Preaching Lost Art of Fermentation

From Beer to Kimchi, Something's Always Brewing

Fermentation Nation: Sandor Katz is a big believer in the power of microorganisms to create better foods.
sandor katz and chelsea green publishing
Fermentation Nation: Sandor Katz is a big believer in the power of microorganisms to create better foods.

By Ben Harris

Published April 18, 2012, issue of April 27, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

If you’re a foodie or a farmer, a DIY enthusiast or home kitchen tinkerer, or merely a conscientious objector in the battle to standardize, industrialize and globalize every last human commodity, you may already be familiar with Sandor Ellix Katz.

For close to a decade, Katz has been traveling the world, preaching the lost art of fermentation, the process through which invisible microorganisms (such as bacteria and yeast) transform ordinary fruits, vegetables, grains and beans into some of our most prized foodstuffs: beer, wine, bread, yogurt, soy sauce, pickles, chocolate and much more.

Sandor Ellix Katz
Sean Minteh
Sandor Ellix Katz

Katz first made a name for himself as a fermentation evangelist in 2003, with the publication of “Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods” (Chelsea Green Publishing). Since then he has conducted countless workshops, fielded thousands of troubleshooting emails and acted as something of a sage to the growing corps of home fermenters. This May, Chelsea Green will publish his accumulated wisdom in “The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World,” a 500-page exegesis on the basic principles and practices first laid out in “Wild Fermentation.”

While it can’t hope to be comprehensive — subtopics like bread and beer can scarcely be exhausted by a shelf’s worth of books, let alone a single volume — the book marks a substantial leap forward in Katz’s effort to convince the world of both the wonders and the essentialness of fermentation.

Fermentation is much more than a neat culinary trick; it is, to hear Katz tell it, the very stuff on which human life depends. Human culture is inextricable from the other kind of culture, the collection of microorganisms that brewers and bakers and cheese mongers have learned to manipulate in the service of their marvelous concoctions. But instead of cultivating an appreciation for this invisible, teeming horde, we have made war on it through excessive use of antiseptics and antibiotics.

“If we succeeded in wiping out all the bacteria, we’d just be committing mass suicide,” Katz said last May at the Freestone Fermentation Festival in Northern California. “That’s the context in which all life exists. That’s why fermentation is so universally practiced.”

In the era before refrigeration, fermentation allowed humans to store food for long periods without the risk of spoilage, which likely explains its ubiquity in world cuisines. But today, with most Westerners purchasing these marvels at the grocery store, the alchemical processes underlying their creation — and the knowledge necessary to manipulate them — have largely vanished from our cultural repertoire.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.