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Sandor Katz Hits Sydney

(Image by TSL)

Six months. SIX WHOLE MONTHS! That’s how long ago I booked tickets through the inspiring team at Milkwood Permaculture for two sessions with Sandor Katz on the art of fermentation.  It’s been a long time coming. But, I gotta’ tell you – it was worth it.

Sandor Katz is colloquially known as the ‘Godfather of Lacto-Fermentation’. It’s a practice that is currently undergoing a bit of a renaissance – particularly as interest grows in the probiotic benefits of eating live food. Certainly, it helps that it tastes pretty great, too!*

Even food writer Michael Pollan acknowledges Sandor Katz’s most recent book as being largely responsible for his ignited passion for cultured food…

Katz’s book is the main reason that my kitchen counters and basement floor have lately sprouted an assortment of mason jars, ceramic crocks, jelly jars, bottles, and carboys, the clear ones glowing with unearthly colours. (Michael Pollan)

…and, if some of the high-profile Sydney-based chefs (the ones that I recognised, anyway!) in attendance at the sessions are any prediction of food trends, lacto-fermentated morsels will soon be popping up all over town. I know Mr Gilmore down at Circular Quay has been working on fermenting vegetable juices. Just saying!

TSL Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut by Sandor Katz
Cabbage, carrot, herbs, garlic ready to bubble away…
(Image by TSL)

But, what is lacto-fermentation?

Heard of probiotics?

Lacto-fermentation is a natural way of preserving food that pre-dates refrigeration (by quite some time!). It is natures way of allowing us to utilise microbial processes using beneficial bacteria including Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium spp. and other lactic acid bacteria (LAB) (also known as probiotics), which thrive in an anaerobic fermenting environment.

So, the ‘lacto’ part in lacto-fermentation, comes from ‘lactobacillus’. A wide variety of LAB and yeasts are involved in the process of lacto-fermentation. These all work together to convert raw food into more easily digestible components, along with releasing and stabilising nutrients of the food.

There are a number of stages and processes along the way – and, as with most things ‘living,’ it is not an exact science. There is no ‘right’ way or one recipe. Not by a long shot.

There is no one way to ferment. Ultimately it is about experiential learning. (Sandor Katz)

So, lacto-fermentation is a process of preserving food that produces things like  traditional dill pickles (gherkins), real sauerkraut, kimchi, fermented beverages, even naturally produced vinegar (think Braggs Apple Cider Vinegar). At its most basic, it takes nothing more than vegetables, salt, water and a bit of patience – anyone can try it.

This simple process works because of the lucky fact that bacteria that could be harmful to us can’t tolerate much salt, but there are healthy bacteria that can.

But, why should I care?

The benefits of eating food with live, Lactobacillus bacteria include a healthier digestive system and speedy recovery from yeast infections. They are also supposed to have anti-inflammatory properties and be useful in preventing certain kinds of cancer. And, as I’ve already mentioned, they taste good!

The prevailing view is that you should add small, frequent amounts of as many varieties of fermented foods and beverages as you can to your diet – each has their own beneficial probiotic qualities. At a minimum, I try to add a couple of tablespoons of fermented vegetables to two of my meals every day.

There are a number of artisan food producers who have started up with their own lacto-fermented products. Because of the live nature of these foods and beverages, and the requirement to keep them chilled, they tend to be region specific. Refrigerated shipping is expensive! And, because the process is a little labour intensive, these products can get expensive.

So, I went to see Sandor in action to better understand how to make my own lacto- fermented product. Cheaply!

Sandor Katz Fermented vegetables

(L – R) Sauerkraut, Beet Kvass, Kimchi, Pickles
(Image by TSL)

Sandor was an inspirational presenter. His knowledge about fermentation is encyclopaedic – and it’s not just theory. The man has spent the last three decades experimenting with the art.

I walked away from my day determined to expand my horizons with fermenting vegetables (itching to try the four celery ferment – celeriac, stalk, leaves and seeds) and to try my hand at making fermented beverages (kombucha – a sweetened fermented tea is first cab off the rank)… I promise to keep you posted on my progress!

If you are at all interested in learning more about fermentation, I have it on very good authority that the very pragmatic and talented Alexx Stuart is running a series of posts about this very subject next week on her blog, Real Food & Low Tox Living.

*If you need a refresher on just who is this Sandor Katz character and his ‘Art of Fermentation’ – check out the last post I did about him here.

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