Sept. 04--hat's old is new again: Fermentation, the ancient method of food
preservation, which does not require cooking, is making a comeback.
People all over the world have been fermenting food forever. There's evidence
that people of Babylon were making fermented beverages around 5,000 BC.
"Fermentation is one of, if not the oldest, method of food preservation and it
spans pretty much all cultures," said Epicureal Delights' Elizabeth Roberts, a
natural foods chef who teaches fermentation classes locally. "So many foods are
fermented or able to be fermented: wine, beer, bread (sourdough), soy (miso,
tempeh and soy sauce), vegetables (sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, chutney and
salsa) and milk (yogurt, kefir and cheese)."
Here we are talking about natural lacto-fermented foods, which are unpasteurized
and use salt, rather than vinegar, to produce its own enzyme-filled brine.
Vegetables are preserved simply with salt, water and spices -- no boiling water
baths or other canning processes are necessary. The fermentation process creates
lactic acid, nature's preservative.
Years ago most home cooks had crocks of sauerkraut, pickles and other treasures
such as beets, onions or garlic waiting out the winter in the root cellar. Jump
ahead in time to the early 1900sand vinegar had replaced salt, and water baths
were required for the jarred foods prior to storage.
Some DIY fans are returning to the old way of doing things. They're preserving
food from their backyard gardens the old-fashioned way.
"It's a good way to preserve vegetables over the winter," said Dariel Blackburn,
who will teach a lacto-fermentation class Sept. 17 at the Venetucci Farm.
"Fermented veggies are tasty and healthy for you."
Blackburn has been preserving food using this method since 2008, when she got
her hands on Sally Fallon's book, "Nourishing Traditions."
"I love good sauerkraut but didn't realize how good it could be until I tried
Sally's recipe," she said. "At first, I did it (fermented) because the end
product is so good for you. The food is easier to digest, and, in fact, improves
the general digestion when taken regularly in small amounts."
Blackburn reports that vitamins and minerals are more available to your
digestive system; carbohydrates are broken down so you require less insulin for
digestion, making lacto-fermented vegetables ideal for diabetics. Research has
found that taking lacto-fermented vegetables or their juice, before or with
meals, reduces blood glucose levels.
By eating lacto-fermented foods, you are replenishing good bacteria in your
"In the normal scheme of things, we'd never have to think twice about
replenishing the bacteria that allow us to digest food," writes Sandor Katz,
author of "Wild Fermentation." "But since we're living with antibiotic drugs and
chlorinated water and antibacterial soap, all these factors in our contemporary
lives that I'd group together as a 'war on bacteria,' if we fail to replenish
(good bacteria), we won't effectively get nutrients out of the food we're
Aim? Wimbush-Bourque, author of the award-winning blog, Simple Bites, writes,
"Because we have grown up in a culture that thinks you have to pasteurize
everything, you may wonder if you are going to poison your family by using this
method. Be sure to clean your jars and equipment very well. You want to avoid
bad bacteria at all costs in order to allow the good bacteria to proliferate."
Roberts and Blackburn second this advice.
"You must be careful about cleanliness," Blackburn said. "Because you will have
your hands in the ferment as you work it, it is possible to introduce
contamination. What I was told about a bad ferment is that 'you will know if it
is bad. It will smell awful.' Don't eat it if it smells bad."
Roberts pointed out, "I would stress reading up on the process, take a class if
possible, even watch a video or two on the Internet to understand the process
and what's right and what's maybe not so right."
Marisa Bunning, associate professor and extension specialist in the Food Science
& Human Nutrition department at Colorado State University, is aware of the
interest in fermenting food and the need to be careful.
"There have been several recent publications which have included a quote from
Fred Breidt, a USDA research microbiologist. 'There has never been a documented
case of foodborne illness from fermented vegetables'," she said, "which gives
the impression food safety is never a problem, but that is not the case."
Use caution when venturing into the world of fermentation and follow trusted
formulas to the letter.
On a final note, other reasons to ferment food is for the great flavor and it's
cheap. There's nothing fancy required, not even electricity. It's bio-powered.
You can use inexpensive cabbage to make sauerkraut and with just a few penny's
worth of water, kosher or sea salt, and spices, you've got a delicious condiment
to liven up winter meals.
Of course, one of the best ways to save money is to ferment seasonal produce at
the end of the growing season, when it's most abundant and when farmers and
grocers lower their prices to sell inventories before they go bad. Think
seasonal, organic (pesticide residues can slow or halt the growth of good
bacteria), and locally grown (smaller carbon footprint and fresher) when
choosing foods. Then, tie on your apron and step back in time with a batch of
homemade fermented kraut, vegetable mix or pickles.
Yield: 1 gallon
5 pounds cabbage 3 tablespoons sea salt
Chop or grate cabbage, finely or coarsely, with or without hearts. Place cabbage
in a large bowl.
Sprinkle salt on the cabbage as you go. The salt pulls water from the cabbage
(through osmosis), and this creates the brine in which the cabbage can ferment
and sour without rotting. The salt also has the effect of keeping the cabbage
crunchy by inhibiting organisms and enzymes that soften it.
Mix ingredients and pack into 1-gallon ceramic crock or food-grade bucket. Pack
just a bit into the crock at a time and tamp it down hard using your fists or
any sturdy kitchen implement. The tamping packs the kraut tight and helps force
water out of the cabbage.
Cover kraut with a plate or some other lid that fits snugly inside the crock.
Place a clean weight (for instance, a glass jug filled with water) on the cover.
This weight is to force water from the cabbage and then keep the cabbage
submerged under the brine. Cover the whole thing with a cloth to keep dust and
Press down on the weight to add pressure to the cabbage and help force water
out. Continue doing this periodically until the brine rises above the cover.
This can take up to 24 hours as the salt draws water from the cabbage slowly.
Some cabbage, particularly if it is old, simply contains less water. If the
brine does not rise above the plate level by the next day, add enough salt water
to bring the brine level above the plate. Add about a teaspoon of salt to a cup
of water and stir until it's completely dissolved.
Leave the crock to ferment. You could store it in a cool basement if you want a
slower fermentation that will preserve for longer.
Check the kraut every day or two. The volume reduces as the fermentation
proceeds. Sometimes mold appears on the surface. Many books refer to this mold
as "scum," but I prefer to think of it as a bloom. Skim what you can off the
surface. It will break up and you probably won't be able to remove all of it.
Don't worry. It's just a surface phenomenon, a result of contact with the air.
The kraut itself is under the anaerobic protection of the brine. Rinse off the
plate and the weight. Taste the kraut. Generally it starts to be tangy after a
few days, and the taste gets stronger as time passes. In the cool temperatures
of a cellar in winter, kraut can keep improving for months and months. In the
summer or in a heated room, its life cycle is more rapid. Eventually it becomes
soft and the flavor turns less pleasant.
I generally scoop out a bit at a time and keep it in the fridge. I start when
the kraut is young and enjoy its evolving flavor over the course of a few weeks.
Try the sauerkraut juice that will be left in the bowl after the kraut is eaten.
Sauerkraut juice is a rare delicacy and unparalleled digestive tonic. Each time
you scoop some kraut from the crock, you have to repack it carefully. Make sure
the kraut is packed tight in the crock, the surface is level, and the cover and
weight are clean. Sometimes brine evaporates, so if the kraut is not submerged
below brine, add salted water as necessary. Some people preserve kraut by
canning and heat-processing it.
Source: Sandor Katz's newsletter, "Wild Fermentation"
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