Beginner's guide to fermenting

Fermenting. An ancient art deeply rooted in countless cultures around the world. It’s practical (preservation of fresh food) medicinal (good gut bacteria;) and mostly importantly - tasty. However it’s not something a lot of Australians grew up with.

It was a recent sip of Fig and Ginger Water Kefir that made us sit up and take notice of locals The Fermentary.

We wanted to find out more about this witchy business so we caught up with fermenting guru Sharon Flynn who supplies her creative ferments to some of our favourite restaurants including the Lake House, Cumulus Inc, and Grossi Florentino

How did this all start for you?
I’ve always been drawn to fermenting food and drink since I lived in Japan in my early 20s. However it wasn’t until I needed to heal a sick gut about five years ago that I could draw a line between all of my different periods of zealous learning, to find they were all fermentation related. 

How do you suggest people start fermenting?
Jump right in! Humans have been doing this forever, it even happens in nature by accident. But not many of us here in Australia have seen it in our own kitchens, so people tend to be a bit timid.

I’d start with an easy one – plain kraut.  Buy a cabbage, shred it, salt it, pound the hell out of it, and jam it in a jar with some caraway seeds.  Burp the lid every couple of days and within a week you’ll have some sourness, wait two and it will be even better.

Some novel things people might not realise they can ferment?
Whole corn on the cob! Blanche for 30 seconds, cool and wack it in a 3% brine with some jalapeno’s and coriander seeds. Delicious.  

What is the no.1 thing you’d like to tell people about fermenting?
No need for starter cultures! Go for the microbially diverse and slow ferment. 

What’s your favourite ferment/or a new one you’ve had lately?
My favourites for flavour and health are definitely real milk kefir and natto.

How do you start a milk kefir?
Real milk kefir needs the milk kefir SCOBY to start. You can use some already made milk kefir to make another, weaker batch but the best kind comes from a small batch and naturally fermented off of the milk kefir 'grain'. Ask around for a friend who might have one, check out Facebook groups near you or buy one off our website.

If this is all so simple then what’s the benefit of doing a workshop in fermenting?
Not many of us have been lucky enough to have witnessed the simplicity of wild fermentation at home - even if your parents never baked, you'd still have gleaned some confidence along the way that you pop something in the oven and pull it out when it's done . A workshop brings it all to life along with the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ to ferment that most of us lack. 

Umm… What’s the weirdest fermented thing you’ve ever eaten?
Fish fermented in rice – the origins of sour sushi rice. 

As well as on the menu at restaurants, you can find stockists at where you can also subscribe for recipes and find out about workshops.

Look out for “Ferment For Good – ancient foods for the modern gut” a full book of recipes and ideas soon with Hardy Grant.