When asked about what desserts I like, I always ask folks, “Why waste calories on something that isn’t chocolate?” And to know that my favorite of all foods has healthy benefits is an added bonus. Chocolate is just one of the six foods you didn’t know were fermented. Thanks, Ashley, for enlightening us.
Fermented foods find there way into our diet in surprising ways. It may surprise you to learn that some of your favorite daily staples, as well as occasional treats, are fermented foods. Next time your children turn up their noses at your home ferments, remind them that some of their very favorite foods are not possible without the same little beauties that live in your fermentation jar.
6 FOODS YOU DIDN’T KNOW WERE FERMENTED
It may be hard to believe, but the process of taking chocolate from a fruit growing in tropical regions all over the world to a tasty candy bar on the shelf involves fermentation. Cocao beans grow inside a tough fibrous husk. Once you break through the nearly 1-inch thick outer husk, the beans are suspended in a sweet white pulp that’s remarkably resilient, and hard to remove from the beans. The cocao plant is relying on that pulp to help spread its seeds because animals crack open the cocao pods and spend a lot of time and effort sucking the sweet pulp off the beans, only to discard the beans once the pulp has been eaten.
For commercial chocolate production, the best way to remove the pulp is to ferment the entire contents of the seed pod, cocao beans and all. The pulp becomes a thin liquid that is drained off and distilled into hard liquor, and that has just recently become available in the United States. Once the fermented pulp has drained off, the fermented seeds are then dried and processed into chocolate.
A coffee bean is actually the seed inside a small red fruit (similar to a cherry pit). In order to use the coffee bean, the fruit has to be removed. In all but the driest regions of the world, the best way to do this is by wet fermentation in large cement tanks. Similar to cocao, after wet fermentation the beans are then dried and ready to be processed into the coffee beans we use for our morning cup.
DRIED EGGS OR MERINGUE POWDER
Unless you’re an avid baker, you’re not likely to use dried eggs or meringue powder in your day to day life but they’re present in a variety of commercially prepared foods on the market today. Likely you’ve eaten dried eggs in something recently without even knowing it. To prepare the egg whites for drying, and to prevent spoilage and discoloration, they first must be fermented to remove some of the naturally occurring sugars.
Though black pepper is not a fermented food, white pepper, which comes from the same plant, is processed with fermentation. Black pepper berries are harvested and then dried, whereas white pepper is harvested and then fermented under water to remove the outer portion of the pepper berry and change the taste to a less-harsh, white pepper flavor. The only difference between white pepper and black pepper is fermentation.
Salami, or any dry-cured meat, is actually raw meat preserved though lacto-fermentation using the same cultures that preserve sauerkraut and kimchi. Just like vegetable ferments, spoilage bacteria are handicapped by the addition of salt, allowing the lactic acid bacteria to colonize and acidify the food, effectively preserving it at room temperature. Salami, pepperoni, prosciutto, pancetta and many other salty meat products are, in fact, fermented foods.
Soy sauce, as it is traditionally produced, is an aged fermented product involving a number of different bacterial and yeast strains to bring out the final flavors. Kikkoman, a manufacturer of traditional soy sauce, describes these fermentation steps on their website in detail. “Various actions take place in the tank, including lactic acid, alcoholic, and organic acid fermentation, all of which impart a…rich flavor, aroma and color that are unique to soy sauce.” (Kikkoman International)
Wow. I didn’t know all that, did you? Now that you know many of the foods you love and enjoy are, in fact, fermented, check out the Fermentools store and get started on your fermenting journey today.
Ashley is an off grid homesteader in central Vermont. She is passionate about fermentation, charcuterie and foraging. Read more about her adventures at VermontMangoPlantation.com.