When is Lactobacillus Your Best Friend ?

In the world of brewing and distilling, great care is taken to eliminate bacterial critters such as lactobacillus from pumps, hoses and tanks. Such bacteria will compete head to head with yeast for access to the fermentable sugars. The net result can be a reduced alcoholic yield and some weird off-flavors in the fermented beer or spirits wash.

But, lactobacillus can work in your favor. As I like to say, 80 million Germans cannot all be wrong. Nor can 50 million South Koreans!

Take the situation of cabbage. Cabbage naturally contains small amounts of glucose sugar (chemical formula C6H12O6). Cabbage also contains naturally occurring amounts of lactobacillus. Smash up the cellular structure of the cabbage and add a bit of salt to help the effort and the lactobacillus will start to feast on the available sugars to generate sour lactic acid. The process will be slow, perhaps a month or more in duration.

The net result will be soured cabbage. The Germans call it sauerkraut, the South Koreans call it kimchi. In the German case, often some caraway seed is added for extra flavor. The Koreans add hotter stuff to give kimchi some zip. In addition. this anaerobic lactic acid fermentation can generate some unique esters which provide additional flavor and aroma.

The process is very simple. Get some heads of cabbage from the local farmers market. Remove the outer leaves. Shred the cabbage on a mandolin ( I bought mine at Wal Mart). Using a piece of wood ( I used a wooden axe handle from the hardware store), stamp, tamp and otherwise smash the cabbage to break the cellular structure. As you do this, add salt (I only use seal salt) and caraway seed to taste. Once done smashing and seasoning. place a plate on top of the shredded, seasoned mess of cabbage that you have in a pail ( I used an old stock pot ) and weigh the plate down with a heavy object ( I used the lid from my cast iron casserole dish). Leave in your garage for about 30 days. You can check it every week of you wish and you will start to notice the familiar scent of sauerkraut developing over time.

After 30 days, place the sauerkraut into glass jars and keep in the fridge for up to 4 months. You can freeze it of you wish, but doing so will kill off the lactic pro-biotics which are beneficial to your health. When I eat the kraut, I do not cook it as I do not want to damage the pro-biotics. I heat it very gently to warm it only.

So, there you go…..lactobacillus can be your best friend. Happy kraut-making !