When newbies begin their fermentation journey, it’s easy to feel a bit lost. When I started, I needed help from time to time on burning questions pertaining to the processes. ‘Was I doing things right?’ ‘What if the batch gets spoilt?’ ‘What if I am doing something wrong?’ ‘Is there something I can do to enhance the process?’ and so on…
I am sure that many new fermentators have these questions too. Today, thanks to the Internet, we can get information easily and quickly when it comes to recipes. But if you are like me, a bit traditional, then you would also like to keep on hand some reference manuals and books about fermentation.
Having a fermentation guide (or two) is the best thing you can turn to for help along the way. Having a fermentation ‘troubleshooting manual’ is just like having your mother or grandmother’s handwritten recipe diary to refer to from time to time.
Today, many great books are available on this topic. But one that always comes instantly to mind is from one of my favorite fermentation author’s Sandor Ellix Katz. I am talking about Katz’s The Art of Fermentation; a book that can be considered as the ‘fermentation Bible’ – the granddaddy of all fermentation guides. So here’s a brief review of The Art of Fermentation:
- This is so much more than a cookbook - it's an in-depth exploration of fermenting techniques from around the world.
- Clear, practical instructions enable and inspire you to ferment fruits, vegetables, grains, milk, beans, meats and more.
- Detailed information on fermenting sugars into alcohol; making sour tonic beverages; and growing mold cultures.
- An essential resource for anyone interested in adding these remarkable foods to their diet.
- Hardcover. Katz, 7"x10", 456 pp.
About the author – Sandor Katz
Sandor Katz has literally started a ‘fermentation revolution’ with his books. He started with the Wild Fermentation which became a huge hit with people looking for scientific ways to ferment.
Here is a man who believes that the art and science of fermentation forms the very basis of the human culture.
As Sally Fallon Morell, author of Nourishing Traditions®, puts it: ‘Sandor Katz has labored mightily to deliver this magnum opus to people who are hungry for a real connection to food and the connection to life itself’.
Fermented foods, Mr. Katz believes, are our link to microscopic life and no one knows this better than him. Sandor Katz has traveled across the globe studying different fermented foods across cultures. His thirst and passion for this topic has taken him across Europe, the Far East and to cultures where fermentation is revered as a way of life. It is no wonder that a book from had to become a bestseller.
Main Points of The Art of Fermentation
Okay, so before we discuss what makes this book so great, a bit of a disclaimer:
Wild Fermentation is what you should read first, if you are new to fermenting.
The reason why I say this is: The Art of Fermentation is not your everyday recipe book. Do not buy it if you are looking for step by step recipes and quick-how-to-guides. Having clarified that; The Art of Fermentation is a book for every veteran and novice fermentation lover who takes this art and science seriously.
Again: this is not your regular how to recipe book. It is a book that provides tons of scientific details and history about the art of fermenting food. It spans more than 500 pages filled with brilliant tips, research facts and reading resources that are sure to dazzle and spellbind every reader. (That is why I say that every serious veteran and newbie fermentator should keep this ‘Bible of fermentation’ on hand).
The Art of Fermentation mostly contains fun anecdotes about the author’s experiments with fermenting produce, grains, beers and wines. Katz ends up encouraging every reader to invest in mason jars, Crockpot and other tools needed for state of the art fermenting.
I myself felt super encouraged to pick up several new mason jars, carboys and fresh produce each time I make a trip to the farmer markets.
Like many fermentators, I love experimenting and thanks to Katz’s book The Art of Fermentation , I feel empowered to do so without fear. I know I can easily tap into the author’s vast knowledge, each time I bring fresh produce home to preserve. Like me, I am sure, many will be encouraged to take on new projects they haven’t dared to before.
Great book for your coffee table!
Another reason why this book is a worthwhile investment is that you can place it on your coffee table and it is bound to be a great conversation starter at your next party.
Your friends will want to get their hands on this book and it is surely going to make rounds in your circles. They will love the pictures in the book – some are hand drawn sketches inserted in just the right places. Every chapter has highlighted text boxes of quick fun facts and anecdotes that are as informative as they are entertaining.
Many chapters have detailed photographs of fermented foods and the author’s experiences with them as he traveled across Romania, Japan, Korea and other countries where fermenting is a way of life.
The photos of microscopic organisms-fungi and bacteria-show us just how tiny we are in this vast Universe. They help us understand that the vast majority of them are our friends and that they exist for a reason. In fact; they could be the answer to battle modern lifestyle diseases that are rampant today.
The author helps us understand the silent war we are inadvertently drawn –a war conducted by food corporation giants and MNCs that lure and condition us into eating unhealthy foods. Fermentation can help change that. I truly believe that fermentation is the key to longevity and good health and the author scientifically proves that this is how humans ought to live and eat.
The vast amount of research that Mr. Katz has put into the book is evident through his detailed narratives and photographs. It is clear that the author feels passionately about the topic and he really makes us question our beliefs and modern eating habits, cooking methods and the consumerism we are subjected to through advertising and marketing gimmicks.
Just the book’s Glossary and Resource section will keep readers busy for years. It is for these reasons that The Art of Fermentation is a great book to gift to family members and friends who love fermenting and eating healthy.
So what if you have tried sauerkraut, apple cider, mead, and sourdough already? Why not move on to fish, beans, eggs, and other foods you never thought to ferment?
The reason why you will feel encouraged to try different recipes and test untested waters is because of the fact that the author empowers you and makes you fearless. He not only tells you how to get each recipe right; he even tells you what to do what to do when things go wrong.
For example, if your batch of ferment develops an ugly beard of mold on the surface, he simply encourages you to remove the fuzzy layer and enjoy the ferment beneath! And this simplicity is what makes this book so alluring: you learn to drop all inhibitions and fears when it comes to fermenting.
As with any product or book, there is good and then there are critical reviews. Here are some areas where The Art of Fermentation falls short:
- This isn’t your everyday recipe book for step by step, no-nonsense recipes. For example, if you want to learn how to make wine, you won’t find the exact recipe-just an entertaining story of how people in Italy make Federweisser-a great young wine – at home, but without exact details of how to actually make it.
- Ideally this book is great for enhancing your general knowledge about the topic. It is certainly not for someone who has little time and wants to quickly know what to do.
- I recommend using this book alongside Wild Fermentation by the same author. In that, he covers the recipes in much more detailed manner.
- As stated before, the book is great for troubleshooting problems one is likely to face when fermenting. However, it still could be a bit vague there as well.
- There are many areas where the author falls short and he honestly admits so. For example, one area is kegging which the author admits knowing nothing about. However, it is essential that fermentators know about it, as it can save them potential hazards caused by carbonated bottle explosion. This is something the author could have researched and talked about.
- Many citations in the book are based on emails people have written to the author. These writers are certainly not experts in the field (to be fair, there weren’t many fermentation experts when the book was written).
- The book could use a lot more colored pictures related to the actual recipes instead of just photos of microorganisms of people the author met on his travels.
Go for the The Art of Fermentation only after reading Wild Fermentation. This is the book for you if you are looking for scientific and detailed information about the benefits and methods of fermentation. If you are looking for recipes, check out other fermentation books like Fermented Vegetables or Ferment for Good.