Book Review: Wild Fermentation

April 29, 2011

I found Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz, written in 2003, at my local library. Katz is an AIDS survivor, claiming that the natural bacteria of the foods has helped his immune system. He has some valid points: our diet as humans used to consist of a lot of fermented foods before the industrial revolution and discovery of pasteurization. Fermentation was how foods got preserved.

The beginning of the book is Katz talking. Some of it is very interesting, and some of it is Katz on a soap box, though usually not for very long. The chapters are as follows:

  1. Cultural Rehabilitation: The Health Benefits of Fermented Foods
  2. Cultural Theory: Human Beings and the Phenomenon of Fermentation
  3. Cultural Homogenization: Standardization, Uniformity, and Mass Production
  4. Cultural Manipulation: A Do-It-Yourself Guide

From there, Katz goes into recipes, starting with vegetable ferments such as sauerkraut, bean ferments, dairy ferments and their vegan alternatives, breads, fermented-grain porridges and beverages, wines including mead, cider, and ginger beer, beers, and vinegars. Recipes include several kinds of kimchi, sour pickles, miso, tempeh, yogurt, kefir, cheese, sourdough bread, amazaké (a sweet rice drink that, with additional fermentation, becomes sake), hooch as inmates make it, chicha, and even soda pop. Each section has a little bit of him talking about how he found the recipe, experiences making it, or some other antidote in conjunction with several recipes in that topic. He even seeks the unite the world by using fermentation recipes, such as finding Afghani Bread after the United States attacked the country.

What really caught my attention was this passage from the wine section:

When I first tried fermenting wine and beer, I learned from books. But I found the complex methods most of the books detailed discouraging. I especially dislike the emphasis on chemical sterilization, and the predominate practice of killing the wild yeast present on the skins of fruit to assure the success of a particular proven commercial strain of yeast. This practice offends my wild fermentation sensibilities.

I knew that simple, quick, and delicious alcohol ferments were possible, having sampled many different indigenous local brews when I traveled Africa (long before my interest in fermentation developed). Almost every rural village we passed though had some ferment to share, among them palm wines and cassava and millet beers. These local ferments were never poured from bottles or stored for long. They were drunk young (not aged) and generally served from gourds or other large fermenting vessels.

Why was there such a chasm between these low-tech indigenous fermentation traditions I had sampled, and all of the information I could find about making beer and wine at home? The European traditions of beer and wine evolved into traditions of refinement, emphasizing pure strains of yeast, uncontaminated by wild organisms, highly clarified products free of cloudy yeast residue, and bottling for long-term aging. I do not dispute that these practices can yield sublime and wonderful products. But I knew from my African travels that far more accessible methods existed.

He has a very valid point. And after watching enough travel shows and even Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Brewing do chicha on Brew Masters, it added extra influence and pressure to make the pulque recipe I had found.

I should add that there are two cider recipes, with the second one being written and submitted by his editor, Ben Watson, who has written a very good book on cidermaking.  I should also note that there is a strong movement in the craft cider making world to use wild yeast.

I like the variety and ease of the recipes, and I’m intrigued by the different fermenting styles. I like this book, though I will probably lament that I can never completely ease up using European practices when making wine as Katz suggests, but I’ll give some alternative methods a try.

6 Responses to “Book Review: Wild Fermentation”

  1. […] Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz, 2003. Recipes for a farmer cheese and rennet cheese. Posted by candlewineproject Filed in books, cheese Tagged: 101 Recipes for Making Cheese, cheesemaking, cheesemaking books, Cheesemaking: Self-Sufficiency, Fundamentals of Cheese Science, Homemade Cheese, Janet Hurst, Jody M. Farnham, Marc Druart, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Cheese Making, The Joy of Cheesemaking Leave a Comment » LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

  2. […] how to make yogurt, and then about 50-100 recipes on cooking with yogurt. In the end, I turned to Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz because he explained why certain things were being […]

  3. […] Sandor Ellix Katz suggested that, depending on the temperature, a skin would form on the kombocha after a few days to a week. This was one indication that it is done, though the final test is actually if I found it tart enough to my liking, which could take 7-14 days according to other sources. The longer it is allowed to ferment, the more acidic, tart, and slightly carbonated it becomes. One I determined it was “done” enough to my taste, I then refrigerated the beverage. The skin is actually a new mother, which can be used to start a new batch. […]

  4. […] Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz, 2002. Katz calls it a fad of the 1990s and doesn’t go into the health specifics. He does say that his friend got caught up in the craze and even would try to ferment Mountain Dew with the SCOBY. I believe Katz has some experience with kombucha, and includes sources for obtaining a SCOBY and a recipe. Posted by candlewineproject Filed in tea Tagged: kombucha, Kombucha Rediscovered!, Klaus Kaufmann, Kombucha Phenomenon, Betsy Pryor, Sanford Holst Leave a Comment » LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

  5. […] Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz, 2002. This book has a recipe for a fresh ginger beer using natural yeasts on the ginger. In addition, inspired by Nourishing Traditions, he adapted Sweet Potato Soda, leaving out her cloves and the egg whites. He claims the eggshell keep things stable. He recommends Cresswell’s book for making soda pop. Posted by candlewineproject Filed in fermentation Tagged: Andrew Schloss, cola extract, Homemade Root Beer Soda & Pop, Homemade Soda, Laura E Quarantiello, making pop, making soda, making soda pop, pop, soda pop, Stephen Cresswell, The Root Beer Book Leave a Comment » LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

  6. Emmanuel Says:

    I want more information

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