“Microscopic organisms – our ancestors and allies – transform food and extend its usefulness.”
This is the first in a three-part series on seaweeds, fermented foods, and gut health.
Gut health and the importance of the “microbiome“–the billions of microbes that inhabit our digestive tracts (along with other parts of our bodies) and help us digest and draw nourishment from food, strengthen our immune system, and support health in many other ways–have been garnering lots of attention in recent months. One way to nurture our microbiome is by eating cultured, or fermented, foods–vegetables, dairy, even meats that are transformed by communities of beneficial bacteria.
Most of us are familiar with yogurt as a cultured food, but you may be surprised at what other foods are cultured or fermented–and you might find some of your favorites on the list:
beer, wine, chocolate, olives, cheeses, tempeh, mead, sauerkraut, pickles, bread, coffee, tea, kombucha, kefir, kimchi, salami, miso…
What’s this got to do with seaweed? We get excited here at Maine Coast Sea Vegetables about sauerkraut at this time of year, as cabbage harvest season has arrived. MCSV founders Linnette and Shep Erhart have a big garden (fed with seaweed, of course!), grow lots of cabbage, and Linnette makes lots of kraut–pink beauties with red and white cabbage, simple white or red cabbage krauts seasoned with caraway seeds or plain. One of the most popular, not surprisingly, is Linnette’s hot kraut with ginger, hot peppers…and MCSV’s kelp. (Learn more about Linnette’s kraut and how she came to loving fermented foods in part two.)
You can use other sea veggies in ferments, too. We’ve also seen (and eaten) krauts made with dulse and sea lettuce, and heard of many more. And there are several Maine small businesses serving up krauts, including varieties with sea veggies–bringing the farm and the sea to the plate. On nearby Mount Desert Island, our friend Sheila of A Stone’s Throw to Health makes all her delicious blends with sea lettuce! Further downeast from us, Tide Mill Farm and Creamery started offering a line of fermented foods last year that includes “Deep Down Dulse,” made with red cabbage and, of course, dulse. Most recently, Thirty Acre Farm, and Gracie’s Garden have created ferments with sea veggies that we’ve sampled–so tasty and nutritious!
Further out in the world, fermented foods company Ozuke offers their own “Beet, Dulse, and Kale” blend. Iggy’s Foods features a “Sushi Kraut” made with dulse, nori, and wakame. There’s OlyKraut’s Sea Greens gourmet sauerkraut. And take a look at A Gardener’s Table for kohlrabi kraut with sea palm (a west coast seaweed), and Fermented Sea Kraut at Grow It, Cook It, Can It. We also just learned about Cucina Verde, a food enterprise in Delaware where they feature a fermented blend of veggies called 3-D Kraut–for Dandelion, Daikon, and Dulse.
And krauts (though they may be called by other names) can be made with many vegetables, from carrots and beets to radishes and turnips. Seaweed adds mineral goodness to fermented veggies, plus vitamins, fiber, and more.
Fermenting veggies softens them but helps them keep a nice crunch, and lends a briny, tangy flavor that can border on subtle sweetness depending on the kind of veggie and what else is used in the kraut. The process is simple: mix salt with veggies and massage to help release liquid from the plants, pack into a crock or jar, make sure liquid comes above the surface of the veggies by weighing them down, cover to keep out dust and insects, and let nature do its thing. Because they’re under the surface of the brine, the veggies are not exposed to air and ferment in an anaerobic environment. Different kinds of beneficial bacteria are encouraged to grow, in succession, as the acidity and other variables change, and harmful bacteria are kept at bay. Some people use seaweed in ferments to replace some or all of the salt (since seaweeds are so rich in a variety of mineral salts).
There are lots of resources for guidance and advice on making krauts and other cultured veggies. The Wild Fermentation website, and books by fermentation guru Sandor Katz are good places to start.
Treat your body, mind, spirit, and microbiome to fermented foods. And eat your sea veggies!