Before we could share recipes on the internet, before you could purchase specific cultures for consistency and reliability, before food was shipped across continents or even state lines… there was fermentation. Here on the blog I’d like to start a series on ancestral fermentation. We’ll explore the roots of fermentation, how it was done historically with no special equipment, and how various cultures have used it around the world for as long as food has been eaten. But first, lets explore some of the very basic historical tenets of fermentation.
Fermented foods, at their most basic, are foods that have been preserved from rot by friendly bacteria – either wild-caught or intentionally inoculated. For this reason, our ancestors practiced food fermentation as a means of food preservation. Refrigeration is very new. For most of history man lived without electricity and the ability to freeze vegetables, meats, and dairy. Instead, they fermented it and buried it deep into the ground when they needed to preserve it. Or, they ate it in a fermented state because, as is the case with dairy, it does not stay fresh long without refrigeration. They were probably not ignorant of the health benefits of these foods, either.
Our ancestors would not have over-analyzed the constituents of sauerkraut to find that it boosted the vitamin content and aided digestion through lactobacilli. They probably just learned and passed on to the next generation that you add salt to cabbage and keep it in a cellar or a burrow in order to preserve it. And when they had no fresh or raw foods through the harsh winter, they found that the crock of sauerkraut helped them make it through.
That is just one example. There are many examples of fermented grains, beverages, vegetables, fruits, and dairy throughout history that stem from the need to preserve food, make it healthier, and make it delicious. And that is what we’ll be exploring in this series titled Ancestral Fermentation.