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7 best fermentation cookbooks: Perfect the preserving process

Get creative with your culinary skills and add some flavour to your food

Kate Ng
Thursday 06 August 2020 16:15 BST
Some of these include an encyclopaedic amount of information on the art and chemistry of fermentation, while others are more straightforward, and full of recipes to be recreated at home
Some of these include an encyclopaedic amount of information on the art and chemistry of fermentation, while others are more straightforward, and full of recipes to be recreated at home (iStock/The Independent)

Among the sourdough and banana bread crazes that took over social media during lockdown, some people have been braver with their culinary experiments.

Anyone who has dabbled in fermentation (and has a “fermentation station”, a term popularised by chef Brad Leone of American magazine and YouTube channel, Bon Appetit) knows the excitement of finding new things to dunk in brine or cover in mould, collecting jars with things in various stages of controlled rotting and watch as they transform into umami, delicious goodness.

Fermenting has been a way of preserving and adding flavour to food since ancient times – the earliest record of fermentation dates as far back as 6,000 BC, according to historians.

In some ways, the pandemic has given us a wealth of time to dedicate to time-consuming hobbies and practices that most people would’ve never considered pre-lockdown.

After working our way through these books, testing recipes and getting sucked into the world of fermentation, we have chosen a variety of books for all levels – whether you are just beginning your journey into the practice or you’re already knee-deep in sauerkraut and hungry for more.

Some include an encyclopaedic amount of information on the art and chemistry of fermentation, while others are more straightforward, and full of recipes to be recreated at home.

Whether you’re looking to expand your knowledge about fermentation or you’re just curious about the processes that go into your sauerkraut, miso, gochujang and more, here are the best books to get your fermentation fun started.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

‘Miso, Tempeh, Natto and Other Tasty Ferments’ by Kirsten and Christopher Shockey, published by Storey Publishing LLC

indybest best fermentation book miso-tempeh-natto.jpg

This book is a great introduction to ferments from across the world, and it is particularly great for those looking to expand their culinary horizon. Authors Kirsten and Christopher Shockey, from Oregon, offer a brief history and background on Asian fermenting methods and foods – from popular miso and tempeh to lesser known products such as natto (sticky fermented soybeans) and amazake (a sweet alcoholic drink).

It’s packed with interesting recipes (heirloom cranberry bean miso, anyone?) and is perfect for people looking for more complex ferments to experiment with. Some may think they’re too complex or intimidating, but the authors break down each fermenting method and recipe into easily digestable information, making it more than accessible for home kitchens.

  1. £16 from Amazon
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‘Wildcrafted Fermentation’ by Pascal Baudar, published by Chelsea Green Publishing Co

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Vegans will be delighted to hear that this book is packed with plant-based recipes for krauts, kimchis, brews and cheeses, and is perfect for readers who are interested in foraging. Pascal Baudar, a wild food researcher and “self-styled ‘culinary alchemist’”, brings the reader’s focus onto their “local terroir”, highlighting the benefits of getting to know one’s own local landscape or garden, and the delicious gems that could be hiding within.

We found this book to be full of creative recipes and projects – from making your own fermentation crock out of a log of oak to harvesting your own sea salt to use in ferments. Wildcrafted Fermentation takes readers step-by-step – first detailing the types of tools and jars needed to get one’s fermentation station started, to exploring what’s available around you. However, before you get out there and immediately start picking things from the local park, be sure to check British foraging laws, as picking wild edible foliage or mushrooms may be prohibited in some areas.

There is little room for waste in Baudar’s book, which is a delight. There are suggestions for every part of a plant – roots, shoots, leaves, flowers, fruit – to be used in ferments. Particularly interesting is the section on plant-based cheeses, which teaches readers how to flavour and age pastes of seeds and nuts to yield both soft and hard vegan cheeses.

  1. £20 from WHSmith
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‘The Noma Guide to Fermentation’ by David Zilber and Rene Redzepi, published by Artisan

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Aside from looking absolutely beautiful, this tome which is the brainchild of Rene Redzepi –who runs the critically acclaimed two-Michelin-starred restaurant Noma in Copenhagen – and Daniel Zilber, the restaurant’s head of fermentation, is an inspiration. Redzepi calls his restaurant’s love for fermentation a “story of accidents” – they have their own fermentation lab that readers can get a glimpse of in the late Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown travel series on Netflix. The Noma Guide to Fermentation is a tribute to the discoveries and patient work carried out in that lab.

Together, the authors write painstakingly about how they use lacto-fermentation, kombucha, vinegar, and koji to produce umami-rich foods to be used in lots of different ways. Umami, is a “fifth flavour” derived from monosodium glutamate (MSG) – a misunderstood additive that is responsible for some of the world’s most delicious food, and it is to our testers’ delight that Noma makes its approval of MSG clear.

Redzepi and Zilber’s imagination in the kitchen is made tangible in this book – from black apples to rose and shrimp garum, to “peaso”, their signature miso made with peas instead of traditional soybeans. It’s a cure for boredom in the kitchen and opens readers up to a whole new world of possibilities in fermentation.

  1. £30 from Waterstones
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‘Fermentation: River Cottage Handbook No. 18’ by Rachel de Thample, published by Bloomsbury Publishing

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Our final pick is a book closer to home, by author Rachel de Thample, who teaches River Cottage’s preserved and fermentation courses. Her book on fermentation is the latest addition to River Cottage’s huge inventory of handbooks. Readers interested in using more seasonal British produce to create a more sustainable lifestyle will be especially interested as Thample walks you through an array of krauts, pickles, and brews that make the most of the seasons.

From making use of foraged wild garlic and elderflower to using up leftover buttermilk and late-season vegetables, this handbook aims to get people excited about preserving their own food. It is undeniably exciting to open up a jar of probiotic piccalilli for the first time after you’ve put a bunch of vegetables, spices, salt, and water into a jar and left it for a week or more. And the nervousness about the bottle of fermenting ginger beer brewing away, potentially about to explode in your kitchen cabinet, is actually a lot of fun.

  1. £13 from Amazon
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The verdict: Fermentation books

The Art of Fermentation is a crowd favourite for a very good reason – offering up a wealth of information and inspiration that has kickstarted a wave of at-home fermenters. It makes the complex science behind fermentation a pleasure to read and will pique the interests of even the wariest of home cooks. Our runner-up is Fermentation: River Cottage for its familiarity of British ingredients, making its recipes the most accessible for those living in the UK.

For more inspiration in the kitchen, take a look at our cookbook section

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