Monday, January 14, 2008

Gone Bad

Humans have been recognizably human for a million years. Critters have been consuming fermented foodstuffs on this planet for longer than that; ask anyone who's observed birds eating fermented fruit if they saw any hesitation but rest assured it's been going on a while. Within this group, we try real hard to set up proper and specific conditions to create changes we're looking for but ultimately, we're putting control of things back into Mother Nature's hands. It doesn't always work out like we want and we have to be careful not to eat something that's spoiled. Case in point, two batches in a row of pumpkin seeds gone awry during the soak and dehydrate process. If you soak your seeds or nuts in saltwater overnight and then dry them slowly in the sun or dehydrator (or even oven, if you can keep things just over 100 degrees F), you will end up killing the enzyme-inhibitors that are intended to make that seed or nut pass through your bowels and make a tree later. This means you get to enjoy all the nutrients that would otherwise have fed said tree. So, it turns out that you need to change (and rinse) this water every 12 hours or so, otherwise, fermentation begins (as evidenced by fine bubbles generating and rising to the surface of your brine). If the telltale bubbles that we look for during purposeful fermentation didn't tip you off that you weren't properly soaking your nuts, then hopefully you got a putrescent scent to help out. This is a really good thing and it takes us back to the "recognizably human for 1,000,000 years" bit- our noses are exceedingly good warning devices, having evolved to detect putrescence as a defense mechanism through the years.

While fermenting or otherwise processing raw foods, always trust your nose. If you aren't sure, ask someone else to take a sniff and watch their reactions. Bad stuff makes for negative reactions and, truly, things aren't so dire yet that we need to eat putrescent food. Now, if you're some kind of mad scientist, we're all trying to figure out how buzzards eat putrefied flesh all day without getting sick but luckily, we don't yet really need this knowledge. Either way, if your nose detects an "off" odor, trust your nose and toss that stuff. Along the same lines, if you aren't trying to ferment something but wind up with little bubbles like you normally find during fermentation, be wary. And if you go to open that jar of pickles and the top wants to POP off, indicating an off-gassing inside, you might have a runaway jar on your hands. If you'll read back, you'll see that we previously had an issue with veggies that floated into the boundary layer that was meant to create an anaerobic environment for our fermentation processes. Once all the floaty bits were removed, the process was allowed to proceed. We started this culling process after fermentation had begun, so we happily tossed anything that smelled "off". And we later tossed anything that popped open once we released the lid's pressure- this indicated further putrefying activity. Jars that we weren't sure didn't have that "off" smell got labeled with a "?". These later turned out to have that telltale positive pressure and resulting "POP" upon opening. And the smell inside confirmed our suspicions- this shit ain't right. So, if that batch of garlic in oil wants to go POP when you open it, toss it. Botulism, for instance, just isn't on our menu. If that old stuff looks great but smells bad, say goodbye. Our noses are incredibly good at detecting food gone bad and our brains can spot these dangers in even more ways, it's a good thing to heed these warning signs Mother Nature offers us. Darwin Awards, after all, only benefit the living!

1 comment:

IntraSpeck said...

My dad would have us all recite "When in doubt, chuck it out!" in a sing-song voice while we cleaned out the fridge.

Botulism doesn't happen often, really, but once is enough!

Also, I would caution a pickling newbie to trust YOUR own nose, or that of an experienced fermenter, instead of say your skeptical spouse or picky off-spring. Sometimes new or different smells translate as bad to the uninitiated.

Thanks for the post. v thoughtful.