Michael On Everything Else

The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz

I bought this book to learn more about fermentation in general because in part of processing coffee involves fermentation. Fortunately, this book provided more than just a basic understanding of wild fermentation—it also inspired a serious interest in brewing cider, making kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt, etc. It has also given me a deeper appreciation for artisanal food.

In fact, this book has been so important to me, I own both the hardcover and Kindle versions (the Kindle is great for capturing notes, quotes, and making annotations).

The order in which Katz presents information is very useful in that he builds a foundation first by explaining our coexistence and codependency with microbes and covers some basic terminology, etc. There is a brief section at the beginning, in which Katz talks about the term culture and its dual, but related meanings. In the non-biological sense, culture is the transmission of information via memes. In the biological sense, culture is the transmission of information via genes. In this section he sets the tone for the entire book with this statement:

I keep coming back to the profound significance of the fact that we use the same word—culture—to describe the community of bacteria that transform milk into yogurt, as well as the practice of subsistence itself, language, music, art, literature, science, spiritual practices, belief systems, and all that human beings seek to perpetuate in our varied and overlapping collective existences. (Katz, 2012, p. 6)

And while this isn’t a recipe book per se, Katz provides enough detail in many cases, that one could devise a recipe (I have). Katz encourages readers to experiment with the techniques and information he presents, as has been done with fermentation at home for generations. That’s one of the more fascinating details for me; fermentation has been around for generations as a way to prepare, enhance, and preserve foods of all kinds and fermentation techniques have been passed along, partly as a way of maintaining and reinforcing tribal membership. Take for instance kvass, a traditional, fermented drink made from rye bread in Baltic and Slavic traditions:

In Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, monastery kvass is mentioned in the dinner scene as being famous throughout the neighborhood. In Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich, kvass is made first thing on a holiday morning. In Ivan Goncharov’s Oblomov and in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, kvass is repeatedly mentioned. (Wiki)

This book also changed my salsa game for the better.

BibTeX reference:

  Author = {Sandor Ellix Katz},
  Title = {The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from around the World},
  Publisher = {Chelsea Green Publishing},
  Year = {2012},
  ISBN = {160358286X},
  1. Katz, S. E. (2012). The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from around the World. Chelsea Green Publishing.