Sharing with FOCUS the health benefits of preparing and eating fermented foods is Wingham local Sammi Zajko – mother, lover, and avid fermenter…
You’re a passionate foodie, of the fermented type. What was it that inspired you to get into this?
I have a background in nutrition and natural health and have always loved the idea that food, health and nourishing our family and community are all inextricably linked.
In 2001, I visited my family in Poland. They really connected me to the food of my ancestry; it stirred something inside me and planted a seed about the value of traditional foods in our diet.
After becoming a mum, and having struggles with my own health, I really started to research the importance of fermented foods in the diet. My research on the health benefits – from digestive and gut health to curing food intolerances to benefitting immune health, mental health and supporting the body through weight loss and even cancer – was compelling. I was hooked!
Fermenting appealed to my love of traditional foods and interest in foods from diverse cultures around the world. Every “culture” has its own unique “cultured”, or fermented food.
It also appealed to my curious nature and experimenting with new things – fermenting foods were part science experiment, part food preparation and part preventative medicine – all in my kitchen!
Flash forward from these early days of self-taught sauerkraut, and I am now the proud business owner of Fermenting Australia. I am a Fermentation Revivalist who has taught “Mastering Fermentation” workshops all over Regional NSW – and a Fermenting Tour of Queensland – for the last four years. At the end of last year, I was really excited to sell out my first Sydney Workshop at a well known cooking school. I am bursting with excitement for 2017. It will be a huge year of workshops and touring for me. I have many local and regional workshops planned, a couple of regional tours, ongoing Sydney workshops, Melbourne workshops and more exciting, guest presenting roles lined up. Phew! I can’t wait!
Why should we eat fermented food?
There are so many wonderful benefits in eating fermented foods! Firstly, fermented foods are naturally teeming with probiotics (good bacteria) that are necessary for good gut health. You need a healthy gut to digest and assimilate nutrients from our food. As scientists increasingly research the amazing human micro biome, we are learning that about 80 percent of our immune system is based in the gut. We also know that roughly 95 percent of our serotonin receptors are based in the gut, so good gut health is really paramount for good mental health. Fermented foods are such a great way to supercharge our health in so many different ways! They are also delicious and fun to make.
What are the fundamentals of fermenting vegetables?
When we ferment, our primary objective is to create an environment that allows the natural lactic acid bacteria present on vegetables to proliferate. This allows the fermentation process to happen. All you need to do is create a salty, or mineral-rich, anaerobic environment – and you can create fermented food! My workshop gives you the theory, as well as practical experience with fermenting. It really is very simple once you know how!
Favourite fermented food to eat?
I love to ferment (and eat) anything! To be honest, I am a bit of a traditionalist and can’t go past a delicious, mature, home-made sauerkraut. I absolutely adore kimchi too and recently made 20 kg of it to give as Christmas gifts to my family! In my house you will find sauerkrauts all of different flavours (including curried kraut and “flower-kraut”- with edible flowers!) many types of kimchi, lacto-fermented pickles (my son’s favourite), fermented carrots, radish, beetroot, lemons, olives. In my fridge, you will also find homemade fermented bean paste, lacto-fermented tomato sauce and fermented mustard, kimchi sauce, chilli sauce and fermented Mexican sauce. You’ll also find a variety of fermented drinks such as a fair few litres of different flavoured kombucha, Jun, milk kefir, water kefir, 6 litres of homemade apple cider vinegar and fermented red wine vinegar. You may also find a sourdough starter and a ginger “bug” to make ginger ale!
What do we need to get started? Is it expensive?
I love that fermented foods are inexpensive and easy to make – they really are accessible to everybody and not hard at all! To make a simple sauerkraut, all you really need is a cabbage, some salt and a clean glass jar! I don’t like to use expensive or specialsed equipment. I much prefer to teach people how to make simple fermented foods at home and feel confident that they are able to support good food and good health for them and their family. A great starting point is one of my workshops …
You run fermenting workshops locally? What is involved in one of your workshops?
Yes! I absolutely adore teaching them and they are so much fun! They are wonderful, hands-on workshops. I cover a lot of interesting information about the history, culture and health benefits of fermented foods, as well as the simple, but important safety parameters. Workshop participants get to create a take home 1 L jar of their own-made sauerkraut and 1 L of a fermented, brined vegetable of their creation. They also receive a Kombucha SCOBY (you want one of those mothers!) and lots of delicious tastes and samples. I also demonstrate kimchi and pickles. Such a fun and informative day.
When/where will they be held?
I am supported by some fabulous venues locally. I am so lucky. Locally, I am running workshops at: Garden to Table Permaculture outside Pacific Palms; Centrepoint Cafe, Taree; Studio 6, Port Macquarie; The Third Place Cafe, North Haven; Bent Cooking School, Wingham.
For more info and to purchase tickets: www.stickytickets.com.au/fermentingaustralia
Any parting words you’d like to share with our readers?
Be wild and daring! Connect with your food and your local food producers.
Food can be healing and joyful. Enjoy!