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Fermented foods sustain both microbiomes and cultural heritage

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By Andrew Flachs and Joseph Orkin

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I had a Korean friend in college and we got a couple of Whoppers from Burger King and took them to his place where we were studying. He went to the refrigerator and brought out some kimchi. I was familiar with kimchi but with the Whoppers, it was terrific. Better than fries. Try it. I miss Japanese pickles but still eat olives and sauerkraut. (But try the Whoppers. Good eats.)

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What would we do without our fermented cheeses, such as parmesan, Swiss, Roquefort, and cheddar? Without cheeses, there would be no pizza, spaghetti, or cheeseburgers.

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I like to think that fermentation is a naturally occurring process that we humans discovered, adopted, and in some ways adapted to our purposes. Honey turns into mead with minimal oversight, and people drank mead for many centuries. Beer is more complicated, but farmers soon enough discovered how to use fermentation in the making of the brew. Later on came the making of wine.

In northern countries, farmers learned how to turn something barely fermented into something more potent by using freezing. By removing the frozen water from a brew that has frozen overnight, one can increase the alcohol percentage. This simple technique was used for a long time.

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