This past week, we were lucky enough to have AMI Alum Chelsea Wakstein lead us in a fermentation workshop. Many of us started off the day in the same boat- we often enjoy eating ferments (especially those left for us by previous years’ cohorts!), but were unsure about how to proceed in making our own. In just a few hours, Chelsea helped us create a variety of krauts, and told us about the many benefits of fermented foods.
Chelsea defined fermentation for us as “controlled decomposition.” It is a transformation in which bacteria break down materials to produce energy. This results in many of the foods and beverages we enjoy every day. Wine, beer, bread, yogurt, and cheese are all the products of fermentation.
We spent much of the morning talking about bacteria’s role in fermentation, in our bodies, and in the world. Bacteria are what make the fermentation process happen. I was surprised to learn that Bacteria outnumber cells in our body by more than 10:1. This means that if our digestive bacteria are out of balance, we feel the effects very acutely. Fermented foods are rich in beneficial probiotic bacteria that help our digestive system function better and our bodies assimilate the nutrients in the foods we eat. Ferments are also more nutrient-available in general, because the fermentation process begins the digestion process.
If you want to learn more about why fermented foods are so beneficial, and maybe try out some ferments of your own, take a look at Sandor Ellix Katz’s book “The Art of Fermentation.” For now, though, here are the basic steps for making your own sauerkraut. Basic kraut is very easy to make, and the best way to become comfortable with the process is to give it a shot. Feel free to add in different vegetables, herbs, and spices as desired. The creativity is part of what makes fermentation so exciting!
2. Chop the veggies- Any size and shape you want will work great! Keep one or two outer cabbage leaves to use in a later step.
3. Salt your kraut- This is a very important step in the fermentation process. You want to be sure to use non-iodized salt, which will turn your kraut brown. We used celtic sea salt, which is full of beneficial minerals. You want to aim for one teaspoon of salt for every one pound of veggies. At this point, only add salt to your cabbage and other leafy greens. Set the other veggies aside for now. Chelsea recommended tasting your mixture, saying that if it’s mild enough that you could eat it as a salad, you should add more salt.
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