Fermentation is having a moment. Here’s everything you need to know

World Best Bar

Sep 09, 2020

Fermentation is having a moment. Here’s everything you need to know
Beer, wine, bread, cheese… so many of best things in life, we owe to fermentation. This process was left to the professionals for years, but the joys of fermentation are enticing more and more amateurs to give it a try, inspired by culinary gurus such as Sandor Katz, author of The Art of Fermentation. What’s more, fermented drinks made in-house have become all the rage in top bars around the world.

Fermentation was one of the many preservation methods used for fruits and veggies at a time when greenhouses, fridges and freezers had not yet been invented. With all the technological progress in the past couple of centuries, we gradually became less aware of how omnipresent fermentation is in our diets. And for the last few decades, only health nuts with a passion for probiotic foods seemed to consciously cultivate (pun intended) this practice. 

But today, fermentation has truly made its comeback. It’s huge right now, for several reasons. First of all, the boom in popularity of many East Asian cuisines over the past few years. So much so that once fairly unknown ingredients such as Japanese miso and Korean kimchi are now being used on the regular by professional and amateur Western chefs alike, while kombucha can be found in virtually every grocery store around the world. Second of all, a greater awareness of the health and environmental issues posed bymodern food habits has led many celebrities and influencers to liven up their Instagram grids with healthier alternatives (thanks, Gwyneth). Finally, in recent years, the world’s most influential chefs have pulled the focus to using only local, seasonal produce in their cuisine. This has led them to revive ancient preservation techniques, allowing them to use other vegetables besides turnips in the winter. René Redzepi, chef and co-owner of world-famous institution Noma, and David Zilber,head of Noma’s adjacent Fermentation Lab, wrote an essential book on the subject, “The Noma Guide to Fermentation”, which collects the Copenhagen restaurant’s years of research and experimentation. A must-read. 

Inevitably, if a technique has been popularized by the world’s top chefs, it is sure to end up being used by the best bartenders. London stands out in this regard thanks to Scout, a bar which uses local products and fermentation methods with a zero waste approach. With 60% of their ingredients made in-house using elements both foraged and salvaged from the Hackney Marshes, marine components from the coast, and land-based ingredients from all over Britain, they offer a unique experience which has propelled them high up the list of the best bars in the world. Think sea algae vermouth, fermented birch sap and pineappleweed cordial

If you too want to incorporate fermentation into your cocktails, why not start with something simple, like homemade ginger beer? Once you’ve mastered that, you can gradually expand your repertoire. Kombucha, for instance, has become a popular ingredient in signature cocktails at some of the world’s best bars, and it is relatively easy to make if you’ve got time and a bit of patience. But before you head straight for your organic store, we would like to end with a warning. Although fermented products are perfectly healthy and often excellent for your digestive system, you have to be extremely careful when making them. While, as Sandor Katz says, “microbes do us good”, this is only the case if you work in conditions with optimal hygiene, clean hands, a spotless countertop and sterilized bottles. These are all essential for fermentation that is safe as well as delicious.

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