Eighteen Big Islanders “got cultured” Saturday afternoon in Kainaliu, learning the ins and outs of vegetable fermentation.
They chopped, they sliced and they shredded cabbage, beet greens, carrots and vegetables of all sorts before adding salt and using their hands to massage the vegetables, helping to break down cell walls and release water.
The veggies were then carefully packed into jars, covered with their own brine and left to ferment, or culture. In about three to five days, the fermented vegetable “chefs” will reap the benefits of their work — sauerkraut.
Easy to make at home, fermented foods are most often touted for their health benefits and culinary uses, said Ryan Peters, a fermentation educator with Cultured Foods Hawaii. Fermented foods, which are preserved without refrigeration, have a diverse history among many cultures, dating as far back as the time of the hunter-gatherer, he said.
Among the health benefits of fermented vegetables noted by Peters are an increased bioavailability of nutrients, creation of additional micronutrients, detoxification of plant foods and beneficial or healthy probiotics, live active cultures that assist digestion, the immune system and even help alleviate anxiety. Such probiotics can be found in pill form, but Peters said locally made fermented vegetables provide the most bang for the buck.
“What’s so unique about a jar of sauerkraut or kimchi is the fact that they are both teeming with Lactobacillus bacteria in amounts comparable to what you find in the store. Plus, (when you make it at home) they’re bacteria that are resilient to around here — by the time it’s in the jar it’s cultured to the area,” Peters said. “The sauerkraut will definitely get you there as well as a pill.”
The three-hour “Get Cultured” workshop cost $49 and was sponsored by the Hawaii Community College Office of Continuing Education and Training and University of Hawaii at Manoa Cooperative Extension Service. Peters, who has been working in the niche of vegetable fermentation for about five years and previously sold products in area stores, will lead a similar class in March.
Saturday’s workshop, which comprised a lecture, demonstration and hands-on work, focused primarily on the culinary side of making fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut, pickled daikon and kraut-chi, a nontraditional form of the Korean kimchi.
Fermentation differs from other preservation techniques in that it does not require an acid, such as vinegar, a necessary ingredient for making the traditional cucumber dill pickle, Peters said. Fermenting vegetables, Peters said, is an anaerobic process that involves submerging vegetables in a salty liquid or brine, providing an environment not conducive to the growth of fungi or molds, but allows acidifying bacteria like Lactobacillus to thrive.
“Fermented vegetables done properly are safer than the (raw) cabbage you used to make it,” explained Peters, who noted that Lactobacillus bacteria is the first bacteria on a baby as its born and is found all over our skin as well as the surface of vegetables. “If you open (a jar) and you don’t want to it eat then it probably wasn’t done properly.”
Some workshop participants signed up to learn how to make sauerkraut, in honor of their German heritage. Others are interested in possibly selling fermented vegetables locally.
Carola Soder-Johnson opted to take part in the workshop for one reason: She wants to be able to make sauerkraut “right.” A previous attempt following a recipe she found online went bad, resulting in something other than sauerkraut.
“I didn’t know how much of the brine and only had a little in the bottom,” she said. “It just got moldy.”
Fermenting vegetables will also provide a means for augmenting her diet as she moves away from meats toward vegan foods.
“It’s dangerously simple,” she said. “It’s something that makes itself.”
For more information on the upcoming workshop, tentatively set for March 26, contact Carrie Kuwada Phipps, West Hawaii coordinator for Hawaii Community College’s Office of Continuing Education and Training at 938-2120 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Information is also available online by visiting hawaii.hawaii.edu/ocet.