Fermented foods have a rich history of tradition, and fermentation methods have been passed down through generations. It’s safe to say that fermentation may have saved the human race during times of drastic climatic changes like droughts and floods.
Every culture has its own history of fermentation and within these various cultures, traditional tastes and methods began to emerge. So we have the Greeks who perfected the fermentation of yogurt, and different breads made with cultures such as sourdough.
We know that Egyptians produced sourdough cultures for making bread as early as 4000 B.C.E. They also fermented wine and cheeses. It’s possible that some fermentation methods were discovered by accident, but these methods have certainly made an impact on the history of food preservation.
As early as 2,000 years ago, the Chinese were building the Great Wall of China and began to ferment cabbage as a way to feed the workers. During an invasion of Genghis Khan in Eastern Europe, he introduced the cabbage where it became a staple among peasants. Sailors even took huge kegs on long voyages for its abundance of Vitamin C.
Eventually, the fermented cabbage came to the Americas, where it was known as ‘sauerkraut’ from the German words, sauer (sour) and kraut (vegetable). Sauerkraut is now considered a German dish, even though it wasn’t invented by the Germans.
Kefir is an example of a successful attempt to preserve milk. In the early days, wandering Asian nomads carried milk in special animal stomach canteens. Since animal stomachs have the enzyme, rennin, which coagulates (curdles) milk, the nomad would have curdled milk or cheese to eat.
History tells us that Sumarians and Egyptians had cheese as early as 4,000 B.C. The bible mentions that David, future king of Israel, ate cheese and presented it as a gift to the army of Israel.
Salt began to be used for preserving meats in the form of sausages, allowing microorganisms to help ferment meat and preserve it for storing. Fermenting meats was very important before freezing and refrigeration.
The history of fermentation the world over is an interesting journey, because every culture has its own fabulous recipes and methods for creating amazing dishes.
Do you have a sense of (food) adventure? Explore some of the recipes from around the world and see how fermentation has progressed to the present.