kimchi fermented food kombucha stinky tofu homemade

The Rise of Fermented Foods – How Easy is it To Jump on the Bandwagon?

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The fermentation craze is here to stay. Demand for kombucha, sourdough bread, and kimchi is still strong, with many people becoming fans of probiotics for their purported benefits. Consumers even report better gut health, improved moods and smoother digestion.

Naturally, here at Kenwood’s LoveWholesome, we’re here to discuss the home-made counterparts of these fermented treats.

If you are looking to begin your journey through the world of fermentation, know this: not all fermented foods are created equal. Popular ones like kombucha are easy and quick enough to turn around, and you could easily reap your rewards by drinking a glass of booch every day. But others like beer or sourdough bread are arguably better left to the experts.

Here is a list of famous fermented foods and their difficulty ratings from 1 to 5. The more difficult it is, the more you should consider buying it from the supermarkets or choosing a fermented food that is easier to prepare.

Kombucha, milk kefir and water kefir

Kombucha, or fermented teas, are probably the easiest of fermented foods to make. All you need is a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), some black, white or green tea bags, white sugar, water, and a large jar.

Combine the tea, sugar, and water in a large jar, and slip the SCOBY in. Bottle it in a flip-top bottle with your favourite fruit and herbs for added flavour and fizz. With a bottle of kombucha costing anywhere from $5 to $8, you could save a lot of money making your own. Not to mention, you’ll have the flexibility to create your own funky fresh flavours!

Like kombucha, milk kefir and water kefir are also extremely easy to make. Instead of the jelly-like SCOBY used for kombucha, milk kefir uses kefir grains, while water kefir uses kefir crystals.

All you need to do is add the grains or crystals to milk or water, and wait a few days for them to ferment. You could make fizzy fruity beverages with water kefir if you are concerned about the caffeine content of kombucha.

Scobies, kefir grains and kefir crystals can be found for free on fermentation Facebook groups, or on online marketplaces such as Carousell, so you might not even need to buy fermentation kits!

Difficulty rating – 1/5

Beer

This is definitely much harder and more challenging than kombucha, but beer enthusiasts swear by making and drinking their own brew. There are brew kits for sale at brewing equipment shops if you are interested in making your own. But do keep in mind that it involves significantly more equipment than kombucha brewing.

This hobby requires more commitment. For starters, you’ll need to acquire sanitisers, a brewing kettle, a fermenter, beer extracts and hops, and special beer bottles with bottle caps.

While beer brewing may be unbelievably rewarding,  it may be a wiser choice to buy it from stores.

Difficulty rating – 4/5

Kimchi and sauerkraut

Anyone who has ever tasted homemade kimchi knows that the store-bought stuff pales in comparison. Homemade kimchi is spicier, more crunchy, tangier and less salty. On top of that, you can customise the flavours by adjusting the amount of chilli flakes, or by adding squid or fermented shrimp for a kick of flavour.

It is ready in just three to five days, but you can leave it in the refrigerator in plastic food containers for it to ferment further. There is no need for glass or clay jars, which can be hard to source.

Basic ingredients such as napa cabbage, glutinous rice powder, Korean chilli pepper flakes (gochugaru), and Korean fish sauce are easily found in Korean supermarkets. One such supermarket in Singapore is Sol Mart. But if you don’t have any homemade kimchi at home and you just want a quick fix, Sol Mart sells a large selection of kimchi, too.

Sauerkraut, which is also a type of fermented cabbage, is a staple in German cuisine and is easier to make than kimchi. All you need is sliced cabbage, cut into thin ribbons, and salt. If you can’t take the spiciness of kimchi but still enjoy fermented cabbage, you could try making basic sauerkraut with this recipe. Pair it with pan-fried sausages, or eat it on its own.

Kimchi difficulty rating – 2/5
Sauerkraut difficulty rating – 1/5

Sourdough and kvass

Artisanal sourdough bread has entered the mainstream and many aspiring home bakers have tried making their own sourdough bread. In fact, all of us here at LoveWholesome also tried our hand at making sourdough! We’ve even provided a step-by-step guide here.

However, it may not be for everyone – making sourdough is like taming a wild yeast (pun intended) and using it to bake bread.

A sourdough starter takes at least 6 hours to activate, and fermenting the bread dough itself takes anywhere from 8 to 12 hours. This compares with instant yeast, which is ready within minutes. Proofing your bread, or leaving it to rise, takes just 20 minutes to an hour for bread made with instant yeast.

If you have a drafty kitchen, the monitoring time for activating the starter will be much longer. If you are after a dark chewy crust and a soft open crumb, two qualities that make great bread, your sourdough journey will require a lot of trial-and-error to get right. But it will all be worth it once you get that perfect loaf!

You can get a sourdough starter from Carousell home bakers, so it isn’t necessary to buy a sourdough kit.

Kvass is a traditional Baltic fermented beverage made out of dark rye bread, and it is found throughout Russia and Eastern Europe. So if you have failed bread experiments and you don’t want to throw the bread away, you could use it to make kvass.

It requires a sourdough starter, stale rye or pumpernickel bread, sugar and water. If you want an unusual fermented drink that you can’t find in supermarkets, you could try making kvass using this basic kvass recipe.

It is simple to make, with the slicing and boiling of the bread the only preparation required. You could use white bread to make kvass, too. For the uninitiated, kvass tastes like a mix of light beer and apple cider.

Sourdough bread difficulty rating – 4/5
Kvass difficulty rating – 2/5

Stinky tofu

Singaporeans and Malaysians love durian, which is notorious for its garlic-like taste and its unpleasant stench. But they may gag at the rancid smell of stinky tofu. Some people have compared the pungent smell to the stench of rotting food, while others compared it to blue cheese. Different odours for different folks, it seems.

You could try making it if you don’t mind stinking up your house. But if you are one of the rare few who fell in love with it on your trip to Taiwan, China or Hong Kong, you could find it at Mini Star Fermented Beancurd, one of the few stinky tofu stalls in Singapore.

Preparing it isn’t that difficult – you need to ferment the tofu in a rice wine-based brine in the refrigerator for a day or two, deep fry the tofu, and eat it with a spicy soy sauce with garlic, chilli and spring onion. You could also braise it, or add it into a hot pot.

Cooking23s has a no-frills stinky tofu recipe that you could try. Some stinky tofu lovers say that the stinkier the tofu is, the tastier it will be. So if you are brave enough to make some, you could be pleasantly surprised by how heavenly it tastes.

Difficulty level – 5/5 if you hate the smell, 3/5 if you don’t mind it.

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