You’ve probably heard about the fantastic health benefits of ferments, which are touted to help with everything from immunity to digestion. Words like “nourishing,” “sustaining” or “ancient” almost always accompany any ferment-related news. All of those descriptors are perfectly accurate. Personally, though, I ferment because I’m cheap and lazy.
Yogurt was the first ferment I ever made. I didn’t start making it because I was cheap. I started making it because I wanted the good bugs (aka probiotics), I wanted to control the milk quality and I wanted to try interesting flavor combinations. It did actually turn out to be cheaper, especially considering that living, unsweetened, local, organic, strawberry/balsamic/tarragon yogurt was a challenge to find in the grocery store. I didn’t start making it because I was lazy, either, but considering that the process is to heat milk, add culture, let sit and then enjoy, it’s the kind of “project” that gets me lounging on the balcony with my laptop in no time.
In the old, pre-fermentation days, our dinner routine was hectic and required a decent amount of preparation and forethought. Now, when it’s time for dinner, lunch or even breakfast, there’s a very good chance I’m putting a grain on the stove, tearing up a bowl of lettuce or boiling an egg, then adding kimchi, preserved lemons, crème fraîche, a unique finishing vinegar, or one of a whole host of other ferments that are sitting in my fridge or pantry just waiting to make the meal extraordinary. These fermented foods aren’t just healthful, cheap and easy to make, they are also the foods that naturally bring the some of the most mouth-watering flavors to our meals.
One could argue that these ferments take an initial investment of time, and one would be right. It can take me up to an hour (plus fermentation time, during which I do nothing but listen to it bubble) to make two gallons of kimchi. We’ll then eat those two gallons for several months in all kinds of dishes from tacos to stew to strata to mac and cheese. If we’re talking kraut, pickles or preserved lemons it’s a fraction of that time – basically about five minutes, or as long as it takes me to chop and pack them into a crock, bowl or jar. I usually do it when I already have the cutting board out for something else.
And the best part, for you frugal food folks, is that you can ferment things that you might otherwise toss or compost. I use the ribs of my leafy greens (kale, collards, chard, mustard) to make tiny, flavorful pickles. When I have overripe fruit I make vinegar or wine. As long as it’s just soft and not moldy, it will make a phenomenal end product. And so many ferments are much cheaper to make at home than they are to buy, even when you factor in your hourly rate. That fancy quart of living kraut? You can do that for less than a dollar and only five minutes of your time.
So by all means, start fermenting for the health benefits. The science backs that choice up more and more every day. But keep fermenting because it tastes so good, and you’ll enjoy it even more if you’re cheap or lazy.