Neal and I recently had the wonderful opportunity to have a dietetic intern with us here at MUS Wellness for two weeks. Our intern this year was Anna Goodrum, originally from Amery, Wisconsin, and a 2016 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Anna came to Montana with a strong interest in sustainable food systems and rural health. She will complete the Montana Dietetic Internship (MDI) program in May, after which she aspires to have a career in community nutrition. Please welcome Anna Goodrum, dietetic intern and guest blog writer:
Labor Day has come and gone, and as the increasingly colder nights begin to set in, many of us, myself included, prepare to say goodbye to the plethora of delicious fresh fruits and vegetables that spoil us during the summer months. It can be a long wait until fresh garden tomatoes are available once again, but fortunately for us, humans have many creative ways of preserving food, and we’ve been practicing these methods for thousands of years.
Fermentation and canning are two methods that are both easy and efficient ways of preserving that fresh taste of summer year-round. Let’s take a closer look at each method:
Fermentation is a great first step into food preservation. It requires minimal equipment—just a mason jar or other container, salt, and chopped vegetable of choice—and is simple to do; all you need is a little bit of patience. Fermentation is essentially the breaking down of food matter over time by means of microorganisms. Microorganisms such as yeast and bacteria eat the sugars in the food and create a waste byproduct. The byproduct produced varies, but usually is an acid, gas, or alcohol. A common (and favorite) example of this is beer, in which the byproduct produced from the microorganism (yeast) is alcohol.
Fermented food produced at home contains millions of active microbes. These active microbes, known as probiotics, have a number of nutritional benefits. Our gut microbiome has become a hot topic in the scientific world recently and for good reason. While much more scientific research is needed, there is evidence that our gut microbiome affects multiple aspects of our overall health, from cholesterol levels to brain activity. In addition, associations between fermented dairy products and weight maintenance have been observed, along with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. For more about the gut microbiome, listen to our most recent podcast!
All the potential benefits of fermented foods are exciting. However, it is not to be forgotten that we are dealing with bacteria, and proper food safety is vital to promote beneficial bacteria and minimize harmful bacteria. Always make sure your utensils, prep area, and jars are clean. Make sure to follow the recipe carefully and add the appropriate amount of salt. Generally, salt, as well as anaerobic and acidic conditions, favors the growth of desirable bacteria while inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria. Below are two great beginner recipes that go a little bit more in depth about the fermentation process.
Unlike fermentation, in which we want certain microorganisms to proliferate, canning uses heat to kill all microorganisms, allowing the food to be shelf-stable (without refrigeration). Canning requires a bit more equipment and knowledge than fermentation, but is still quite affordable and easy to learn.
There are two canning methods: boiling water canning and pressure canning. The type of canning method used depends on the acidity level of what you are canning. High-acid foods such as fruits and pickled products use the boiling water method. Low-acid foods such as vegetables, meats, fish, and beans require a pressure canner. I suggest starting off with boiling water canning because the equipment required is less of an investment. A boiling water canning kit will run you $20, whereas a pressure canner costs around $70-80. Plus, jams and pickles are great stepping stones into canning and can be made with the boiling water method. You can easily get creative by adding different spices, herbs, and flavors. Check out some yummy canning recipes below:
Boiling Water Method
Important Note: Elevation affects the time duration of boiling water canning. Elevation affects the pressure amount of pressure canning. Be sure to read your recipe carefully to make proper adjustments!
Interested in learning more? See the great beginner resources below.
The MontGuides are easy to follow, condensed information on canning. Both include guidelines for elevation adjustments.
Historically, acidity levels of tomatoes have been high enough for boiling water canning to be the appropriate method. However, today’s tomatoes may be grown with a lower acidity level and may need to be pressure canned. If you do not wish to buy a pressure canner, read How to Acidify Tomatoes.
Finally, you can look forward to a Montana Meals video coming soon about freezing fruits & veggies; another great preservation method for keeping the flavors of summer going all year long!
Have fun trying out these recipes!
Marco, Maria L, Dustin Heeney, Sylvie Binda, Christopher J Cifelli, Paul D Cotter, Benoit Foligné, Michael Gänzle, Remco Kort, Gonca Pasin, Anne Pihlanto, Eddy J Smid, and Robert Hutkins. “Health Benefits of Fermented Foods: Microbiota and beyond.” Current Opinion in Biotechnology. 44 (2017): 94-102. Web.