Fermentation in food processing typically is the conversion of carbohydrates to alcohols and carbon dioxide or organic acids using yeasts, bacteria, or a combination thereof, under anaerobic (without oxygen) conditions.
Fermented Foods have been consumed by man for thousands of years. The act of fermentation allowed humans to travel with an edible storage food. It is believed that some of the first yogurt production happened in hot deserts of South Africa, where milk would be stored in goat skin bags and ferment while draped across camels during expeditions.
No matter what country or culture you observe, you will find a fermented staple in their diet. From Europe we were brought mead, quark kefir and salami. Africa brought us fermented millet porridge. The Americas were responsible for chocolate, sourdough bread and chicha (corn beer). From Asia we received delicious condi- ments like natto (fermented soy beans), miso, tempeh, and the popular beverage kombucha. As you can see, some of our most beloved ingredients are fermented.
Fermented Foods have been consumed by man for thousands of years
Fermented foods have many uses, one and originally being that it preserved food in a time where refrigeration was not yet available. Nowadays, this is less of a concern but more of a way to extend the availability of a food beyond its growing season. I love that I can enjoy my cab- bage months after it is harvested from the earth.
By fermenting foods and particular ingre- dients, you enhance the nutritional make- up of the food. By bringing in active live cultures, you create more bio-available nutrients, especially vitamin B. Because of the active colonies of bacteria created, fermented foods aid the digestive system and help to increase absorption of the available nutrients.
One of the more important roles of fer- menting is the deactivating or elimination of anti-nutrients. Certain anti-nutrients, like phytic acid are present in beans, grains, nuts, and seeds. Over consumption of these foods can lead to mineral depletion and other potential health problems.
Full on Flavor
As ingredients ferment over time, one of the great benefits is the increasing of flavor. Rather bland cabbage takes on a salty, tangy, taste once it is turned into sauerkraut. Boring soy beans become al-
most cheesy like in taste once fermented into natto. The simple addition of miso to a salad dressing brings your meal to a whole other dimension. Eating fermented foods is fun, allows to to create and ingest “living” foods, and can potentially eliminate a host of health problems all the while assist- ing your overall health.
HOW TO MAKE SAUERKRAUT
Sauerkraut plays a vital role in the health of myself and my family. Chock full of health benefits, sauerkraut has a long history of use that dates back 2000 years! Loaded with vitamins, and numerous “healthy bacteria”, ‘kraut and other fer- mented vegetables are extremely nourish- ing to the digestive and immune system. To ensure we always have fermented foods on hand, I keep a continual crock of cabbage and several other vegetables fermenting throughout the year. What’s I love about sauerkraut is its bright, tangy flavor and its ability to work with so many different ingredients. It’s versatility makes it a great condiment.
This past summer I grew some really nice sized cabbages so I am looking forward
to enjoying freshly made, homegrown kraut all winter long. Since I have a large root cellar, I can know properly store large quantities of fermented foods without having to take up space in my refrigerator.
All you really need here are 2 ingredients, cabbage and salt. Once you become more confident in your fermenting meth- ods, you can add a variety of ingredients like seasonal greens, ginger, herbs, chili peppers and carrots.
Prepping your Cabbage
First remove the outer leaves and set aside. Use a sharp knife or food processor to shred your cabbage. I like to slice the cabbage as thin as possible so that the end product is soft in texture. Take note that the thinner the cut, the faster the ferment.
An exact recipe is not needed with sauer- kraut nor for most lacto-fermentations. A simple ratio is good to know and you can experiment with your own preferences once you became more confident with your ferments. To make a basic sauer- kraut, simply use 3 Tablespoons of sea salt per 5 lbs of cabbage. This is the ratio I have been following since my first batch and I have yet to have one fail me.
After slicing the cabbage, add it to a large bowl and sprinkle with sea salt. Using your hands, and muscles, massage the salt into the cabbage until it begins to breakdown and release its liquid. Depend- ing on the intensity, this may take upwards of 15-20 minutes. At that point, a squeeze of the cabbage should release a lot of water. Another way to do this is to mas- sage for a few minutes, then allow it to sit for 30 minutes, before returning and finish- ing the process. Place all your prepped cabbage into a fermenting crock or sterilized glass jar. Add in all the liquid
and using your fist or tamper, push all the cabbage below the liquid. Top the liquid with the reserved cabbage leaves. Use a weight to keep everything submerged be- low the liquid. Cover, date your jar and set in a warm, but dark space in your kitchen.
Because I am so eager to enjoy the bub- bly goodness of the cabbage, I have found that waiting is the hardest part in the entire process. In general, I allow the cabbage to ferment for 2-3 weeks before harvesting. You can go as long as you wish, but I have found that after 3 weeks, the cabbage is usually soft enough to enjoy and the proliferation of healthy bacteria is at an ideal level.
Harvesting Your Kraut
Use your hands or wooden utensils to re- move the cabbage from your crock. Save the juice and enjoy as a “immune boost- ing supplement” or use for added flavor in dressings and salads. Once removed from the crock, I store in the fridge or root cellar in glass Ball jars.
Sauerkraut will last for months or even years if stored in the right environment so remember to keep it in cooler environ- ments when not in use.