Five of a kind: Fermented foods

Primasoy's Organic Tempeh.
Primasoy's Organic Tempeh. Photo: Eddie Jim

Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut means ''sour cabbage'' in German and is made with sliced and salted cabbage. Its juice is full of sugars, which would ferment into alcohol but for the salt. Instead, naturally occurring lactic-acid producing bacteria turn the sugars into lactic acid. This gives the sauerkraut, and many other pickled vegetables, their distinctive sourness combined with a back note that reminds people of milk or cheese. This unpasteurised Australian sauerkraut is made by Henryka Wodzyneska in Toowoomba. She makes it not just for its lovely flavour but for its health benefits, the fermentation making many of the nutrients easy for the body to use. It is perfect mixed with grated apple and carrot and dressed with lemon juice and oil.

Farmers Fresh Choice Sauerkraut, 500g, $15. farmersfreshchoice.com

Dill pickles

Steve Zimmerman is a Barossa Valley-born pickle maker who ferments his gherkins in the same way his forebears did in Europe in the 1880s. Every November he plants out his farm in the hills above Angaston with a particular variety of cucumber. In January he starts the harvest when the cucumbers roughly fit in a man's hand lengthways. The cucumbers are placed in salt brine with dill seed. Naturally occurring lactobacillus work on the sugar in the cucumber, turning it into lactic acid. The result is a lovely salty and sour pickle that still has a nice crunch. Eat whole with cheese or slice and serve on a burger. Try the southern US way of rolling in breadcrumbs and deep frying or use judiciously in cooking to add a sour note such as in a rich potato salad.

Zimmy's Dill Cucumbers, 1kg jar, $14. gourmetgoodies.com.au

Kim chi

Kim chi is a Korean dish of pickled cabbage and other vegetables often including garlic and chilli. At its heart, however, kim chi is inextricably linked with the Korean sense of identity - it is served with almost every meal. There are myriad versions of the dish made in every province, with different recipes for different seasons. The most famous is made at the beginning of winter when cabbage, chilli, garlic and perhaps carrot and onion are salted and placed in pots to ferment underground. The addition of salt makes it ideal for lactobacillus to ferment the juice, making the pickle acidic with a lingering butteriness. This Australian-made organic version comes from Foley's Frothing Fermentations, a team in Dunsborough in the Margaret River region of WA. Serve with rice, meat dishes or add a little to burgers instead of a dill pickle.

Foley's Frothing Kim Chi, 1kg jar, $17. dynamicorganic.com.au

Farmers Fresh Choice Sauerkraut.
Farmers Fresh Choice Sauerkraut. Photo: Eddie Jim

Tempeh

Sinta Santoso grew up in Malang in Indonesia, where tempeh, fermented soy beans, is a primary source of protein. After studying food chemistry in Germany, she travelled to Australia and now makes tempeh at her factory in Mulgrave. The soy beans are cooked and cooled and left for naturally occurring lactic fermentation to occur. This makes the soy beans slightly sour, perfect for an added fungus called Rhizopus oligosporus to grow. The resulting paste is spread out and placed in plastic bags and incubated to encourage the fungus to grow. Like white mould on camembert, it spreads inside and out of the tempeh, adding a silky white skin and enhancing the nutty taste. Tempeh takes on the flavours of the food around it, so is best marinated before being fried or grilled.

225g, $5. Available at health food stores and farmers' markets. primasoy.com.au

Miso

Before the industrialisation of Japan, much of the nation's miso was made in small batches in homes and monasteries. Grain, mostly rice but sometimes barley, wheat or bucket millet, hemp seeds and soy beans, is cooked and koji starter is introduced so Aspergillus mould grows, which changes the starch in the grain to sugar. Lactobacillus bacteria change sugar to lactic acid that gives the miso its tang. Gary Platt-Hepworth makes his unpasteurised organic miso in the Blue Mountains, hence Blue Mountains Miso. It is full-flavoured, robust and earthy and excellent for making Japanese root vegetable stews. Platt-Hepworth enjoys his in the same manner as 80 per cent of Japanese and has a bowl of miso soup for breakfast. His version contains fresh ginger, steamed vegetables, lotus nuts and fox nuts.

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1.4kg, $21.46. bluemountainsmiso.com.au