Gone Sauer on the Good Food Expo

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March 29, 2015 at 2:21 pm

If you’re the sort of person who digests food regularly and relies on a vast population of bacteria to survive, this might interest you.

Lactic acid juice glistens on a forkful of fresh saurkraut.

Lactic acid juice glistens on a forkful of fresh saurkraut.

In the photo above sits a juicy forkful from the second batch of sauerkraut I’ve ever made. Finely chopped on a hand-held grater, it’s more of a relish than a julienned slaw, but the end result is about the mouth-wateringly same. It’s made with a Kickstarter-based Valentine’s Day gift (of all things!) my wife gave me. The Kraut Source sauerkraut making kit (www.krautsource.com) includes a Mason jar and a spring-held plunger that helps keep the vegetables beneath the surface of the briny bath that they expel from their ruined cell walls. A screw-on ring and a cleverly designed moat keep the veggies moist and hold the contraption together while the microbes go about their anaerobic business. The lactic acid that comes from the partially digested contents of the cabbage cells creates an environment that becomes increasingly hostile to the sort of bacteria that make us sick, but paradise for the bacteria that help our guts thrive and keep us healthy.

The components of the krautsource kit

The components of the krautsource kit

That’s the cooking/biology lesson in a nutshell. Any questions? If so, you might want to direct them to Andrea Mattson or Chicago’s Edible Alchemy (ediblealchemyfoods.com), who had her fermenting wares and wiles on display at the Good Food Expo’s Community Commons at the UIC in mid-March. She helmed a mini-workshop on fermenting vegetables and pounded away at a bowl of carrots and purple cabbage to help release those juices. This is a lady who knows her sauerkraut.

Now, nobody ever says, “my, that’s a juicy cabbage” but let me assure you, it’s all in there. You just need a little salt to get it out. Incidentally, Andrea warns to avoid salt with iodine (found in much of the table salt you see). Iodine is good for disinfecting wounds, but bad for establishing a beachhead for your pioneering kraut bacteria. Although she says you may still wind up with some decent kraut, she suggests sea salt both to add some minerals and to avoid microbicide.

Another thing I learned at the Good Food Expo is that you don’t need to stick to cabbage. Lots of veggies can be fermented, and others were on display at the Expo’s Good Food Court by an Ann Arbor, Michigan vendor named The Brinery (thebrinery.com). Their staff includes a Cabbage Counter and Chief Fermenting Officer, as well as a Tempeh Business Manager. I love the corporate names, and I enjoyed the kvass, beet kraut and cabbage kraut samples.

This is what my first batch tasted like.

This is what my first batch tasted like.

As far as my own sauerkraut experiments go, I’m improving with each batch. My first batch was so salty that even repeated rinsing couldn’t eliminate the overwhelming and painful salinity. The second batch cut back on the salt and increased the herbs. It’s tasty, has a bit of that krauty funk, but doesn’t even come close to approximating the stuff you buy in the grocery store in jars. Typically (I learned at the Expo), these are made in large batches of vegetables soaked in brine and then rinsed. Not nearly as much fermenting, if any, going on.

In that sense, true sauerkraut is a completely novel taste for me. Whether the health  benefits of aiding digestion and reducing G-I discomfort by enhancing my gut bacteria is true or not–well, I couldn’t say. I’m just happy I haven’t made myself ill with any food I’ve produced.

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