And now for a word about fermentation

Here is a news flash:  people are not cows.  Yes, I know you are disappointed, but it’s true.  One of the ways we know this is because we don’t generally feel the need or desire to get down on all fours (another way we know we are not cows – they are ALREADY on all fours) and start grazing when we see a particularly lush field of green grass.  We just don’t.  No ma’am.  Not us.

Grass, whether raw or cooked is just not for us.  It probably won’t kill us but it won’t make us feel too well either.  Most grains are part of the grass family and it will come as no surprise that we are not physiologically meant to eat members of the grass family in their natural state.  Fancy munching on some grains of wheat or rye or raw oats?  No, I did not think so.  Let’s go one step further, do you consider eating a paste made of flour and water an appetising idea?  Thought not.  The reason for that is because our bodies are smart.  Millions of years of evolution have enabled us to protect ourselves – making us naturally attracted to foods that are good for us and naturally unattracted to food that are not.  This is all in a pre junk food world, you understand.  But let’s not fall down that rabbit hole…

To continue:  raw grains are just not very good for us.  We cannot digest them easily which means two things: 

1.  Indigestion:  farting, bloated tummy, constipation and diarria.  This all happens because the grains are actually fermenting inside of us causing our stomachs to swell and our digestions to wonk out.

2.  Malnutrution:  when our stomachs are so busy with the job of just trying to digest food (and here I include “chewing” things we have not chewed well before swallowing – note to self, my tummy does not have teeth) we do not fully absorb the nutrients in the food we have eaten.  It’s incredible to think that malnutrition may be a serious problem among people who have (more than) enough to eat, but it is. 

The solution is to ensure that the grains we eat are extremely well broken down before we eat them.  To do this, we can soak them in water (ferment them).  Fermenting something is chemical voo doo:  it changes the structure of the food that is fermented, thus enabling its preservation and/or enabling us to eat it, digest it easily, and absorb its nutrients.  Clearly you do not want to eat food that has been over fermented or badly fermented because that would mean it was probably rotten and rotten could kill you.  A bit of fermentation, however, enables us to make (among hundreds of food stuffs) alcohol, yoghurt, certain cheese, pickles, vinegar, fish sauce and leavened (not flat) bread.

All of which takes us back to…grain, and specifically ground up grain, ie flour.

Excessive consumption of bread that made too quickly makes some of us feel ill.  This is because the flour in bread that is made quickly is too raw – too complete, not broken down enough – for some people to digest easily.  Proofing bread over a several hour period ensures that the flour is really well broken down which makes it easier to digest (for everyone) and ensures we absorb more of the nutrients in it.  The idea that you should put your dough somewhere warm so that it doubles in size quickly must have been part of a 1950s post war convenience food message – intended to help the housewife by making the process of bread making quicker.  The fact that it would make some people ill was probably not known at the time.  We do know it now, however, and it is an important piece of knowledge for everyone and especially for people who experience discomfort when eating bread.  It may be that the bread you are eating makes you uncomfortable because it is transformed from flour to bread in a very short space of time.  It may be that if you ate different bread, bread that rose slowly over a several hour period, it would not make you ill at all.  It’s worth a try, not least because it is difficult to avoid bread altogether.  If you are avoiding bread altogether – even avoiding good bread that is lovingly and slowly prepared and baked – you are denying yourself one of the great pleasures in life which is to eat something as delicious as it is good for you.  Bread made over 48 hours with an active sourdough (fermented flour) will be super easy to digest but may taste too sour for some (although I love it).  Bread made over 6 hours by adding yeast to the dough will not taste sour at all and will be much easier to digest than bread made in 90 minutes. 

People are not cows.  Does it all make sense now?

8 thoughts on “And now for a word about fermentation”

  1. Great piece, as a retired Staffordshire oatcake baker I despair at most of our local bakeries, they have no patience, putting ‘mixes’ on with no time for fermentation to take place, the result is always a cooked outside, soggy inside.
    Its not easy to judge what is the exact time the oatcake mix should stand but experience tells you that if its warm you can slow things down with a little salt, or if like today its minus 6 you can get the yeast to work a little faster with a small amount of extra sugar.

    1. I love this! I agree, the lack of patience and the drive to scale is a huge problem in our industry. I was in Tampa recently (I have not written it up yet) and there it is SO HOT the traditional cuban bread bakeries use ICE WATER (literally ice cubes with a bit of water) in the dough and they add the salt at the beginning of the kneading process (whereas I add it at the end because it’s rarely warm where I knead my bread!). Do you have a favourite oat cake recipe that you can share with us?

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