I’ve tried so many times, and at so many different places. Expensive restaurant or cheap deli, doesn’t matter, I can’t get a good Reuben. It’s always the same, limp sauerkraut. I don’t get snobby about rye bread, russian dressing (how can you screw up mayo and ketchup) and corned beef (literally I have no idea how to make that stuff, someone could probably use bologna and I wouldn’t know the difference). But the sauerkraut is what makes my world go ‘round. Here’s the deal: restaurants and deli’s use canned sauerkraut, that’s cabbage that’s been fermented, and then pasteurized and put in a can. Once canned it can last for forever, essentially. This irony is not lost on me. The cabbage is fermented so that it can last longer, the taste of which is unique and a product of the fermentation process. Then the kraut is pasteurized: rapidly heated so kill any living thing in it. What else is destroyed in the heating processes? You guessed it, the delicious taste of sauerkraut and it’s delicate texture.
But why would any food establishment choose to use a sub-par product when they could make their own sauerkraut? It’s not terribly difficult, and the internet exists. Here’s why: the health department won’t allow it. There has to be “separation of time and space” between actively fermenting vegetables and regular prep. Because the fermented foods are not thought to be safe until the fermenting process is over and the product’s pH has lowered sufficiently, below 4 pH. This level of acidity does not allow any pathogens (bad bugs) to survive, like botulism. But I digress.
So restaurants can’t make their own kraut, but there are more and more small-time fermentationists starting businesses, why can’t restaurants just buy the kraut from them? M-O-N-E-Y That’s why. Here’s the data: a deli can buy a 5 gallon bucket of sauerkraut for $40. Given that non-organic cabbage runs anywhere from $16-20 / case (which is about 40 lbs once you discard all the outer leaves) and you need about 1.5 cases to make a 5 gallon bucket, your cost is already$24-30. That leaves $10-16 for salt, spices, kitchen rent, equipment, and don’t forget your time and any other overhead, like labels, pH testers, certifications, and the actual bucket. Small producers of kraut don’t have the $5000 cabbage shredder that can shred a case in 10 minutes. They chop by hand, or use a food processor, or a manually operated $400 shredder that can process a case in roughly 30 minutes if you’re hustling.
But couldn’t restaurants just pay a little more for locally made, hand-crafted kraut? Sure but then their foods costs would go up, which would either cut into their profit margin or their prices would have to go up. The business of food does not enjoy a wide margin, so if you suddenly decide to pay 20-50% more for a product then it could drastically affect the bottom line.
In my opinion people don’t put enough thought into the source of the food they eat. However I’m aware that everyone’s just trying to live their life and the last thing they need is to research where their dang lettuce came from. Folks want to be able to go to one store and get their toothpaste and OJ and cabbage and whatever else in any growing season. Nevermind the toothpaste growing season. That said there are ways to take steps to be more thoughtful about the where your food comes from. Farmers markets afford the ability to talk the the actual person who grew the food they are selling. The internet has information how to make your own anything. Social media makes it easier to share the ridiculous amount of okra your grew this year, and help your to trade it for something you want. But like anything that is good, it takes effort.
I don’t have any solutions to this, but if you’ve made it to the end of this rant I thank you for your interest and would like to formally invite you to my house. We’ll make Reubens, and they’re gonna be great.
Recently I attended an event at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham. It was a great event with a lot of other businesses who are also in love with the fermentation process. I kept hearing the word ‘fermentation’ and getting excited! Typically I’m the only people talking about the amazing world of fermentation and here I was with a bunch of folks who were equally excited!
For the event I made a few dishes to exemplify how to use fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut. I was expecting a few people to be interested in my products and I was also expecting as many to not try my delicious samples (and make a face like they were disgusted). I was astonished when all my samples disappeared in the first half hour! Everyone knew about sauerkraut and kimchi and they were so excited to try my samples and my dishes! People were even disappointed that they could not purchase the Potato Salad with Red Kimchi right there and then! This is for all those folks who loved the samples and want to make it for themselves! Check out the Find our Products page to find Fermentology products near you.
Massaged Kale with Purple Kraut
1 bunch kale
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice or apple cider vinegar
pinch sea salt
¼ cup Fermentology Purple Kraut
De-stem your kale. You can use the stems in a soup, stew or stir-fry, they also make great chew sticks for dogs, cats or chickens. Rip the kale into bite size pieces, about 2”x2” and place in a large bowl. Drizzle olive oil and lemon juice or vinegar, add salt. With clean hands begin to mix and mash and massage and crush the kale leaves. You should see the leaves darken in color as at the acids break down the cell walls. Taste your kale and adjust your oil, salt and acid to taste. You will see a little bit of liquid created from the salt pulling water from the cells too (a process called homeostasis). You should only need to massage the kale for a few minutes, then add your Fermentology Purple Kraut. You do not need to drain the kraut but feel free to coarsely chop it, if that’s what you’re into. Then you can walk away for a few minutes (like while you prepare the rest of your meal) or you can eat it right away.
Letting the kale rest will allow the acid to continue to break down the cell walls. This process is important because it’s difficult for the human digestive system to get nutrition from the fibrous leaves of kale and other greens. Once massaged and the kales takes on it’s lovely dark green color more nutrients and vitamins are accessible.
I like to get creative with additional toppings, favorites include goat cheese, olives, red onion, fresh ground pepper, sweet bell peppers, diced apple, raisins, toasted pumpkin seeds, shredded carrot and nutritional yeast.
Potato Salad with Fermentology Kimchi
2.5 pounds potatoes (I like Yukon Gold but your can use any)
1 pint Fermentology Red Kimchi, drained and coarsely chopped, reserve the liquid for later
½ cup your favorite mayonnaise
Bring 2 quarts of water to boil, or enough to cover the potatoes. Chop potatoes to 3/4” cubes and boil until soft. Drain and place on a baking sheet to cool. Mix your kimchi and mayo in a large mixing bowl. Once the potatoes have cooled and are no longer steaming, mix them with your kimchi and mayo. Mix and taste. I like to add almost all of the kimchi liquid but it’s up to your taste and tolerance to spicy flavors. Chill or serve immediately. Try it on a sandwich!
Amy Peddie has been fermenting since 2006. Originally from Greensboro NC she has traveled all of the United States, often with active ferments. She now resides back in Greensboro where she enjoys spending time with family and gardening.