Monday, September 19, 2016

The Art of Fermentation: Everything Old is New Again

By Jeff Burns

One of the oldest methods of preparing food, found in cultures around the world, is fermentation.  The fermentation process has been used in beverage making since 7000-6000 BCE, in China, India, Georgia, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Central America, and throughout Africa and Asia.  All sorts of foods have been fermented including beans, grains, vegetables, fruits, meats, milk, fish, and tea. Fermented foods are an important part of the cuisines of many different cultures.  Lately, researchers have been touting the health benefits of fermented foods, citing their probiotic effects and vitamin enriched nature. 

We already make a lot of relishes and pickles, so we decided to try some fermenting with a couple of popular fermented foods:  sauerkraut and kimchi.  Both are fermented cabbage dishes.  Sauerkraut is mostly associated with German and eastern European cultures, while kimchi is Korean.  Sauerkraut immigrated to America along with German and eastern European immigrants in the 19th century. In the immigrant neighborhoods of cities across America, it quickly became a staple.  In the tenements of New York City in the late 1800s and early 1900s, men would go door to door with their cabbage cutting mandolins, shredding heads of cabbage for a penny each.  This saved the housewife time, labor, and space, and once she had her shredded cabbage, she could use her own family recipe to make the sauerkraut.  Our attempt turned out great.

Encouraged, we tackled the kimchi.  We found a recipe online, ordered a Korean spice mix, shredded, spiced, and then let fermentation take its course.  That’s one of the advantages of the process:  you just let nature take its course.  We jarred it, and a week and a half later, it was ready for tasting.  Another homerun!.  Now to find ways to use up jars of sauerkraut and kimchi.

Want to learn more about fermentation and maybe give it a shot yourself?  There are lots of websites full of information about the health benefits of fermented foods and recipes and how-to guides.  There are lots of books as well.  A great book to start with is The Art of Fermentation  by Sandor Ellix Katz, a James Beard Award winner (a big deal in the food world), considered a bible of fermentation.