What’s That Smell? Or Tiny *Zymurgists Unite!


by Catherine Zola

A biologist next to me on a plane once told me that there are more bacteria in the human body than human cells. Why don’t we just look like big blobs of bacteria then? Well, he explained, rather condescendingly I might add, that human cells are larger than bacteria, duh! How comforting!

In light of these scientific facts I embrace the idea of being the container for a very populated micro universe. And as the custodian of this universe I strive to feed and nurture it well. My only regret is not having discovered the culinary skills and joys of rotten food sooner.

Since choice of food has long been recognized as an important element on the road to sustainability, it makes sense that sooner or later fermentation is considered. Of course those of you who eat bread, cheese and spirits have already made that leap, but probably don’t know you have.

As I’ve integrated fermentation into my kitchen and altered my palette, my diet has changed. Flat bread made with sprouted, fermented legumes is now my dietary staple. BC (before cultured foods) it was brown rice and a bowl of beans. How I ever digested those things is beyond me. The more I go back to the roots of eating food as it was traditionally eaten the better I feel. For millennia food has evolved away from being healthy and fresh and toward being convenient and easy to store, and deliver. Real food supports a strong immune system and creates little mucus. TMI I know but an important fact. So now I keep a big bowl of the sprouted and fermented batter in the fridge and cook it up on a flat grill as needed. In case you think real food is tasteless listen to this: savory garbanzo curry bread, lentil rosemary, onion cilantro, basil olive and sweet cinnamon raisin. My other specialty is buckwheat waffles I make with sprouted and fermented buckwheat, coconut milk and very little else.

Recently, I went to the Farm to Fermentation Festival in Santa Rosa, CA after some deliberation since the ticket seemed inflated. But the price seemed appropriate for a fermentation festival so I finally decided to go. It turned out to be a good decision since I picked up a few more tricks and a whole lot more courage to experiment. I met some of the leaders in the fermentation movement like Jane Campbell, Todd Champagne, Nicole Easterday, and Hyunjoo Albrecht. Todd is apparently the standup comedian of pickling and was worth the price alone. He is owner of Happy Girl Kitchen in the San Francisco Bay Area which ferments, cans and educates the public on the finer elements of slow eating. When asked about crud growing on top off the pickle crock, Todd quoted my favorite and first fermentation inspiration Sandor Kraut “Do not be intimidated by the surface phenomena”. This seems to me to be both excellent culinary and spiritual advice. I look forward to someday having a t-shirt with that blazened across the front.

Visit my blog here: http://catstinyhouse.com/


Some other things I learned at the festival:

  • Kim chi apparently means something salsa or chutney in Korean. There are hundreds of different kinds.
  • Zucchini makes great pickles.
  • Ginger-ale is EXTREMELY easy to make and there is no reason to go to the trouble of bottling it if you drink it before you get a chance. You can just keep it on the counter like sourdough starter and have a glass when the mood strikes you.
  • You can pickle just about anything.
  • You are more likely to get sick off canned food than fermented. (A relief to those of us who have had food poisoning more than once.)
  • *Zymurgy (the art or practice of fermentation. Zymology (adjective zymologist), is the word for the chemistry dealing with the fermentation action of yeasts, especially products that are intended for human consumption. The Greek root is zume, meaning a leaven, typically a yeast, that’s added to make a substance ferment. It’s also the origin of enzyme. It is considered literally “the last word” as in: from aardvark to zymurgy. Although most dictionaries have other words beyond this one. (The Bloomsbury English Dictionary for example has included zzz as its last word, the sound a cartoon character makes when he snores. Just thought you might like to know.)

On my way to the festival I spilled fish sauce on myself and my charming and ever supportive pal Kirstin told me not to worry and offered this reality check: “You think anyone in a convention full of kim chi is going to notice your stink?” And she was right. No one batted an eyelash.

So now I’m a full blown Zymurgist. It’s official. My tiny house kitchen counter is lined with jars of odd science experiments. Apparently, I’m even a geek when I cook.

My favorites are spicy carrots and daikon pickles. And of course the Ginger bug is fabulous. I just wish I had known how easy this all is years ago. It is so much fun to have bubbly natural soda that provides probiotics! I always wondered how anyone came up with the idea to make a bubbly drink and now I know.


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mitz - December 4, 2013 Reply

great info…thx
sweetly put across!
love your view from kitchen! where?

Rita Stanley - December 4, 2013 Reply

It would be nice to have the recipe for that ginger-ale.

lucy bobb - December 4, 2013 Reply

ginger ale recipe? I have a sister getting chemo (stage 4 lung cancer … never smoked a day in her life) REAL GA might help that nausea & keep her gut working.

    David Remus - December 4, 2013 Reply

    See my link further down for a book with the Ginger bug.

david junkins - December 4, 2013 Reply

I love this article. I enjoy cooking and have made kim chi but never knew there was a society involved in this fermenting thing! Is there a book you can recommend? Dave

Patti - December 4, 2013 Reply

This is a perfect post to add some recipes to… I’m so curious about how you are making these things… waiting with fermented breath…

Hannah - December 4, 2013 Reply

Thanks for sharing!!! I also love Kombucha (ginger ale you speak of) and I brew it culture and all at my apartment. Tasty stuff

Marvin - December 4, 2013 Reply

Making Kumbuchu tea is a highly recommended and easy to do activity. I got my first starter kit with the appropriate scobie back in the summer of 2013. After a couple of batches I began to get the bug to expand the potential by creating friut to the finished tea in small batches.

The end result was not only healthy for digestion but really yummy, and refreshing, especially on ice on a really hot day.

My wife is the wine maker in the family and had been brewing batches in the basement for years. She’s getting better at it with practice and turns out pretty good wine on a fairly regular basis. I must admit to being a little envious of her brewing skill.

Now that I’ve ventured into the art and and science of fermented foods, I think I have my own braggin rights given that much of what I’ve made so far seems pretty darn good.

I’ve wanted to begin expanding my fermenting explorations into various foods, aside from tea and pickles. Inspired by your article I think I will start doing exactly that.

    Gail M - December 4, 2013 Reply

    Yum! I need to try some of that..Thanks for the inspiration!

Chuck - December 4, 2013 Reply

First off that does not sound or look even the slightest bit appetizing. and second what does it have to do with tiny houses?

    Sue - December 4, 2013 Reply

    #1: ‘to each his own’ & #2, she lives in a tiny house

    David Remus - December 4, 2013 Reply

    It’s a matter of perspective. The Chinese were horrified at watching the Portugeuse traders let milk spoil, lay around for months, and then happily eat it. Most of us descended from European cultures like cheese.

    Plus tiny creatures and tiny houses go together. You can create good healthy food in a space much smaller than a garden.

      cat - December 4, 2013 Reply

      Yes. THank you David and Sue for coming to my defense. The whole tiny house experiment includes other alternative lifestyle choices. One of which is inviting tiny organisms to move into my tiny house food to contribute to my health and prevent dysbiosis. (look it up Chuck)
      Bacteria is my tiny invisible friend. Well some of it anyway. Living tiny is about more than building a little house with wheels.

    K - December 5, 2013 Reply

    “She lives in a tiny house.”

    This is quite a reach. Just to provide some blog feedback, I’ll quit reading if we end up with a bunch of articles like this.

    I’m here for the houses.

      Laura G. - December 5, 2013 Reply

      The reader wouldn’t really have known she ‘lives in a tiny house’ unless they followed her link. Living small doesn’t mean you are a ‘hippy’, or make your own clothes, grow your own food, that you are ‘better than’ others, or have to scoop out your toilet.
      I check this site daily for inspiration for living small – I don’t see what fermentation has to do with tiny houses.

    Alyn - December 5, 2013 Reply

    I guess this is interesting for some, and it’s probably a well written piece for those who know what sprouted/fermented batter is, or have heard of Zymurgy and Kim chi, but seems a better fit for a food blog. I agree with K and Laura: I come to the Tiny House Blog for tiny houses, small home design/ideas, etc., this post seems kind of a stretch to fit this blog in saying the author lives in a tiny house, or the bacteria is tiny. I live in a 350 sqft cottage with a greywater system and compost toilet, I also make my own 100% natural lotion, but I wouldn’t write a post about the lotion only on a blog about small homes, as it would be a better fit for a beauty blog. I actually found the opening photo a bit of a turnoff, and might be visiting this blog less often if this is the direction it’s heading in. 🙁

Wendy - December 4, 2013 Reply

Sounds really interesting- I do eat goat yogurt and love kombucha (but not the high price) and sauerkraut. What worries me are the odd reports of people getting botulism poisoning from fermented foods. Just wondering if you have any resources- books you recommend, and also a link to the fermentation festival you mentioned in Santa Rosa?

    catherine - December 6, 2013 Reply

    I learned from a Fermentation Festival/convention that more people get botulism from canned food than fermented. As Canned lends itself to ‘bad’ bacteria growing more readily than fermenting due to pH etc. I was a little worried at first too but my flat bread is actually cooked after fermentation and haven’t had any trouble with pickles or ginger beer. The whole point of fermenting isn’t just for the probiotics but also to help digest items like legumes that are otherwise very difficult on the system.

Bekki Shining Bearheart - December 4, 2013 Reply

I LOVE THIS! have dabbled in ferentation in the past but currently getting serious and it was very timely for me. Also have a host of friends I will share it with!

David Remus - December 4, 2013 Reply

I have been shopping for a good introduction to fermented foods and beverages (Christmas is coming!). So far the most comprehensive and intriguing I’ve found is Sandor Ellix Katz’s large volume titled “Art of Fermention”. It’s getting rave reviews as well. Examples of methods and ingredients come from all over the world. It’s a bit oricy at $40 but I am already seeing used copies in the book stores. Here’s a link where you can look inside at the contents and it does include the Ginger Beer with Ginger Bug:


I have made beer on a small scale and vinted a couple of thousand bottles of wine. We did everything from picking the grapes to labelling the bottles. It was a blast.

    catherine - December 6, 2013 Reply

    That great big comprehensive Sandor book is awesome but overwhelming. Beginners might wanna start out with his Wild Fermentation book. A great intro that got me into “rotting food”

Mel - December 4, 2013 Reply

This is a wonderful, inspiring article with nice photos. But, I think the word you were seeking near the beginning was “palate”, not “palette”. (Yes, I’m in the Grammar Police!!!!–just kidding.)

    catherine - December 6, 2013 Reply

    Thanks for the spell check. Much more effective than a computer obviously. I am a painter as well as a cook so crossed my wires.

Adeha Feustel - December 4, 2013 Reply

Cat, thank you for this GREAT article!
Where can we get a recipe for flat bread made with sprouted, fermented legumes?

    catherine - December 6, 2013 Reply

    I am in the process of making a few videos on the bread making since it is more of a process than a recipe for me. Stay tuned to my blog for upcoming how-tos.

SteveR - December 4, 2013 Reply

I have an interesting visual of you making buckwheat pancakes with “sprouted and fermented buckwheat, coconut milk and very little else.”!

Interesting info – thanks!

Chris - December 4, 2013 Reply

So I never heard of fermented food before so I looked it up on Wiki and it says there is exposure to a carcinogen and increased chance of esophagus cancer. Are you aware of this and how do you address it?

    cat - December 4, 2013 Reply

    never heard of fermented foods? Wine, miso, cheese, yogurt, beer, vinegar, pickles, soy sauce, saurkraut? You never ate any of these? They are ALL fermented. Or they used to be before factory food took over and killed all the live enzymes. People have stayed healthy eating fermented foods for thousands of years. Pretty sure that throat cancer study didn’t take into account plastics, air pollution, or cigarette smoke. Also white vinegar shouldn’t be used to pickle anything in my opinion. Read Sandor’s book- Wild Fermentation!

      Chris - December 5, 2013 Reply

      I guess I have heard of fermented foods, Thanks.

Renate Simsa - December 5, 2013 Reply

Can you post the recipes for the items mentioned in your article here?

Angie P - December 5, 2013 Reply

I, for one, loved this wee little tangent from someone who lives in a small house, sharing part of their daily life. And, there absolutley are correlations between the micro-life you are speaking of in fermentation and those of us who live in our own tiny lives/spaces, creating our own environments. Thanks for the lovely read, and inspiration!

    catherine - December 6, 2013 Reply

    Thanks for approving of my culinary tangent. I really do believe that tiny house living is more than having a small house on wheels. It is a lifestyle choice for me which includes alternative food, compost toilet, growing my food, having bees and chickens and other fun projects like attempts at growing shitaki mushrooms etc. It’s all part of it. For some I suppose the dream is just about having an affordable home but it is my alternative bent that lead me this direction.

caroline - December 7, 2013 Reply

LOVE THIS! Just another example of how interesting the interested really are. I will definitely be trying to learn enough to make flat bread batter with sprouted, fermented legumes and the ginger ale. Thanks for stepping out of some people’s comfort zone so I had this opportunity to learn about fermenting.

alice h - December 8, 2013 Reply

Managing a tiny house blog must be a lot like herding cats. There are an awful lot of cats wanting to head in an awful lot of directions. Not all of them want to go to the same places at the same time but perhaps they might share a general sense of direction.

This post definitely relates to tiny houses in that for those contemplating home fermentation, knowing that someone is able to do so in a tiny kitchen is useful information. If it’s not useful to your particular situation then pass it by. It’s not a monoculture, we can celebrate a little diversity without losing integrity.

JERRY GETZ - December 29, 2013 Reply

You for the excellent and very well presented article!

Marsha Johnson - August 10, 2014 Reply

I am old (ish…69) and am looking into building my TH. Your blog is great! I would love the recipes for your Jars food. I am not Tech savvy so maybe they are here somewhere? Could you send them to me? Tx!

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