Belfast Telegraph

Dearbhla unearths the ancient art of fermentation and brings its benefits into 21st century

By Rachel Martin

Motherhood first prompted a Newry pharmacist's daughter to dabble in fermentation. Now, five years later and as Dearbhla Reynolds launches her first book she claims the prehistoric skill could be the answer to many of the world's biggest food problems.

On the hunt for a pro-biotic ketchup for her family, Dearbhla set out on a one-woman mission to learn about fermentation - and she hasn't looked back since.

Often confused with pickling, fermenting preserves food in lactic acid, which makes the flavour more of a tang than the much stronger, more bitter taste associated with pickling.

And it contains lactobacillus - so-called 'friendly' bacteria, that live in the gut.

Dearbhla said she first discovered fermentation when she wanted to make a healthier alternative to shelf-bought tomato sauce for her children - Holly (7) and Jude (4) - and husband Ed.

Unhappy with the amount of sugar and preservatives hidden in commercial brands, she began to research fermentation methods, reading as many books and articles as she could get her hands on, and eventually went on to take a course in fermentation.

Brought up among a family of medics - alongside her pharmacist father and home economics teacher mother - she wasn't afraid of dabbling with the science of fermentation.

"It was the kind of house where you could tell what day it is by what you were eating. My mum was a home economics teacher, so everything was wonderfully efficient," she says.

"Fermentation takes so many of the modern food issues - food waste, over eating, our addiction to sugar - we have become so used to that processed taste. We're at a point where we need food which is more nutritious and less processed.

"It's an explosion for the senses. It's very alive on the palate and doesn't burn the tongue the same way a pickle does. I wasn't a great fan of aubergine until I tried to ferment it, but the flavours are very delicate.

"But it's not the same for other flavours - if you ferment garlic, it really intensifies the flavour."

Dearbhla started fermenting five years ago.

And she admits the precise nature of the technique has made her become a cross between an old-school pharmacist (her father's job) and a home economics teacher (her mother's job).

Within a year of learning the technique, she began taking classes titled 'The Cultured Club' at her friend Alain Kerloc'h's Belfast restaurant - none other than Michelin-starred Ox.

She continued to experiment with flavours, until an author who had come along to one of her classes suggested she write a book -which has become 'The Cultured Club'.

"I was walking doing the school run and all these ideas were coming to me, it was as if the classes were forming themselves. There was a while where I was the only one in Ireland teaching how to ferment," Dearbhla says.

"I already had been making notes and writing down bits and pieces, so I realised I could bring the information together and made contact with a publisher. By the time we were compiling it, we realised we had far too much."

Gut health is central to a strong immune system that is primed to fight off disease and preserve long-term optimal health.

When you eat fermented foods, they can have an extraordinary effect on your gut and your body, and has been shown to benefit a number of health conditions, including irritable and digestive difficulties. The method is one of the oldest ways to preserve food but became virtually extinct as culinary convenience and pickling, canning and pasteurisation took to the fore.

Dearbhla's recipes in 'The Cultured Club' include sauerkraut, fermented salsa, kombucha and kefir. But her favourite is kimchi - an Asian fermented cabbage dish. The recipes generally take five days to ferment and the finished products can be stored for up to six months, meaning fermentation lends itself to leftovers.

Belfast Telegraph