Wild Fermentation

wild-fermentation.jpeg Yogurt, bread, beer, kimchi, wine, cheese, miso, kraut, and vinegar are among the many foods that are produced with the aid of microorganisms. Those are living beasties of a type that we ordinarily try to remove from what we eat. This cookbook is full of fermentation recipes. It presents a unified theory of "live-culture foods," a way of connecting their different methods in order to understand why fermentation is a Good Thing, and why there should be more of it. Fermentation is fairly easy to do. It can self-correct many beginner's errors. It is definitely a slow-food process, but at the same time, a low-effort process since the bugs do most of the work. The recipes here are starter ones, broad in scope, easy to do, just to get you going. The appendix contains a good roundup of sources for a large variety of live cultures. You can find deeper more complex recipes in specific books, but here in one slim volume is a great introduction to how to ferment. At least once, you should make your own yogurt, bread, beer, kimchi, wine, cheese, miso, kraut, and vinegar. Find what you do well and make more of it. More importantly, ferment something new. -- KK Wild Fermentation Sandor Ellix Katz 2003, 200 pages $17
Sample excerpt: By eating a variety of live fermented foods, you promote diversity among microbial cultures in your body. * wildfermentation2.jpg * I know of no food that is without some tradition of fermentation. * Hamid Dirar has identified eighty distinct fermentation processes in The Indigenous Fermented Food of the Sudan, a book describing an incredible array of ferments that result in consumption of every bit of animal flesh and bone. Don't forget to comment over at Cool Tools. And remember to submit a tool!


  1. This book is fantastic! Kombucha, honey wine, millet porridge, miso, sourdough, sauerkraut, kimchi…all so good. This book definitely changed the way I think about bacteria and, honestly, life/decay in general.

  2. I bought this book last fall and then bought two more copies to give away. The author’s philosophy ‘perfection in our imperfection’ is appealing to me.
    The first thing I made from the book was vinegar – ridiculously easy: bruised/rotting fruit, sugar water and a few weeks of waiting.

    Now I’m waiting impatiently for the new crops of fruit, and plan to start early with a batch of elderflower ‘champagne’ (which may not be in the book, but really, what could go wrong;)

  3. Hmmmmmmm…this looks interesting. I think I’ll buy a copy. I’ve made almost all the items listed above except miso and cheese. I was out in the garden yesterday thinking about, as I do every spring, how deeply satisfying it is to push a few seeds into the ground now, water and feed the plant, and harvest the fruit/seeds to feed ourselves. Most every gardener eventually turns to fermentation as a way to put up some of that bounty nature provides to excess, for the winter. I even have an antique cabbage shredder down in the basement somewhere. Mmmmm, kraut! It’s incredibly easy to make.

    My father used to bury his kimchi crock out in the backyard and then forget about it. Beware! This process can be highly combustible. :^)

  4. Maybe more people would be on board with this if we stopped calling them “bugs”. They may be micro but the human imagination runs large. All these things are wonderful to eat of course and I’ve long been convinced that they’re good for me.

  5. Want! Been missing Mark F.’s super kick-ass lacto-fermentation pickling class he was doing at Machine Project in Echo Park every Labor Day weekend. It didn’t happen last Labor Day. But THIS book looks excellent! Thanks for the post, BB. :)

  6. I’m a huge fan of home-made fermented foods: I regularly make sauerkraut, water kefir drinks, beer, yogurt, wine, sourdough bread etc. One of the best articles I’ve read in a very long time follows Katz and others on their “rotten” adventures – including dumpster diving for food and raw-milk drinking, which I do, and roadkill-eating, which I don’t: “Nature’s Spoils,” by Burkhard Bilger, in The New Yorker, November 22, 2010.

  7. “plan to start early with a batch of elderflower ‘champagne’ (which may not be in the book, but really, what could go wrong;)”

    I read that this can go wrong “Attempted to let some of the gas escape ….bottle exploded in my hand causing great pain extensive cuts to my hand and arm possible broken finger days on still cant use it”*

    On this site (see below) he recommends using plastic soda bottles to diminish the possibility of explosion. Be careful out there!


    1. Thanks for the warning. I got off lucky last year and when I made the honey wine from this book. Wasn’t happy just using yeast from the air, added some yeast for bread, and a month later shot gouts of this goo all over the place. I had been wondering if it could get to the point where bottles were breaking. I have learned that something must be done to stop the fermentation process once bottling is complete.

      1. I have learned that something must be done to stop the fermentation process once bottling is complete.

        If you can pick up a hydrometer and a test cylinder (any slim glassware as tall as the hydrometer will do), you should be able to tell when the fermentation is complete – once the brew’s density is the same or slightly less than water’s, there is no available sugar to ferment (alternately, if two hydrometer readings 3 days or more apart show no change, it’s pretty safe to assume it’s done, even if the density is a bit higher than water’s).

        At that point it’s safe to bottle. If you want it carbonated, you can add just the right amount of sugar before bottling to produce the amount of carbonation you want.

      2. Alternately, if you want it somewhat sweet but not fizzy, you can add something like potassium sorbate.

    1. oops, turned out that reading was intended for the blind only, so i’m an inadvertant pirate for having just listened to it.

  8. Another great text on this topic is Bill Mollison’s Ferment in Human Nutrition, unfortunately it’s’ out of print and wildly expensive, a great global survey of mankinds use of microbes to preserve and prepare food.

  9. The apartment where I live is quite small so although I’d like to try some fermentation recipes, I honestly don’t dare to.

    1. LeFunk —

      I live in a smallish one-bedroom apartment and currently have two jars of sauerkraut and a jar of rejuvelac fermenting merrily away on the kitchen counter. No explosions, no foul odors — so far, it’s all good.

      Had to give up the homebrewing due to lack of space, but small-scale fermentation of a quart or half a gallon of something at a time? Not a problem.

  10. My all-time favourite book! The yoghurt ferment, Khissk (and the recipe for khishk soup) is to die for! The author has such a great writing style. Really familiar and casual and he makes the whole process so easy. Love, love, love!

  11. I couldn’t put this book down, it has some really cool stories, like the one about Sandor’s special relationship with radishes and the one about kefir.

  12. Unless you are extremely fortunate in where you live, a beer fermented with wild yeast and bacteria is unlikely to be fit to drink.

    1. Only one way to find out.

      @wookiedingleberry, be careful with the elderflower champagne, a few recipes are floating about with *WAY* too much sugar in, my batch from last year is a real face melter now. I reckon 20-ish% abv, and takes about an hour to open a bottle due to the excess fizz/pressure.

      Saying that, I did a batch the year before that was a great success, well worth a go.

  13. “Unfit” is a relative term. I remember reading how Danish raiders complained when they had to drink sour Saxon ale.

    I do love this book. Pretty much any vegetable can be enhanced in flavor by immersing in salt water and letting it sit out for a few days or weeks. Saves space in the refrigerator, and when youre ready to use it drain and throw in the stir fry, salad or what have you.

  14. This is a fun book, although the evangelical fervor with which he proselytizes fermentation has turned off some of my less-hippy friends. You basically have to have already some around to the idea that fermentation is a wonderful thing before reading it, I’ve found.

    Currently I have sauerkraut, kimchee, kombucha, and a three-year-old sourdough in my kitchen. I’d really love to get some keffir as well, as my yogurt is generally pretty hit or miss.

    @LeFunk: Don’t worry about being in a small apartment. I’m guessing you’re being turned off by stories of exploding containers, or perhaps the smell? Most things one ferments barely smell at all, and hardly anything has the danger of exploding, unless you’re keeping things in tight glass bottles. Sourdough, for instance, is one of the easiest things to start and keep in a small apartment. If you keep the jar in the fridge, you can forget about it for two or three weeks at a time easy.

  15. This is a neat book full of all kinds of unexpected ideas and techniques. You can even briefly ferment your daily breakfast oatmeal before cooking to make it more digestible!

  16. Only one way to find out.

    True that, I suppose. I wonder how I’d go about getting a colony of local wild yeast started, that excludes local mold…

    Of course, my house’s local wild yeast is probably largely “feral” yeast from Wyeast, Cooper’s, Lalvin, Danstar, etc.

  17. I saw Katz speak at Bare Foot Farms in TN a couple of years ago, & was totally enthralled. I love that book. It seriously has changed my life. Another book that I absolutely love is Nourishing Traditions. The woman who wrote the book also wrote the intro in Wild Fermentation; they share some core philosophies & enthusiasms about food.

  18. Explosions from fermentation are easy to prevent and even easier to supress. Methods might not be readily apparent, but be observant and use your brain. Better yet swap stories with someone else who had similar problems. I wear my beer-cano experience as a badge of honor. The guy at the brew shop said that if I was still brewing after an explosion like that there was nothing that I couldn’t handle. Yeah what a morale boost!
    Looks like I need to branch out and try to ferment something new…

    Check out the Author’s website:

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