Fermented chickpeas add a pleasant piquancy to hummus, salads and falafel, but they have more going on than a peculiar taste. Fermentation removes up to 96 percent of chickpeas' phytic acid, a naturally occurring acid that prevents your body from absorbing minerals. Chickpeas undergo lactic-acid fermentation -- the same process as yogurt and kefir -- using a controlled starter, either whey from yogurt or powdered yogurt starter. You can't ferment canned chickpeas successfully; you need dried chickpeas, organically grown if possible.
Uncooked vs. Cooked
Soak and cook chickpeas before fermenting them. You can ferment uncooked chickpeas -- soaking alone eventually breaks down the seed coats and exposes their starch -- and cook them after, but you may not want to. Uncooked chickpeas stink during fermentation. Uncontrolled fermentation, or fermentation using unidentified, wild, airborne yeast strains, creates unpleasant gasses redolent of stinky tofu. Cooked chickpeas use a formulated starter bacteria, so the process is predictable and smells like fresh yogurt.
Soaking cuts cooking time by half and reduces phytic acid by about 50 percent, which helps compensate for minerals lost during simmering. Rinse the chickpeas and add them to a bowl or saucepan. Heat distilled water to boiling, let it cool for a few minutes and pour it over the chickpeas. Soak the chickpeas for about 18 hours, changing the water every four or five hours.
Cook the chickpeas in distilled water or vegetable stock made with distilled water, along with antimicrobial spices and herbs to taste. Several common herbs and spices kill bacteria or limit their growth during fermentation. At minimum, add a bay leaf, two or three lengthy parsley stems, and five or six black peppercorns for every cup of chickpeas. Garlic, coriander seeds, cloves, mustard seeds, rosemary, thyme and sage also fight bacteria. Simmer the chickpeas for about three hours, or until they're soft and tender. To save time, cook the chickpeas at high pressure in a pressure cooker for 45 minutes.
Sanitizing and Starting
Boil canning jars and their lids for 10 minutes and air-dry them while you cook the chickpeas. After cooking, drain the chickpeas and pour them in a mixing bowl. If you intend to make hummus or another puree, mash the beans using a fork or potato masher. If you want the beans whole, squeeze each one to remove its skin. Add 1 tablespoon of whey from yogurt -- the liquid that pours off the top after opening -- for every cup of cooked chickpeas. Alternatively, add one 1-ounce packet of yogurt-starter powder for every quart of cooked chickpeas. Mix the chickpeas with the starter and, if desired, add secondary ingredients, such as minced onions and garlic.
Fermenting and Finishing
Pack the chickpeas in the jars, leaving about 1/2 inch of space at the top. Seal the jars and place them in a cupboard to ferment for five days. Open the jar once or twice a day to expel the gasses. Store the fermented beans in the fridge for up to two weeks.
A.J. Andrews' work has appeared in Food and Wine, Fricote and "BBC Good Food." He lives in Europe where he bakes with wild yeast, milks goats for cheese and prepares for the Court of Master Sommeliers level II exam. Andrews received formal training at Le Cordon Bleu.