Sauerkraut is one of the most well-known European ferments. At its simplest it is just salted cabbage. As with many fermentation processes, the correct ratio of salt, time and temperature creates an optimal environment for the growth of beneficial microorganisms, primarily lactic acid producing bacteria. As time goes on these bacteria break down vegetables, altering texture and the bioavailability of certain nutrients.
These practices have obviously been practiced far longer than the history of microbiology. People originally created Sauerkraut (and most traditionally fermented foods) as a means of preservation. In cold winter climates it was necessary to preserve foods in order to eat through the winter. A picked head of cabbage can last a fairly long time in a root cellar but Sauerkraut will last drastically longer.
While the English word Sauerkraut comes from the German for “sour cabbage” there are similar traditional fermented cabbage practices throughout Eastern and Central Europe. It may have first arrived from outside the region with some evidence pointing to the Tatars or Mongols. Throughout Europe it is commonly eaten with pork, often served warm. This is a common Pennsylvania Dutch New Years tradition to this day. In Baltimore, it is commonly served alongside Thanksgiving turkey.
Caraway seeds are a very common additive. Our flagship Seeded Sauerkraut contains caraway, dill seed and cumin. We cut it a little bit thicker than other brands to achieve the texture and crunch we prefer.
Kimchi is a fermented vegetable preparation from Korea, it is served with nearly every meal, and its significance cannot be overstated. There are many different varieties and styles featuring seasonal vegetables. The most common kimchi in the US is mak-kimchi or Tongbaechu-kimchi. Both are made with napa cabbage, ginger, garlic, chilis and various alliums bulbs and greens. Mak is cabbage cut bite sized and Tongbaechu is cabbage split in half and fermented in bigger pieces. Even recipes for those most common styles vary widely from different regions and different families. Seafood factors heavily into food from the Korean peninsula and Kimchi is no different. Dried fish and shrimp, fermented fish, fish sauce, oysters all feature in some recipes. Some recipes are vegan but they are generally less common in packaged commercial versions.
When starting FF, creating a vegan kimchi with local produce was a big priority for us. It was a long and argument-filled process working out a recipe we were happy with. We followed inspiration from traditions that surround the long history of kimchi, and experimented, a lot.
To start, our Napa Kimchi is most similar to mak style. In keeping our kimchi vegan, we use shiitake mushroom powder and seaweed powder since they are rich in amino acids and compounds that contribute to umami flavor and complexity.
And since we favor the bold flavors and bright acidity that come along with a full ferment, our kimchi might be considered "mugeun" kimchi, meaning aged or well-fermented. And if you hold onto one of our jars past that "best by" date, then you'll have "sinkimchi" on your hands - since the fermentation and aging never stops, this "sour," overly-aged kimchi packs an intense punch and is well-suited for dishes like fried rice, stir-fries, stews, or soups.
A key feature of our kimchi is the use of fresno chilies in our chili paste. We do use gochugaru (for it's color and distinct taste which has been intensified through sun-drying), but love the addition of fresh chili mash. Since Korean red peppers are rarely found around here, we've found that fresnos are a wonderful alternative that we are able to source locally in the summer/fall. Both fresnos and Korean red peppers are a bit sweet and smoky - though Korean red peppers are a bit more savory, and fresnos are a bit fruitier.
Curtido is a Salvadoran vegetable preparation. It is made of cabbage, onions, carrots, and is seasoned with oregano, lime and often chilis. The traditional method calls for chopping all the ingredients and resting in lime juice and salt overnight. The salt draws liquid out of the vegetables and the lime adds acid. The result is in between a sauerkraut and coleslaw. It is still crunchy but tangy and well seasoned. It is generally served with Pupusas, which are like a thick, stuffed tortilla. Pupuserias usually have big jars of Curtido sitting on tables for guests to scoop themselves. It is common to have one with no chili and one that is spicier.
In tropical climates there is less need to preserve seasonal vegetables and there is often abundant citrus. We love fermentation and limes are not available in our climate, so we do a short fermentation rather than add citrus. This creates acidity naturally by encouraging the growth of lactic acid bacteria. Our version is mildly spicy with chopped jalapeno and heavily seasoned with Mexican Oregano. There are two main types of Oregano in the world, one from the Mediterranean, Origanum vulgare (often labeled by country with Greek and Italian being most common around here) and one from Central America/ Mexico/ Carribbean, Lippia graveolens that is most commonly labeled Mexican Oregano. It has a more citrusy and intense flavor than Mediterranean Oregano.
Making Pupusas is fun and we encourage it but curtido is great on all sorts of other foods too. We really like it on pizza as the spicy oregano thing combines pretty easily. Probiotic vegetables may not be common pizza toppings but the combo rules! It also makes an interesting substitute for Sauerkraut in many dishes, including on a Reuben sandwich and with Pierogies. It's really good even on it's own and it's not too spicy.