Fermentation - ancient ways of preserving food.

Photo credit: https://www.pexel.com/kuzichkina_elena_/

Growing up, we lived according to the seasons. It wasn’t uncommon for families in our place to live a self-sustaining lifestyle, full of growing and tending vegetables and fruits, which in autumn were lovingly preserved for the dark months of winter. Our harvest was always bountiful, so we used ancient techniques of preservation such as fermentation, canning, dehydrating, salting and smoking. I’ll always be thankful for my parents teaching myself and my brothers to wholly celebrate food; to be respectful for each apple picked from the tree and thankful for each one of our beautiful animals.

One of my favourite parts of being an artisan sourdough baker, is that a huge part of the process is rooted in fermentation.

One of my favourite parts of being an artisan sourdough baker, is that a huge part of the process is rooted in fermentation. My pantry is full of summer fruits and vegetables preserved in different ways: jams, compots, dried fruits, infusions, tinctures, dried herbs, grains and flowers! Our fridge is filled with fermented food, without even thinking about it, food like our favourite cheese, kefir, wine, beer, miso, chocolate... Aw yes CHOCOLATE! It's all fermented! So, I’m passing my knowledge down to my children, the boys are already learning the basics and my daughter has been on a sauerkraut mission. I would love to share some of my knowledge with you too, reader.

Close up photo of naturally occurred Kahm yeast, aerobic yeast that forms when the sugar is used up and the PH of the ferment drops because of the lactic acid formation. Credit: Evendine Sourdough Bakery.
Fermentation of sourdough. Gluten bonds - two proteins, glutenin and gliadin, that when mixed together with water create gluten.  Glutenin provides strength and elasticity to gluten while gliadin provided its stretchiness.  This gives gluten a unique nature which is called viscoelasticity.


I have a huge fascination with fungal and Lacto fermentation of food, probably due to the fermented food taste, tradition and immense health benefits. We understand that moisture allows for the rapid microbiological growth of bacteria- this is essentially decay, caused by pathogenic microorganisms. But, not all cases are pathogenic. Lactobacillus are symbiotic to our system, especially to our gut. Lacto bacteria love sugar present in food, in this case the carbohydrates present in flour, and convert it into lactic acid anaerobically (without the use of oxygen). 

Fermentation is essentially a controlled rotting, it sounds less romantic but easy to wrap one’s head around. So, it is a simple process that we can observe and navigate. I think this could be the best name for my job role: navigator and shaper (of loaves!). The process can be navigated and stopped at just the right time, in my case placing the fermenting dough into the heated oven to undergo the baking process. The result? A beautifully tasting, slightly sour, nutritional bread that works wonders for our second brain (the gut).

I decided to invite an expert in this matter, Hannah is a well known and respected, highly recommended nutritionist. She is a member Of The Royal Society For The Public Health, and has recently been awarded RSPH level 4 in Nutrition. In her words she is here to help people find a “balance in life with their nutrition, health and wellbeing. To guide her clients in making positive change and understand the relationship between what we eat and how it affects us physically and mentally". 

Aleksandra: Hannah, would you explain to our readers what happens in our gut? 

Hannah: The gut is a fascinating organ spanning around 9 meters, food is moved along by peristaltic waves and mixed up in the gut by segmentation contractions. The small intestine has a carpet like surface covered in Villus and Microvillus where we absorb nutrients then into the large intestine where most of the microbes congregate and it is here they digest nutrients our own enzymes can't digest themselves. 

A: Is there any reason for why humans have for centuries  used both fungal and lacto-fermenting methods? Do you think it was solely for food preservation, or to help us stay healthy and digest easier? Or maybe both? 

H: Eating fermented food increases the amount of microbes in our gut and a diverse microbe population is really important in ensuring a healthy immune system, as they destroy bad microbes that are consumed that could be harmful.

Microbe diversity also can defend against obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure as they play a role in controlling blood sugars and insulin levels in the blood by passing signals to the brain. Fermentation and the growing of microbes in food starts to digest some of the proteins in food that as humans we struggle to digest such as gluten and lactose, it breaks them down into lactic acid and CO2 making them much easier to digest.

A: So, it has its purpose, eating fermented food is beneficial to us, but not only - the real bonus is the way fermentation transforms flavours. In our bakery we use long fermentation. It allows hydration to the starches, it is key in our bread making. Alpha amylase enzymes perform a set of reactions that converts starches to sugars, this creates a unique taste. 

Hannah, tell us more about flour, why do we hear that white flour is bad for us?

H: The issue with consuming 'bleached' white flour products such as white bread and pasta means you are missing out on all of the good nutrients of the grain itself. A wheat grain is made up of three parts, Bran, Endosperm and Germ. The process of producing white flour means that the Bran and Germ are removed from the grain. The Bran is packed with Fiber and B Vitamins, the Germ is where we get healthy fats and antioxidants like vitamin E, this process leaves only the starchy endosperm that is lacking in nutrients.  

Thank you Hannah for sharing your knowledge with us.

It brings me so much joy to see the return of fermented food into our daily lives. We are starting to stray from highly processed food, and reverting to natural and sustainable food lifestyles. I recently heard that sourdough is the new fashion, but I think that it may be more of a “foodie” awakening than a trend… which can only be a great thing!  

More about Hannah Selvester and her wonderful work can be found here… https://balance-nutrition-wellbeing-coaching.business.site/ 

Posted on:
June 1, 2021
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Aleksandra
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