricity
  • Has powerfully distorted our perspectives on food perishability
  • We fear the absence of refrigeration
  • High energy requirements - will it remain affordable + highly available in years to come?

We must safeguard the living legacy of traditional food preservation techniques.

Benefits of acid food fermentation:

  1. Render food resistant to microbial spoilage + development of food toxins
  2. Make food less likely to transfer pathogenic organisms
  3. Generally preserve food b/w harvest + consumption
  4. Modify flavor + improve nutritional value

Traditional preservation:

  • Keep food in cool and dry spot
  • Actively dry (microbial activity is suspended w/o adequate water) using sun, and/or gentle heat or smoke, and/or salt
  • Fermentation

Botulism is primarily associated with canning - a new technique (19th century, developed in Napoleonic France).

Live cultures from lactic acid fermentation are only viable in foods kept @ < 115F/47C

Eat a variety of fermented foods, some with live cultures, and while you're at it, eat a variety of plants. Make sure that at least some of the plants and bacteria are wild.

The range of plants and microbes under active cultivation is really quite limited. More different interactions - with varied phytochemical bacteria - and the compounds bacteria produce - stimulate us in functional ways. Diversity is its own reward.

"Between fresh and rotten, there is a creative space in which some of the most compelling flavors arise."

Buy the Book

If you are interested in purchasing this book, you can support the website by using our Amazon affiliate link.

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

The Paintings of Master Chao Shao-An

The Paintings of Master Chao Shao-An