Food Lover Friday: Mastering Fermentation

Posted by on Sep 27, 2013 in Contests & Giveaways, Food & Cooking | Comments

This week’s installment of Food Lover Friday is brought to you by Mary Karlin, cooking teacher and author of three cookbooks: Wood-Fired Cooking, Artisan Cheese Making at Home and the newly-released, Mastering Fermentation. She’s also the instructor of the popular Craftsy online course, Artisan Cheese Making: Chevre, Mozzarella & Cheddar, which brings to you some of the fundamental cheese-making techniques.

If you are enrolled in her class, you have ventured into the world of fermented foods through fermenting milk into cheese! Mastering Fermentation broadens the journey into many traditional and contemporary techniques for making numerous fermented foods at home, along with recipes for cooking with them.

One lucky reader will win a FREE copy of Mary’s new book Mastering Fermentation. To enter, just head here by Friday, October 4, 2013. Then, comment on this blog post and let us know what you would like to learn about fermenting food at home. We’ll randomly select a winner on October 5, 2013.

Cover of Mastering Fermentation Book

Photography via Ed Anderson © 2013

As an introduction to Mastering Fermentation, here’s some background information on the topic:

Did you know that many of your favorite foods, ones you probably consume multiple times during any week, were traditionally prepared as fermented foods, full of flavor and beneficial bacteria?

Soy sauce, ketchup, vinegar, pickles, sauerkraut, cured olives, beer, sourdough bread, hand-crafted cheeses, yogurt and cured meats are just a few examples. Today, when made on a mass production scale, many of these products are either packed with preservatives or pasteurized to allow for broad distribution and shelf stability, some not requiring refrigeration. These processes destroy any available beneficial bacteria, removing nutritional value that would be present when naturally fermented. With guidance from me in Mastering Fermentation, you will have fun exploring safe food preservation methods of fermentation for making your own tasty, fermented foods (including those mentioned above) at home.

Did you know that fermented foods are full of beneficial bacteria; essential to good gut health?

Fermented foods taste better and are better for us than processed or even pasteurized foods. Fermented foods are probiotic; alive with beneficial organisms that contribute to our digestive health. Food that has been fermented is enhanced nutritionally and texturally, resulting in improved efficiency and absorption into our bodies, aiding our digestive system, and the health of our gut flora. The health of our gut flora is essential to our overall well being, and boosts our immune system.

Did you know that eating a small amount of a fermented condiment alongside a serving of animal protein will aid in the digestion of that protein?

Even a few tablespoons of real fermented sauerkraut, sweet and salty pickled vegetables, or a fermented dill pickle as an accompaniment to grilled fish, chicken or steak will help your digestive system to process that protein.

Photography of Food Presented on Wooden Table

Photography via Ed Anderson © 2013

Some FAQs

What are fermented foods?

Food transformed in texture and taste through fermentation. Fermentation is a process through which food (solid or liquid) goes through a chemical change caused by enzymes produced by bacteria, microbes or yeast. Think sauerkraut. This is one example of a simple food (cabbage) transformed by the mere introduction of salt to encourage the development of beneficial bacteria; softening the cabbage, amplifying the taste, and rendering it more digestible. As a benefit, the nutritional and healthful value is greatly increased through fermentation.

Why is the topic of fermented food so popular?

More and more people are interested in a variety of DIY food making at home, be it beer, cheese, bread, sausage making or pickles. This is part of a DIY trend back to making delicious, healthy foods in your own kitchen; knowing where your food comes from, and having control over how it is made.

Can I make fermented foods in my home kitchen?

Absolutely! There are many foods you can ferment at home with little time and effort on your part. Others you may choose, such as making aged cheese or curing meats, will take more attention. With proper planning, all are doable as part of one’s daily life. Many recipes and guidelines are presented in Mastering Fermentation and on the accompanying Web site.

My advice to you is make small batches of as many fermented foods as you have time and space for. You will feel enriched not only by the food itself but also by the process of having made it. It’s always rewarding to share and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Bowls of Vegetables, including Tomatoes in Colander, Onion, Peppers

Here’s a simple recipe for sweet and salty pickled vegetables from Mastering Fermentation to introduce you to the world of fermented foods.

These are one of my favorite pickles, featured in the Grilled Ahi Tuna on Pickled Vegetables and Rice Salad with Miso Dressing from my book. This sweet-salty pickling brine can be used to make numerous tasty vegetable and fruit pickles. Pickled onions and pickled shallots are terrific when made with this brine. You can substitute other seasonal vegetables if you choose.

*Reprinted by permission from Mastering Fermentation by Mary Karlin, copyright © 2013. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.

Vegetables in Jar

Sweet and Salty Pickled Vegetables Recipe

Yield: 1 pint

Start to finish: 15 minutes to make + 6 hours fermenting


  • 2 small unpeeled carrots, cut into 1-inch-long matchsticks
  • 3 large radishes, cut into matchsticks
  • 4 green onions (with 1/2″ of green part), quartered lengthwise
  • 1″ piece fresh ginger, cut into matchsticks
  • 1/4 cup steamed edamame beans
  • 1 teaspoon unrefined fine sea salt
  • 1 pint Sweet and Salty Pickling Brine (recipe below)


In a bowl, combine the carrots, radishes, green onions, ginger and edamame, and toss with the salt. Pack the vegetables into a pint jar and cover with the pickling brine to 1″ from the top. Press down on the vegetables to pack tightly and release some of their moisture. Cover the opening with cheesecloth and set at room temperature for 6 hours. Remove the cheesecloth, secure with a lid, and refrigerate.

Best used from three days to one week.

Sweet and Salty Pickling Brine

Yield: 1 pint


  • 3/4 cup raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup Basic Brine (combine 6 tablespoons fine sea salt with 8 cups of filtered water)
  • 1 tablespoon brine from sauerkraut (optional, but preferred)
  • 1 tablespoon raw, unfiltered honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole grain Dijon-style mustard


Combine the apple cider vinegar and brines. Whisk in the honey to dissolve, and then stir in the mustard. Place in a jar, cover, and refrigerate.

Click here to enter the giveaway and then answer the question below in the comments for a chance to win!

What would you like to learn about fermenting food at home?

About Mary Karlin

Headshot of Mary Karlin Mary Karlin is a seasoned cooking teacher, cookbook author and food writer. She has taught wood-fired cooking, cheese making, and Mediterranean-themed cooking classes for more than 10 years at Ramekins Culinary School, The Fork at Point Reyes and The Cheese School of San Francisco. Mary has authored two books, Wood-Fired Cooking and Artisan Cheese Making at Home, with a third, Mastering Fermentation, on its way. She has contributed articles to several food magazines, including Fine Cooking, Culture, and Edible Marin & Wine Country. Mary calls both northern California and Arizona home.


  1. I’d like to learn to make saurkraut

    1. Mary Karlin says:

      Making sauerkraut is a good place to start on your fermentation journey. It is doable at home and will result in very tasy, flavorful, living food. Once you are comfortable with this basic version, you can make other flavored versions.

  2. Ioanna says:

    Vegetables win first place! Preserving the harvest always sounds fun!

    1. Mary Karlin says:

      That’s great! Thanks for sharing your request. Indeed, fermenting the bounty of the seasons is a valuable form of preservation.

  3. Adrienne517 says:

    I’ve recently begun the journey/pleasure of fermentation with both sourdough and kefir water. My husband enjoys the first, but I get to keep the kefir for myself.

    Can one use kefir water as the liquid in baked goods?

    1. Mary Karlin says:

      Welcome to the fermentation journey! Wild yeast sourdough is magical and can be applied to many different loaf and flatbreads as well as other baked goods; both savory and sweet. Water kefir is a wonderful beverage and can be flavored in a variety of ways. Do you have a favorite flavor? Yes, in its plan form, it can be used to make a starter. Fun use recipes in Mastering Fermentation. Let me know how your journey progresses.
      Are there other fermented foods you’d like to learn to make?

  4. We already ferment some stuff but I would love to learn more. Raw vinegar is hard for us to find do you have a good source?

    1. Mary Karlin says:

      Thanks for sharing your interest. Raw vinegar is very doable at home, and can be made with a wide variety of fruits and combinations of. This is a favorite category of mine for flavor as well as the healthful benefits. And these vinegars have many tasty cooking and beverage applications. My suggestion is make your own. I can show you how. Take a look at my book to get started.

  5. Sharon says:

    I love brewing beer and making cheese and I hope to learn about curing meats!

    1. Mary Karlin says:

      Home-brewing is loads of fun! I dabble in beer brewing myself. Glad to hear you are making cheese. Are you signed up for my cheese making course?
      Curing meats has many similarities to making cheese, and home brewing.
      Thanks for sharing that request.

    2. Galilea says:

      Very interested in learning about pickling vegtables, fruits the meats (curing process), will you be teaching about yougurt?

      1. Mary Karlin says:

        Thanks for sharing your interests. All of these arreas are covered in my book and in my fermentation classes. We’ll see if a fermentation course transpires.

  6. Suzanne says:

    I am working on Kombucha right now and just finished my first Kefir.

    1. Mary Karlin says:

      Great! Fermented beverages, even those you are enjoying, are very tasty and beneficial. Keep fermenting! Are there other fermented foods you”d like to learn to make?

  7. Agatha says:

    I’ve done water kefir, and homemade ginger ale but I would love to really branch out into items other than just beverages! So fun!

    1. Mary Karlin says:

      Thanks for sharing. Beverages are so much fun and versatile. Sounds like you are having a good time making ferments that taste so good and are far better than store-bought. Got any particular areas of fermented foods you want to explore?

      1. Agatha says:

        Pretty much everything! I’d love to do yogurts, cheeses, all manners of vegetables … I attempted injera once, but that didn’t work out well, and I would love to try again.

        Basically any kind of delicious mad science I can get up to in the kitchen is a good use of my time!

        1. Mary Karlin says:

          That’s great! There are so many delicious fermented foods that one can safely make at home. Once you add these to your repertiore, you’ll feel so satisfied.
          Crepe-like flatbreads such as injera or dosa can be made successfully. Sometimes it takes a few tries to get the desired results. Keep trying.

  8. Barb says:

    I am so intimidated by the process that I don’t know how to start. I want to make pickles, kefir, kombucha, saukaurt, cheese, etc. I am studying various sites to learn but am scared to start. Once I do I will be a force to be reckoned with and will teach others.

    1. Mary Karlin says:

      I understand your hesitation, but I can assure you that once you take the first steps, and follow safety guidelines, you will be successful.
      My suggestions are you view my website for some basic background and consider my book as a tool. Start with something simple like sauerkraut or pickles, then expand from there.

  9. Renee G says:

    the only thing that I have made is pickles — I’d love to try sauerkraut or cheese next.

    1. Mary Karlin says:

      Thanks for sharing your request. Sauerkraut is a simple, delicious, and nutritious product to start with. Cheese is a bit more involved, but very doable at home. If you haven’t yet checked out my Craftsy cheese making course, I encourage you to do so. It is a valuable tool for making cheese at home. Also visit my website on fermentation for an overview of what’s covered in Mastering Fermentation.

  10. janette says:

    We live on a cattle station so our fresh vege comes in once a week. My partner makes beef jerky, and we have put in a vege garden. I am looking to being self-sufficient, looking at ways to extend our stores for when produce is in season. I grew up watching my mum and nana preserving fruit, making jams and pickles etc. This book looks exciting and would be so vety helpful. Would love it

    1. Mary Karlin says:

      You are fortunate to live such an interesting life. Having access to fresh produce is rewarding on so many levels. Indeed, to preserve vis fermentation is a delicious and healthy path to take. Join me on the journey.

  11. marg says:

    Thank you. This article is so timely as it has been recommended that I eat more fermented foods. I googled them as I would prefer to make my own .. but the hours of work and burying them in the ground put me off haha. So to find out I can make them easily at home is so exciting. I would like to make kim chi / sauerkraut which is what I have tried so far and like. I think I’ll be the first one to sign up for a Craftsy Fermenting class :).

    1. Mary Karlin says:

      Thank you for your enthusiasm for fermentation! Congrats on taking the first steps. I invite you to visit my fermentation website for guidance and inspiration. It will serve as an introduction to my book, and my in-person classes. I look forward to creating a video in the future.

  12. carmen says:

    I am just beginning, I would love to learn pickling and also how to make homemade ginger ale

    1. Mary Karlin says:

      You can successfully make the fermented foods you mentioned. You can start by using the pickled vegetable recipe featured on this blog to make tasty pickles. From there, you can venture into many fun areas.

  13. Madeline says:

    I have been trying my hand at pickling onions. I want to ‘process’ my own food because I think that commercially prepared food take all the micronutrients and beneficial organisms out of them. That is why they have such a long shelf live. I believe this has added to the increase in cancer and food allergies in our world.

    1. Mary Karlin says:

      You are part of a growing number of folks wanting to have control over the food they eat or feed to loved ones. Truly fermented foods have many more beneficial organisms than those processed (even by pasteurization). The beneficial organisms help to keep our guts healthy, and therefore boost our immune systems.
      Happy to have you part of the fermentation community.

  14. Cathryn Bolen says:

    I have tried making sauerkraut and am afraid to try it. Duh.

    1. Mary Karlin says:

      Perhaps I can instill a bit of adventure…
      If the product looks good, with no signs of mold, and the aroma is fresh and inviting, then you should take a taste.
      If it doesn’t smell good to you (you’ll know if it isn’t safe) then toss it , learn from what you’ve observed, and try another batch. You can make sauerkraut successfully.
      Remember to eat small portions of it along with other food until your gut gets acclimated to fermented food.

  15. Leslie says:

    I would love to see a Craftsy class on Fermented Foods. I buy them at the grocery store but know I could save money if I could make them myself.

    1. Mary Karlin says:

      Thank you for sharing your request for a fermentation course. Making fermented foods at home is indeed satisfying, and can cost less than those purchased at retail. Plus, you can flavor the foods the way you want them.

  16. Marybeth Mank says:

    I have always wanted to make sauerkraut and kim chee.

    1. Mary Karlin says:

      Thanks for sharing. These are delicious when truly fermented. You can do this at home with great results.

  17. Karen C. says:

    Would love to learn to make vinegars, sauerkraut,and possibly learn to work with fish and meats. I have worked with freezing, canning, pickeling, jelly and jams for almost 20 years.

    1. Mary Karlin says:

      Thank you. You have a fair amount of experience with some forms of food preservation and food safety practices. With some guidance, you can venture into the world of fermentation making the items you mentioned as well as fruit preserves. You’ll have great fun, I’m sure. I invite you to visit my www for an overview of areas I cover in my book and in classes.

  18. Joleen Kraft says:

    I’ve experimented a fair amount with fermenting – cucumbers, beer, carrots, sauerkraut, kimchi, water kefir, sourdough, yogurt – but I’d really like to branch out into other areas, especially dairy and meats, as well as have more info for troubleshooting — this book looks like it would cover all of that and more. Can’t wait to read it! And the pictures I’ve seen so far look amazing. All kinds of treats to look forward to.

    1. Mary Karlin says:

      Congratulations on being such a devout fermentationist! Thank you for the kind words about my book. I’m sure it will assist you on your journey into more fermentation. And I’m available via the website to aswer questions. Hoping to have a video sometime next year.

  19. Kathryn says:

    First, let me say that I just love “Artisan Cheese Making at Home”. I have a NOOK version. I can’t wait for cooler weather so that I can order cultures.
    Now…about fermentation and the new book…….I can’t wait to learn everything. My mom always made pickles; this she learned from her mother. My grandma did soooo much more than that. I would love to make small batches of pickles and sauerkraut….and then on and on…..homemade root beer….specialty vinegars…I can’t wait.

    1. Mary Karlin says:

      Your enthusiasm is delightful! Thank you for sharing that and the kind words re: my cheese making book, e-book. I can tell you are going to have a grand time in the larger fermentation world. Enjoy the journey! And stay in touch.

  20. Billi says:

    I am a student of fermentation. I have a couple books and am looking for a new, fresh approach with tasty recipes. Your book and website sound very interesting.

    1. Mary Karlin says:

      Good to hear from active fermentationists, such as yourself. Thanks. I’m sure you will enjoy both the www and my book, which contains many contemporary recipes for making and using fermented foods. As a cook, that’s an important perspective to share.