Thursday, November 4, 2010

The smell of rotting cabbage

I'm talking Kimchi, the staple of Korean cuisine.

My father-in-law, who doesn't claim to be a luddite, but who is a great environmentalist - greater than I can ever hope to be has been experimenting with fermented vegetables. On a recent visit, he brought me a jar of his more recent efforts - home made Kimchi. removing the lid, one is greeted by a stench that has to be experienced to be believed. If you can get past that, however, and put the stuff in your mouth, the experience is wonderful. Vegetables, packed with salt, and fermented in the brine of their own juices take on an amazing flavor, retain a crunchiness only dreamed of in store-bought pickled vegetables, and have amazing health benefits. My wife, who doesn't like anything with a strong smell to it said, "I don't know if I like it or not, but I can't stop eating it"

Kimchi isn't the only tradition of fermented vegetables by any means. The Japanese have tsukemono, and mother-in-law recently gave me this book as a gift with all the instructions on how to get started. I can't wait to start. Most of you are probably familiar with the German tradition of sauerkraut, and most other cultures have some similar tradition. Sandor Katz has also been preaching the virtues of naturally fermented foods, most notably in his book Wild Fermentation, and at his website of the same name.

All pickled vegetables are not created equally however. In the US, most of the pickles we consume are the quick pickled variety. These vegetables are not fermented in the traditional sense, and do not confer the same health benefits as those wwhich are naturally fermented. My parents-in-law, for example, report that since they've added fermented pickles to their diet on a regular basis, they no longer need antacids to be able to get a decent night's sleep. I can attest to similar benefits, although I attribute most of my success to reducing my intake of refined sugar to almost nothing.

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