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What is Fermentation?

Hey, we’re glad you asked! Fermentation is a crucial element in making kombucha and many other beverages and foods we enjoy every day. Fermentation creates flavor, helps preserve consumables and contributes to beneficial bacteria in your digestive tract and in your body.

The Fermentation Process Offers Healthy Benefits

Put simply, fermentation is a metabolic process that converts sugar to acids, gases or alcohol. It usually happens in oxygen-free conditions and involves desirable microorganisms.

The cellular formula is: C6H12O6 + 2 NAD+ + 2 ADP + 2 Pi → 2 CH3COCOO + 2 NADH + 2 ATP + 2 H2O + 2H+.  Get it? Neither do we (except for Elysse). That’s the equation behind glycolysis, which is common in all forms of fermentation. How were you supposed to know that? You’re not a zymologist. You’ve likely never met a zymologist!

French chemist, Louis Pasteur, is considered to be the first zymologist; which you’ve likely gathered is someone who studies the biochemical process of fermentation.  In 1856 he connected yeast to fermentation and his studies led to some of humanity’s greatest advancements in microbiology. He however, was not the first person to recognize the benefits of fermentation.  

Archaeologists have discovered jars of wine from the area of present-day Georgia (the country near Russia, not the state in the Ray Charles song) that dates back 7,000 years. Not long after, winemaking spread to Egypt, Greece, Rome and far beyond.

Fermentation is a Natural, Balanced, Chemical Reaction 

This chemical balance allows grapes to ferment without the addition of sugars, acids or enzymes. Naturally occurring yeast consumes sugar in the grapes and converts it to ethanol and carbon dioxide.  And if you consume too much of the resulting product, you may just imagine you’re at one of those Roman toga parties! 

Even earlier than that, ten thousand years ago in the Monolithic period, humans were leavening bread, a fermentation process that causes the bread to rise by incorporating gas bubbles into the dough. They did this initially by just leaving the bread out before cooking it. Airborne yeast spores would float by and land on the bread.

Some forgetful baker must have stumbled on that. But how important was the discovery? Well, when was the last time you saw an unleavened bread store open?  Over millennia bakers perfected the craft, with many early bread makers harvesting yeast from wine and beer to add to their dough for better flavor and texture.

What other foods are fermented?

Because no discussion of fermentation is complete without a nod to our foamy friend, beer even precedes wine in its origin. It was created – as it is today – by fermenting and flavoring some starches, typically cereal grains like malt and barley, and flavoring it. The fermentation process creates the familiar fizz. Brewers have sought to master the art of beer for thousands of years, while beer drinkers have spent the same amount of time seeking to perfect their beer bellies.

Here in Bend, Oregon, where we brew Humm Kombucha, some of the world’s best brewers practice their craft, including such luminaries as Boneyard Beer, The Crux Fermentation Project and Deschutes Brewery.  And kombucha, while younger in origin than beer and wine, is still over 2,000 years old and is fermented with a SCOBY.

Here’s a partial list of foods created using the fermentation process:

Chocolate

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We’re gonna pause right there.

Yes there are other fermented foods, but there’s time for sauerkraut later. Chocolate is a fermented food, oh yeah!  Seeds of the cacao tree are as bitter as a broken heart until they’ve been fermented.  

 

Yogurt and Kefir

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Fermented foods like these are typically high in vitamins and beneficial bacteria and help contribute to overall digestive health.

Other common fermented foods include soy sauce, tempeh, miso, some cheeses, kimchi, sauerkraut, vinegar, certain cold cuts and pickled anything.

Several alcohol products are also created using a fermentation process such as sake, whiskey, vodka and cider.

Most of the foods listed above are high in probiotics and help contribute to good gut health. Several of them are teaming with microorganisms that can enhance digestion and boost energy. It’s easy in our modern world to eat processed food that is truly ‘dead.’ Adding some life to your meals might just add to your life.

Are you interested in additional articles about DIY kombucha tea and kombucha tea recipes? We’d love to hear from you!

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