Author Note: This is the second in a series of weekly essays (by Karen Gay) about starting a small food business in Virginia. This article was written in February, 2016. Future essays will discuss the Bars and Cookies I am making, regulations, my planned investment and how it actually turned out, and other topics that I have not yet written about. I have two more essays that I’ve already written, and the rest are being written as things happen. I hope you enjoy the articles and feel free to express opposing and supporting opinions.
Developing a good recipe takes a lot of trial and error. First comes the initial concept, a blend of ingredients, information about a healthy spice, or a vibrant color seen in the market. Making the recipe requires judgement about how much of each ingredient to add, making it and then waiting and waiting for the ferment to mature. Tasting along the way gives a feel for how the flavors are evolving. Usually,the first test of a recipe results in at least one jarring taste or texture. Then, back to the drawing board.
Over and over until there is just the right amount of fizzle and spice. Once there is a good blend of flavors, scaling up to a larger volume should produce the same results, right? Not necessarily! At this juncture, I have not gotten that far. Today I produce my krauts in half-gallon or quart ball jars. A quart container takes a little less than 2 pounds of cabbage. I spent a good part of the fall of 2015 shredding cabbage and mixing it with interesting ingredients. My initial krauts were the plain and caraway versions. These were pretty easy to get right, so they tasted fresh and crisp, but not too sour. The key is in how much salt is added to the cabbage. Too much salt and the product was unbearable leading to a strong gag reflex. Too little salt and I found mold growing in the cabbage after a couple of days. In traditionally fermented sauerkraut it is the salt that initiates the preservation process. The salt kicks off lactic acid fermentation which lowers the acidity of the food to the point where pathogenic bacteria are killed and the B, C, and K vitamins are augmented. Food scientists would say that the right proportion of salt is about 2% by weight, although having a bit more is just fine and prudent.
Once I got the relationship of salt to cabbage right it was time to branch out and add new ingredients. I had some ideas: a nice spicy kimchi, a vegetable blend, and I really wanted fermented carrots and ginger. In one of the many books I read with sauerkraut recipes I saw one with oranges layered on the outside of the jar. And I needed an inflammation-busting mix with ginger, garlic, and turmeric. So I set to work. The vegetable blend was the easiest. I got it right the first time. Mixed Veg Kraut contains organic cabbage, organic carrots, sea salt, red onion, and organic kale. There’s just a hint of onion and I can’t taste the kale, but it and the carrots add color and nutrition.
Next I tried making the kraut with ginger, garlic, and turmeric. For those of you who don’t know what turmeric is, it is a yellow Asian spice used in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. For thousands of years, it has been used to treat liver disease, skin problems, joint pain, and gastrointestinal problems. Curcumin, one of the bioactive ingredients in turmeric, is being studied today for its anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial uses and for the treatment of cancer. I developed two variations, one with all three ingredients and one without the garlic, I liked them both, but I had to choose only one. I went with all the ingredients because garlic is known in alternative health circles as being toxic to cancer, an inflammation fighter, and a benefit to cardiovascular health. I named this version Golden Kraut.
Things went downhill from there. I tried multiple recipes for Kimchi, and got one good jar, but I could not repeat the recipe. My Christmas Kraut with kale, cranberries, and oranges studded with whole cloves looked gorgeous, but the cranberries were not crisp and the oranges added an off flavor. The cloves added a lovely aroma and taste, though. I’m still working on this recipe and hope to have it ready for Christmas. The carrots and ginger just didn’t work, so I set that aside for later. One night, my husband, David, and I were eating brussels sprouts. He joked that I should make a Brussels Kraut. So I did, but my first iteration was not so tasty. I put whole sprouts in the cabbage and they were too hard and the taste was harsh. I tried this several times with variations in the size of the sprouts and finally I decided to throw in some green onions, and it worked! Oddly enough, when I held my focus group tasting, this kraut ranked number two in my repertoire of seven recipes.
The winner of the Focus Group was the Tex-Mex Kraut. This kraut contains organic cabbage, organic corn, green New Mexico chilies, sweet red pepper, sea salt, cilantro, and freshly ground, roasted cumin. It is wonderful as a condiment with Mexican food, or mixed into guacamole. I am hoping to sell many of these kraut flavors in the upcoming Onancock and Cape Charles Farmers Markets under the name of Pickled Pink. I am looking forward to meeting many kraut lovers this spring.
An article in PubMed states “Lactic acid fermentation increases shelf life of fruits and vegetables and also enhances several beneficial properties, including nutritive value and flavors, and reduces toxicity.” (Fermented fruits and vegetables of Asia: a potential source of probiotics. PMID: 25343046 PMCID: PMC4058509) PubMed is the US National Library of Medicine service that provides free access to a large database of medical, veterinary, and healthcare related abstracts and articles.