The world of mushrooms is not limited to those that are easily seen with the naked eye – it includes countless microscopic organisms which work together with bacteria for our greater well-being. These are ferments which you can obtain, cultivate and put to work on your own.
Fermentation is a biochemical reaction by which micro-organisms release energy from the sugars present in food. The agents of this reaction are bacteria alongside mushrooms, yeasts and mould. In nature, these micro-organisms often form the micro-flora directly upon fruits and vegetables. Some also constitute our own intestinal flora – they help break down food in our digestive system like they do in the environment.
Fermentation was already practiced by prehistoric men more than 10 000 years ago to conserve food and to impart upon it certain valued properties. Over time, particular strains were selected from the initial varieties to improve upon this contribution. Thus “domesticated” and handed down from generation to generation, some of the strains used today no longer have natural counterparts: they are genetically selected organisms tailored to suit human needs.
Fermentation has numerous advantages.
First off, in temperate regions, it prolongs preservation. Alongside salting and drying, it has been a method of preservation favoured for millennia.
Fermentation increases the concentration of molecules which the industry needs to add to its processed products in order to re-establish their nutritional value, such as vitamins, proteins, minerals, amino acids, etc.
In acidifying the food, it also makes the minerals easier for us to digest.
Moreover, certain ferments remove selected pathogenic micro-organisms (Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria, Clostridium, etc.).
Finally, its by-products, such as alcohol, lactic and acetic acids and carbon dioxide, inhibit certain harmful microbial processes.
Today, anyone can obtain ferments and produce fermented foods and drinks for themselves: koji, used in particular to make miso, soy sauce and sake, milk kefir, water kefir, tempeh, kombucha, bread, cheeses, beers and so much more. Even olives are fermented in order to remove their natural bitterness before they are served at our tables.
To learn more, there are several recommended readings: Bill Molisson’s pioneering work The Permaculture Book of Ferment and Human Nutrition, as well as The Art of Fermentation, Wild Fermentation, Mastering Fermentation and True Brews. In 2011, Passeport Santé.net devoted an article (in French) to fermentation, outlining its benefits.
Now it is up to us to take advantage of it!