Kraut-chi is a word I made up, a hybrid of sauerkraut and kimchi, the German and Korean words for fermented vegetables that we have adopted into the English language. The English language does not have its own word for fermented vegetables. It would not be inaccurate to describe fermented vegetables as “pickled,” but pickling covers much ground beyond fermentation. Pickles are anything preserved by acidity. Most contemporary pickles are not fermented at all; instead they rely upon highly acidic vinegar (a product of fermentation), usually heated in order to sterilize vegetables, preserving them by destroying rather than cultivating microorganisms.
“For pickles, fermentation was the primary means of preservation until the 1940s, when direct acidification and pasteurization of cucumber pickles was introduced,” writes Fred Breidt of the USDA.
My vegetable ferments are usually concoctions that do not fit any homogeneous traditional ideal of either German sauerkraut or Korean kimchi. But of course, everything I’ve learned about sauerkraut and kimchi reveal that neither of them constitutes a homogeneous tradition. They are highly varied, from regional specialties to family secrets. Nonetheless, certain techniques underlie both (and many other related) traditions, and my practice is a rather free-form application of these basic techniques rather than an attempt to reproduce any particular notion of authenticity.
In a nutshell, the steps I typically follow when I ferment vegetables are:
Chop or grate vegetables.
Lightly salt the chopped veggies (add more as necessary to taste), and pound or squeeze until moist; alternatively, soak the veggies in a brine solution for a few hours.
Pack the vegetables into a jar or other vessel, tightly, so that they are forced below the liquid. Add water, if necessary.
Wait, taste frequently, and enjoy!
Of course there is more information and nuance, which the rest of this chapter explores, but really, “Chop, Salt, Pack, Wait” is what most of it amounts to.
This excerpt is adapted from The Art of Fermentation,
by Sandor Ellix Katz (Chelsea Green, 2012), and is reprinted here with permission of the publisher. For more information, visit www.chelseagreen.com
About the author
Sandor Ellix Katz is a self-taught fermentation experimentalist. He wrote Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods—which Newsweek called “the fermenting bible”—in order to share the fermentation wisdom he had learned, and demystify home fermentation. Since the book's publication in 2003, Katz has taught hundreds of fermentation workshops across North America and beyond, taking on a role he describes as a “fermentation revivalist.” Now, in The Art of Fermentation, with a decade more experience behind him, the unique opportunity to hear countless stories about fermentation practices, and answering thousands of troubleshooting questions, he’s sharing a more in-depth exploration of the topic.
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