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The Fascinating World of Fermentation

Elizabeth Vecchiarelli, the owner of Oakland's Preserved, gives a breakdown of the ancient preservation technique and provides an easy recipe.


Photo courtesy of Stocksy/Alita Ong

Fermentation: It’s often associated with the forgotten juice bottle or piece of overripe fruit decomposing in the back of the fridge. But fermentation is nothing to be concerned about; in fact, it’s a natural process that has some pretty incredible health benefits.

“Fermented foods, like sauerkraut and kimchi, are great for your gut health,” says fermentation expert Elizabeth Vecchiarelli, the owner of Preserved—an Oakland shop that sells fermentation starter cultures and offers weekly workshops on preservation methods. These types of foods help the body break down carbohydrates and proteins, Vecchiarelli notes, which in turn makes those compounds easier to digest and absorb. Plus, fermentation creates new enzymes and vitamins (such as vitamin B) without losing any of the nutrients found in a vegetable’s raw form.

A simple, ancient technique involving salt, water, and produce, “vegetable fermentation is a biological transformation that occurs when you create an optimal environment for ambient bacteria to thrive,” Vecchiarelli explains. But don’t worry: This is the good kind of bacteria (aka lactobacillus) that’s found in yogurt and often labeled a probiotic.

Creating a probiotic-rich microbiome is an easy—and exciting—process. “Since kraut and kimchi are living foods, they’re always changing and develop more nuanced flavors as time goes on,” Vecchiarelli says. “Fermentation is holistic nutrition that you can put a fork in and say, ‘Mmm, that’s delicious.’ ” preserved​goods.com.


Apple-Fennel Sauerkraut Recipe

Courtesy of Preserved

Yields one gallon of kraut.

  • 2 large heads of cabbage
  • 4 tart apples, peeled and shredded
  • 2 fennel bulbs, shredded
  • 1½ tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 2 teaspoons caraway seeds
  • 4 tablespoons sea salt

Peel off two outer cabbage leaves and save. Cut out core and finely chop or shred cabbage heads. Mix the cabbage, apples, and fennel with spices and sea salt in a large bowl. With your hands, squeeze the cabbage and spice-salt blend together, massaging thoroughly until the vegetables release their juices. Let mixture sit at room temperature for an hour to draw out more liquid.

Pack the kraut tightly into a clean gallon vessel using your fist or a wooden tamper to ensure that there is liquid floating above the kraut. Lay the two reserved, whole cabbage leaves on top of the packed kraut and submerge in the liquid. (If there is not enough liquid to cover, add just enough water to submerge.) Be sure to leave about an inch of headspace from the top of the vessel, as carbon dioxide (which is naturally produced) will cause the mixture to expand. 

Use a ceramic weight (or other creative weight such as a Ziplock bag filled with water or a sterilized rock) to keep vegetables submerged in their brine. Cover loosely with a lid, or if you are using Preserved’s airlock lid, secure tightly on the jar. Let cabbage ferment in a dark spot (out of direct sunlight) for a minimum of 5 days and a maximum of 30 days for a more complex and sour flavor.

The large cabbage leaves on top provide an extra layer of protection against surface mold. Taste the kraut below every couple of days until it reaches your desired flavor. Discard the outer cabbage leaves if mold appears. Don’t stress out about mold—it’s 100 percent natural. Transfer into refrigerator to store for 6 to 12 months.


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