Magazine article Psychology Today

A Nation in Ferment

Magazine article Psychology Today

A Nation in Ferment

Article excerpt


Fermentation long ago created most of the world's favorite flavors. Chefs are now rediscovering the process. Is that pistachio miso on your plate? By Daniel A. Marano

WINE. BEER. Cheese. Coffee. Chocolate. Vanilla. Bread. Salami. Cider. They're not only among the world's favorite foods. They are all edibles whose appealing tastes and textures are produced by fermentation.

A process created by nature but long ago commandeered by man, fermentation involves the transformation of food components by microorganisms whose actions vastly extend shelf life. If s said to be responsible for civilization itself. Our early nomadic existence ended with the harvest surplus enabled by agriculture. Equally necessary was a way to preserve the produce. It didn't hurt that fermentation also makes food more digestible and nutritious, notably boosting B vitamins.

Early fermentation was likely accidental: A heap of barley. A day of rain. The onset of mold. The beginningofbeer. Over eons, farmers and cooks learned to direct the process. Milk became not justa mass of curds pressed together but a delicacy given exquisite piquancy by mold lurkingin the caves of Roquefort, France.

Fermentation brings us soy sauce, yogurt, kimchi, prosciutto, vinegar, and most of the foods and condiments that distinguish cuisines around the world. Not long ago, most American homesteads produced their own sauerkraut and pickles. Then fermentation fell out of favor.

Today, it is roaringback. Any chef worth his toque is subjecting a whole new range of foods to the process in search of fabulous new flavors. Perhaps none is more creative than Rene Redzepi, chef of the world's top-ranked restaurant, Noma, in Copenhagen. His Nordic Food Lab marries specific microbes- say, the lactobacillus, best known for transformingmilk into yogurtwith fruits such as plums. In New York, Momofuku's David Chang has a full-time fermentation lab in his culinary empire. Why should miso be limited to soybeans? Why not pine nuts or pistachios? Stick around and wait for die strawberry vinegar.

Famed Zingerman's Deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan, now serves Reuben sandwiches with crunchy, tangy, handcrafted sauerkraut from the local Brinery- and will ship a Reuben kit with it anywhere in die country. CFO- diat's Chief Fermentation Officer- and Brinery founder David Klingenberger began exploring the possibilities of the mediod when faced with a bumper crop of cabbage. The Brinery now ferments a range of vegetables, from radishes to garlic, with lactobacillus. Its motto: "Stimulatingyour inner economy."

Fermentation is today die cutting edge of both science and gastronomy. Produced by die action of microbes on food components such as sugars, and yielding acids and alcohols that act as natural preservatives, fermentation boosts the biome. That is, it feeds the human intestines with the kinds ofbacteria deemed integral to the headi of the body, from the immune system to the nervous system.

Up to 40,000 species of microorganism make their home in the human gut and protect our bodies from the inside out Some enable digestion; others stimulate development of the immune system and maintain its integrity. And some affect die working of the nervous system, including the perception of pain and directing how the brain is wired. …

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