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Samantha Siegel

The Holy Art of Fermentation

Every friday night, Jews around the world bless the wine and bread.

Pop quiz. What do these two things have in common?

They are both of the 7 species of Israel, and they both underwent the fermentation process.

Thousands of years ago, our ancestors were using the arts of fermentation to make their foods delicious, nutritious and last for longer on their ancient shelves. Wine, bread and beer were staple foods. In fact, bread and beer are said to be the oldest foods of mankind, with recipes dating back more than 5 thousand years. Each of these processes involves one or more of the following steps: Soaking, Sprouting and Fermenting. These 3 steps are connected, intertwined, to make our food tastier, nutritious, digestable and probiotic friendly!

But let me tell you, our modern foods are a far cry from the beer, bread and wine of old. Today when we bless the bread, we are not blessing a sprouted, sourdough-fermented bread. No, we bless a white floured, yeasted, quick-rised shadow of a bread which is more convenience and entertainment than nutrition.

When we bless the wine, its not a medicinal probiotic, rather a pasteurized, sulfite concoction. Our modern beer is lifeless. The beer of old was a nutritious powerhouse which nourished the fertile crescent and Ancient Egypt. It was more of a sloppy, cereal gruel, filled will B vitamins and even tetracycline, or penicilin, and was just as much medicine as it was food! Beer is fermented sprouted barley tea, and if you have not seen the documentary ‘How Beer Saved the World’, then put this on your to-watch list.

Today, wheat, and gluten, is considered a poison, and beer a drink with empty calories. But the beer and bread of old were truly ‘foods’ in every sense of the word. They nourished humanity.

Soaking is the first step of the sprouting process. Usually soaking overnight is adequate for most grains, nuts and seeds. Soaking removes much of the phytic acid- a pesky anti-nutrient which blocks mineral absorption. Most of the phytic acid is found on the outside of the dry seeds, so soak overnight with a bit of sea salt to aid in extraction. 1 cup seed to ½ tsp salt should do the trick You should get into the habit of soaking everything! Lentils for soup, almonds for snacking or making milk, seeds for pestos, etc. Even if you end up cooking beans, it is still crucial to at least soak them! Otherwise much of the nutritional value is inaccessible and can not be absorbed. Do not soak in the fridge! The most ideal temperature to soak is luke-warm, or room temperature. Cold water will not help facilitate removal of the anti-nutrients.

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Sprouting is the next stage as the wheat sits in the colander and begins to germinate. A tail begins to shoot out as vitamins and minerals begin to sky rocket. Sprouting wheat or spelt magically transforms the grain into a ‘vegetable’, as far as how your body recognizes it, and in many cases, makes it tolerable to many people who are sensitive to gluten. Other things you may sprout are lentils, chickpeas, mung beans, millet, buckwheat, fenegreek and alfalfa seeds. I make sprouted lentil soup and I sprout my chickpeas before making hummus.

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Fermenting is the process of letting it sit, usually in an anaerobic environment (without oxygen), or simply submerged under water, to let the wild yeasts do its thing.  Using a sourdough starter is the easiest way to get your breads to be nutritious and also rise.  Mix equal parts flour and water and let it sit until it starts to bubble. Or get some sourdough from a friend to start!

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Yeast may be convenient, but defeats the main point of bread baking. The rising should be overnight, or for at least 7 hours, using a sourdough starter, which you can easily make at home. It is just a mixture of flour and water left to ferment, and you may keep it in your fridge, feed it weekly, and use it until the following Pesach.

 This is a crucial step, especially for whole grain breads, which have not been soaked or sprouted, therefore retaining all of the phytic acid. Fermentation breaks down the these anti-nutrients, and makes it more tolerable to sensitive individuals. This is why healthy food isn’t necessarily healthy unless properly prepared.

 As in the case of vegetables, such as sauerkraut or pickles, they are submerged under a salty brine to ferment, forming a live pro-biotic and delicious digestive aid to meals.

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Simply fill a jar with cucumbers, add a clove of garlic, some dill, mustard seeds, hot pepper, and a tblsp or 2 of salt and fill it to the top with filtered water. Make sure everything is submerged, and then shut it tight. Within 3 days you already have delicious ready-to-eat pickles.

For sauerkraut, grate 1-2 cabbages, adding a table spoon of salt, mixing it and then filling glass jars.  The salt will help pull the liquid out making a brine which should cover all of the cabbage.

So, I will end this story with…. please, try this at home!