Wednesday night I had the honor of taking a fermentation class taught by none other than Sandor Ellix Katz, of Wild Fermentation fame! It was very cool, and I have never felt so jazzed about sauerkraut in my entire life. He talked about a lot of things from his book, and answered a lot of questions, including two of mine.
First, I asked him what’s the deal with yogurt recipes that recommend buying commercial yogurt to use as a basis for home yogurt-making. Basically, to make yogurt, you bring milk to a boil, then stir in a small amount of yogurt, then keep it at about 110 degrees F for at least 7 hours (up to 10). The bacteria in the yogurt you added multiply, and now you have a new batch.
Well, you would think “HEY! I never have to buy yogurt again” because you could just use a little of your previous batch to innoculate your next batch. But most of the recipes I have found say to buy a small container of commercial yogurt to innoculate your next batch.
People, we finally have an answer to this months-old question. Katz said that American commercial yogurt makers include strains of bacteria that do specific things, such as make the yogurt thicker and smoother. If you keep using the same batch over and over again, these strains will eventually get weaker and classic yogurt bacterias such as the acidophilus group get stronger. Your yogurt might end up being kinda runny and/or not have a great texture. It will still be good for you, just maybe not as pleasing in appearance and texture to our American palates.
As for myself, I’ve gotten into a rhythm with my yogurt-making that I think I will probably maintain despite this revelation. I buy a 6-oz container of Cultural Revolution yogurt for about $1.25 every time I go grocery shopping. It’s whole-milk and unflavored, and just the exact right amount, so that makes it really easy.
Since I started using this as an innoculant, and also switched to non-homogenized milk, my yogurt is definitely a little more runny. But we stir it up good, and add a little honey, and it is delicious!
The other question I was going to ask, but didn’t have to because he covered it anyway, was what is the deal with covering fermenting kimchi/kraut/etc.? You may remember from my last post about making kimchi that I was super confused about this.
Well, the deal with fermenting foods is this: because it has been done in so many different places for SO long (pre-dating the written word, for Pete’s sake), there are many “right” ways to do this stuff. If you’re making a small amount, like the recipe I posted that made 1 qt, you can just put the standard canning lid on, as long as you make sure you open it at least once a day to let out accumulated pressure, and press down your veggies manually.
Or you can do like we did and put a piece of cloth on top so that air can get out but flies can’t get in. OR you can weight the kraut/kimchi down with a heavy weight to hold the veggies under the surface of the liquid (this is more of a classic method and works especially well when you’re making very large amounts). The gist is: there are multiple right ways, and worst-case-scenario if you get it wrong is that it might not taste super awesome. But even that is a matter of individual preference. You also might get scums/molds, but they are not dangerous and easily dealt with. The powerful good-for-you enzymes will annihilate any bad bacteria that might find its way in, so things like botulism simply aren’t an issue.
The right amount of time for fermenting is also wide open. He said it could be 3 days, 3 weeks, 3 months, or 3 years depending on the temperature of your house and how sour you like your kraut. We fermented our first kimchi for about a week, during pretty warm weather, and it got real sour. Our second batch we only fermented for about 3-4 days before moving it into the fridge. Upon tasting it a couple times, it seemed a little too salty and not sour enough for me so I got it back out last night to get going again. I’ll probably put it back in the fridge tomorrow.
He also talked about all kinds of fun and exciting things like making mead, which we are going to try shortly here now that our one glass carboy is freed up from the beer-making that Adam and his brother were doing last month.
So if you’re still reading (which would really surprise me) you might be wondering “what’s the deal with fermented foods anyway?” Why are they so good for us? Several reasons. For one, humans consumed them in large quantities, for millennia. It’s only in the last 50-100 years that we gave up these rich sources of B vitamins, beneficial enzymes and probiotics.
Secondly, just at the precise moment when we gave these up, we also started an all-out assault on bacteria on two fronts: first, and most importantly, we started giving antibiotics in large quantities to meat animals which we then eat. All these excess antibiotics build up in our food, our water, and our bodies, creating a beautiful, bacteria-free blank slate on which new harmful bacterias can grow and proliferate.
So we’re getting sicker, and more often. And how do we deal with that? Exactly the opposite of how we should: with antibacterial soaps and prescription antibiotics.
Now more than ever our bodies need good bacteria on our side, and eating fermented foods is a really great (and delicious) way to accomplish that. Do I sound like a true believer or what?! I was so jazzed that I came home and ate a big bowl of kimchi right after the class.