From Kraut to Koji: Fermented Foods You Can Find at the Farmers Market

January 17, 2020

If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to nourish yourself with good, delicious food, it’s time to explore the wild world of fermented foods. Fermented foods have received a lot attention lately for supporting our microbiome and gut health, though people have been fermenting foods for thousands of years.

Sauerkraut might first come to mind, but there are many other ferments out there, including some you may already eating. Curious about fermented foods and how to incorporate them into your meals? Let’s take a deep dive into the world of fermentation and its various manifestations.

What is Fermentation?

Fermentation is a process by which food and beverages are transformed chemically through the activity of enzymes from bacteria, yeast, or microorganisms. Fermented foods and beverages are packed with probiotics, which are live organisms known for restoring the natural flora in our guts that support digestion.

There are three common types of fermentation: lactic acid fermentation, ethanol/alcohol fermentation, and acetic acid fermentation.

Lactic acid fermentation consists of yeasts and bacteria converting starches and sugars into lactic acid in food, such as sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, and sourdough bread, without the use of heat.
Ethanol/alcohol fermentation helps pyruvate molecules in starches or sugars break down into alcohol and carbon dioxide molecules. It is used to produce alcoholic beverages such as wine and beer.
Acetic acid fermentation turns starches or sugars from grains or fruit into vinegar products and condiments. Products such as apple cider vinegar, wine vinegar, and kombucha are fermented through this process.

Depending on what you’re fermenting, primary or secondary fermentation may be used to achieve the desired product and flavor.

Fermenting vs. Pickling

Both fermenting and pickling are both effective ways to preserve and transform the flavors of raw food, but they produce different results. Pickling uses a brine or an acid such as vinegar or lemon juice. Pickling also changes the taste and texture of the food, making it softer and sour. This method also involves the use of heat, which destroys the growth of microorganisms. Pickled foods last much longer than perishable raw foods since the brine is too acidic for bacteria to stay alive in.

Although vinegar is a fermented liquid used in pickling, pickled foods are technically not fermented, due to the lack of probiotic and enzymatic substances that occur through the fermentation process. Fermented foods can last for a while when refrigerated (which slows bacterial growth), and they taste more delicious the longer they age, and probiotics remain active in the food.

classic kraut

Fermented Foods at the Farmers Market

Keeping your fridge stocked with fermented foods can offer quick ways to incorporate bright flavor and dense nutrition into simple meals. Here are just a few fermented foods to seek out at Foodwise’s farmers markets, many of which incorporate produce from our local farmers.

Hot sauce: Hot sauces made with fermentation tend to have more complex flavors than unfermented ones. They are made by lacto-fermenting hot chili peppers with purified or dechlorinated water and salt, and sealing the ingredients in an airtight jar or fermentation seal. Use hot sauce to add a kick to any dish, whether it’s pizza, tacos, or soup dishes!

Where to find hot sauce: Oya Organics, Tierra Vegetables, and Wise Goat Organics on Saturdays at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

Kefir: Kefir is a fermented milk drink made from kefir grains, which are mixed cultures of yeast and bacteria. The grain’s bacteria turns the milk’s lactose into lactic acid, making the milk taste sour like yogurt. Kefir can also be made without dairy (for example, with coconut water). You can drink kefir on its own, or mix it into a smoothie or parfait.

Where to find kefir: La Vie Wellness on Thursdays and Saturdays at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

Kimchi: A popular side dish (or banchan) in Korean cuisines, kimchi is made by brining raw vegetables such as Napa cabbage, daikon radish, and hot peppers with sea salt, along with other ingredients. Other variations include fish sauce or shrimp paste, but it can also be made vegan. Add kimchi to your scrambled eggs, tacos, rice bowl, and quesadillas.

Where to find kimchi: Volcano Kimchi or Wise Goat Organics on Saturdays at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

Koji: Koji is made by mixing cooked rice with enzymes. It is the key ingredient in making miso, sake, soy sauce, and many varieties of Japanese food. Most meals in Japan rely on food made from koji. Use koji to marinate meats, veggies, and tofu, adding a natural umami flavor.

Where to find koji: Aedan Fermented Foods on Saturdays at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

Kvass: The base ingredient in kvass can vary from fruit to vegetables, but it’s commonly made with beets or bread, sea salt, and filtered or spring water, sealed altogether in an airtight jar. This process causes the mixture to become fizzy, which is similar to kombucha (another probiotic drink made through fermentation). Kvass is known to help improve digestion and boost your metabolism, which makes it the most popular beverage in Eastern Europe for centuries.

Where to find kvass: La Vie Wellness on Thursdays and Saturdays at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

Lacto-fermented sodas: If you’re a fan of sparkling water beverages or you’re looking for a wholesome alternative to commercial soda, try lacto-fermented sodas. These sodas rely on lacto-fermentation from whey yogurt cultures, filtered water, filtered sugar, and sea salt. The carbonation comes naturally from the converted lactic acid.

Where to find lacto-fermented sodas: Eatwell Farm on Saturdays at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

Miso: Miso is made with fermented koji mixed with salt and soybeans or chickpeas to create a paste-like consistency. Miso can be fermented for long periods of time, which makes it versatile in many dishes, such as soups, marinades, stir-fries, and salad dressings, and as a seasoning alternative to soy sauce.

Where to find miso: Aedan Fermented Foods on Saturdays at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

Sauerkraut: Eaten on its own, incorporated into salads, or used as a popular addition to sandwiches, sauerkraut is generally made with raw cabbage and sea salt, fermented and packed into an airtight jar. The cabbage releases liquid and creates its own brine, resulting in lacto-fermentation.

Where to find sauerkraut: Wise Goat Organics on Saturdays at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

Yogurt: Fermenting milk with cultures produces lactic acid, which gives yogurt its texture and tart flavor. It is often made with dairy milk, but it is also made with plant-based milks. Enjoy yogurt in smoothies and parfaits, or freeze it to make ice cream or frozen yogurt.

Where to find yogurt: Alexandre Family Farm on Saturdays at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market and Thursdays at the Mission Community Market (March through November) or La Vie Wellness on Thursdays and Saturdays at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market