I have loved sauerkraut since before sauerkraut was cool.
These days it's not just sauerkraut, but fermentation in all forms that is front and center. While I'm normally wary of food trends (I'm looking at you matcha flavored everything), this is one that I can get behind not just because the flavor profiles of all things fermented - salty, sour, sometimes spicy - take me to my happy place, but also because fermented foods happen to be pretty good for us. And, normally, the thing that I love best is not the thing that is also beneficial for my health (see Light and Sweet).
So, what’s the problem? I really want to be the person who makes her own sauerkraut at home, concocts and drinks batches of home-brewed kombucha, or even triumphantly makes my own vinegars. But, alas, I am not. Because, while I adore the flavors and health benefits of all of the above, there’s something about bearing witness to the realities of the actual fermentation process that kind of puts me off. I’m not sure if you’ve ever seen a scoby (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) floating around on top of an in-progress batch of kombucha, but it’s more than a little strange. For those of you who have not yet had the pleasure of witnessing a scoby in the flesh, it basically looks like the flattened body of a jellyfish and is, like a jellyfish, alive. The fact that it’s got a life of its own is what makes it cool and useful and full of probiotic goodness, but also like a jellyfish, the fact that’s it’s lurking around in the murky waters of your kombucha is definitely creepy. In fact, I googled images to use for this post and I wish I could unsee most of what I came across. The pic in the header is of some scoby "candy" on Kombucha Brooklyn's site, which I recommend checking out if you're interested and want to learn more, but beware the scoby pics.
I feel the same way about encountering “the mother” in a bottle of homemade or unpasteurized vinegar. The fact that that this puddle of amino acids and bacteria is even called “mother” and that it can produce “babies” gives it a certain extraterrestrial quality that is no-doubt fascinating, but that I'm not entirely sure I appreciate in my food. That it’s texture is slimy and kind of gritty and soft doesn’t help its case. While all signs point to shooting back some vinegar "mother" as a good practice for gut health - my husband drinks unpasteurized apple cider vinegar everyday - it is decidedly not for me. As the invisible acid in a dressing - sure thing! As a drink for warding off nasal congestion, probably not.
But, because I adore sauerkraut so much, I'm going to try and get rid of this fermentation baggage that prevents me from taking our relationship to the next level. I think it's time. I've decided on sauerkraut as a good place to start my home fermenting journey because I don't have to find someone willing to gift me a scoby in order to make it, and I won't run the risk of accidentally producing some sort of alcoholic kombucha moonshine by doing it wrong. And while I never say never, I don't predict any scoby snacks in my near future. Baby steps, people.
I write about food and I talk about food and I eat a lot of food. Co-writer of Amanda Freitag's, The Chef Next Door and Cooking in my Street Clothes by Missy Robbins (Fall '17). Co-founder of Family Meal, cooking classes that allow family members to learn, cook and eat together, taught by pro chefs.