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Book review

Sandor Katz's The Art of Fermentation provides recipes and photos that support his enthusiastic endorsement of the transformative power of fermentation.

The Art of Fermentation
by Sandor Ellix Katz
Chelsea Green, 2012, 498 pages, $45.00
ISBN: 978-1-60358-286-5

It’s easy to say that Sandor Ellix Katz is the most cultured man in North America, if not the world. He is “cultured” in the way of fermented foods. This self-taught gardener/foodie who calls himself an “experimentalist” was once seen as an underground hero of natural food circles. Today he is largely recognized for transforming traditionally cultured foods into a trendy topic for dinner conversation.

A most eloquent foreword by famed food activist Michael Pollan sets the tone for Katz’s new compendium. It’s a compelling introduction to an equally compelling book. Like all who will read The Art of Fermentation, Pollan found himself inspired—if not starry-eyed—by the author’s engaging and ultra-infectious enthusiasm for the transformative power of fermentation. I too fell under the spell of this book, and so will most readers who enjoy preparing food at home.

Have you ever made your own yogourt? If so, you’ve already experienced making the world’s most popular fermented milk. Katz introduces us to many lesser-known methods of fermenting not only dairy, but also grains, beans, nuts, vegetables, meats (yes, think salami!), fish, and eggs. There are historical notes, recipes, tips, and tricks for these—and for the fermentation of beers, alcoholic drinks, and sour tonics such as ginger beer and kombucha.

A charmingly eclectic assortment of photos complements the text, making this book even harder to resist. When we see food fermenters around the world transforming common ingredients with deliberate ease, it’s hard not to jump up to start a batch of sake, mead, sourdough, kimchi, brined mushrooms, or kombucha candy.

It may constitute a leap of faith to think of a 500-page book about fermentation as page-turning bedside reading material. But The Art of Fermentation offers friendly, fluid reading that will prove irresistible to anyone who enjoys preparing and eating real food. Think of it not as a technical or scientific book, but as a storybook about people around the world on a continuum of culinary traditions. The main characters are micro-organisms and the people who tame them.

Let Katz be your guide in exploring a fascinating world of exotic food cultures connected by a common thread. A sprinkling of photos (from near and far) and contributions from other fermentation enthusiasts adds surprising spice to what is already being heralded as the unequivocal bible for food fermentation. 

The Art of Fermentation

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