SPEAKER: I'd like to welcome you all tonight. We have a really wonderful guest, Sandor Katz, who has come tonight to talk about his new book The Art of Fermentation, but also a couple of other interesting issues. Before we start, I just want to give a really big thanks to Mann Library for providing this space to us and all of the work that the New World Agriculture and Ecology Group has done to plan, both this event and several other events in Ithaca. I'd also to thank the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly for funding Sandor's visit here. So thanks has to go to that.
I'm just really please to introduce Sandor Katz. He's a self-taught fermentation experimentalist. And he wrote this book Wild Fermentation The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live Culture Foods in 2003 which Newsweek led the fermenting bible. And it's interesting. A lot of people were introduced to their home fermentation projects just by reading a couple of recipes in this book. But it's not just the recipes, it's also the stories and the history that go along with why people would make things in their home as opposed to buying them at a store. Or why they would buy things in the store as a complement to other nutritional and dietary aspects of their lifestyle.
So Sandor wrote this book in order to share his fermentation wisdom that he had learned and demystify home fermentation. And since its publication in 2003, Katz has taught hundreds of fermentation workshops across North American and beyond, and taking on a role that he describes as a fermentation revivalists, or a cultural revivalist.
Now in The Art of Fermentation, his new book, with a decade more experience him, the unique opportunity to hear countless stories about fermentation practices and answering thousands of troubleshooting questions, he's sharing more in-depth exploration of the topic. So Sandor Katz has also authored this book, The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved-- Inside America's Underground Food Movement. It was published in 2006. And at that point, I met Sandor in California when I invited him to Mills College-- where I was an undergrad-- and he did a Kimchi workshop and a talk about food activism.
So tonight, our talk is going to be about food activism as a liaison with fermentation. We hope that this series of talks that Sandor has done in Ithaca will inspire future collaborations and celebrations of fermentation in Tompkins County. Because we actually have a ton of cultural revivalists right here in Tompkins County doing various fermented foods, pickling, beverages, all sorts of things that preserve not only the food itself, but our culture.
So I really encourage everyone to take a look at this table on the right hand side, maybe after the talk, after our question and answer, because there's more information there about ways to plug into fermentation right here in Tompkins County, including a new website/blog where you can send in stories about foods that you fermented or interests that you have in other foods. It's called Find Your Ferment and it's at the Cayuga Street Kitchen Blog. So please check that out.
Primarily, this talk is meant to be a starter culture for a larger movement that we see happening in Ithaca. So without further ado, please join me in you know Sandor Ellix Katz.
SANDOR KATZ: All right. Well, thank you so much, Shoshi, for that introduction and for organizing all of this and the rest of the group that you got involved in organizing all of these events. And thank you all for coming out today. It's a special honor for me to be here at Cornell University for two different reasons. One is that my father graduated from Cornell University in 1955. And actually people the last few days have been asking me what he studied here. And I didn't even know. But I called him this afternoon to ask him what his major was when he went to college here. And he was a political science major.
And the other reason why it's special for me to be at Cornell University is that the most comprehensive book that has been written about the topic of fermentation in the English language was edited by a Cornell Food Science professor who has passed on, Keith Steinkraus. And his book, The Handbook of Indigenous Fermentation Processes has been just an indispensable research for me in my research. So it's really an honor to be here at Cornell.
Now mostly what I do is I teach people how to make sauerkraut. And I have to say that I feel a little bit naked standing in front of a group of people without a knife and a cutting board and a head of cabbage. And really what I love doing more than anything else is just sharing skills. And that's what my books are really all about.
But I want to use this time here today-- and I don't want to talk for too long, because it's really more fun for you and more fun for me if we have more of an interactive exchange. But there's three big themes that I've been I've been thinking about in relation to fermentation. And one I would say is evolution. One is culture. And one is community. So I'm going to sort of try to briefly address fermentation as it relates to each of these three huge, broad themes.
So let me start with evolution. There's a huge amount of speculative literature that theorizes about the idea how did humans invent fermentation? How did people figure out how to make alcohol? And humans did not invent fermentation. It would be far more accurate to turn it around and say that fermentation invented humans.
And I don't know, maybe we have some creationists in the room, but if you subscribe to the theory of evolution, all life is descended from bacteria. It seems like the emerging idea is that it was a symbiosis between fermenting bacteria and other early microorganisms gave rise to the first eukaryotic cells. Cells of which animals, plants, and fungi are composed.
And so the corollary to the idea that all life is evolved from bacteria is that no life has ever lived without bacteria. So in our own human bodies, bacteria are absolutely essential. Despite the cultural indoctrination that all of us have received that bacteria are bad, bacteria are dangerous, we want to kill all the bacteria. We want to buy soaps that promise to kill 99.9% of bacteria. You know, it is not really desirable for us to kill all the bacteria. We couldn't survive without bacteria.
Bacteria play all sorts of essential roles in our physiology and our functioning. Bacteria synthesize nutrients that are essential to us. Bacteria enable us to digest nutrients that we wouldn't otherwise be able to digest. Bacteria make nutrients bio available to us. Bacteria protect us from the really fairly limited number of bacteria that have the potential to make us sick.
And there's just all of this emerging information about all of the ways in which our gut bacteria mediate other immune responses and other kinds of physiological processes. I mean recently there was an exciting new report that found that when a person fights a lung infection, it's actually gut bacteria that are certain that immune response. So clearly, bacteria are very important to human beings and really took to all animals.
Now thinking about plants. Plants are no less dependent upon bacteria than we are. And so no plant lives in a sterile environment. There is no sterile environment other than ones created through extraordinary means in university campuses and government facilities. But everywhere else, there's just all sorts of microorganisms.
There's also no such thing as singular microorganisms. You never find a single species of bacteria, a single species of mold. They just don't exist in the natural world.
So anyway, thinking about plants and bacteria and then humans harvesting plants to eat them, we're never just eating the plants. We're eating the plants and the bacteria. And then, especially, once we start thinking about how to store food. As human beings sort of slowly moved from migratory hunter-gatherer societies where each day people were engaged in procuring the food resources to get them through that day, once people started to think about storing food, it just becomes all about how do you work with the bacteria. How do you dry food effectively so that it prevents bacteria from consuming the dead plant material that you're going to eat?
People just inevitably observed under different types of storage conditions different things happened to their food. So for instance, just picturing a contemporary vegetable, a head of cabbage, if you take a piece of cabbage and leave it on your kitchen counter, you could leave it there for two days. You could leave it there for two weeks. You could leave it there for two months. You could leave it there for two years and it is never going to turn itself into sauerkraut. There are a multitude of different types of organisms on that head of cabbage.
If you leave it just sitting on the counter exposed to air, what's going to happen-- and I'm sure I'm not the only one in this room who's ever had an experience like this-- is you'll get dark colored molds growing on the cabbage. And if it's hot enough, if it's humid enough, if you had the poor judgment to leave it on the counter wrapped in plastic, that mold could literally reduce a head of cabbage into a puddle of slime. And the puddle of slime bears no resemblance whatsoever to delicious crunchy, tangy sauerkraut. And so if a vegetable is exposed to air, molds are what are going to become dominant on that every single time.
If, on the other hand, you manage to submerge the cabbage under liquid, then the molds can't grow because they don't have access to oxygen. And so what's going to grow instead are lactic acid bacteria. And the lactic acid bacteria are going to give it a nice tangy flavor. And then they're going to make it impossible for any of the bacteria that we would regard as pathogenic bacteria to remain alive, even if they were present on the cabbage in the first place.
And by the way, the bacteria that creates a toxin which is considered the substance most toxic to humans of any other substance-- Clostridium botulinum, that produces a toxin that we know as botulism-- a common soil bacteria. It's everywhere. And it probably is present on every head of cabbage. But the only environmental condition in which Clostridium botulinum ever has the possibility of proliferating and creating that toxin is if you heat it up to the point where you kill all the other bacteria. One of the things that distinguishes Clostridium botulinum is it has this formulating form that is extremely heat resistant. And it can even resist boiling temperatures.
And so that's why in canning it's important to pressure cook things, because you elevate the temperature even higher than boiling. And you have to hold it there for a certain amount of time in order to kill all the Clostridium botulinum. Because if you manage to kill all the other bacterium-- you don't have to worry about this in the fermentation context at all because the lactic acid bacteria are so much more prevalent. And every single time you submerge cabbages under water, they will dominate. And as they acidify the environment, they'll kill off the Clostridium botulinum that might be present.
The only time it ever has the opportunity to develop is in improperly heated canned food. So if you can something, heat it to the point where everything else dies. The lactic acid bacteria dies. The mold spores die. The only thing that survives is Clostridium botulinum. And you've left it in this perfect vacuum, the perfect anaerobic environment that it needs in order to proliferate, then the Clostridium botulinum grows.
And the only reason we all know the word botulism is because in the context of canning, which was you know invented like almost exactly 200 years ago. A Frenchman named Nicolas Appert invented the process for you know canning sterilization. And so during the 19th and early 20th century there were all of these scandalous stories where entire families died eating a jar of canned string beans or whatever that hadn't been subjected to quite enough heat.
And anyway, I mean this is just to illustrate that on an all plant matter, there is a multitude of microorganisms not just a single one. And there's an inevitability of our having to deal with these organisms. Fermentation-- or microbial transformations, because fermentation specifically describes anaerobic organisms. And there are anaerobic as well as aerobic organisms on everything.
But microbial transformations of our food are an inevitability. And so either our food decomposes into forms that are not at all palatable to us or else we figure out how to harness the power of the microorganisms to turn the food into something that is more delicious, more stable, more digestible, or in some ways better than it was.
Coexisting with microorganisms is a biological imperative. The fermentation arts are the human cultural manifestations of this biological imperative.
So as we evolved, we evolved with bacteria. As human cultural practices evolved, they evolved in the context of the reality that bacteria and fungi were part of all of our food. And even though it's only in the last 150 years that we have been specifically conceptualizing it as microorganisms, they still were no less of a reality that people had to deal with.
And this is why you know cultures all around the world-- I mean I do not know about every single cultural tradition, culinary tradition, that exists around the world, but I've looked really hard for a counter-example of any kind of culinary tradition that does not incorporate any kind of fermentation. And I can't find any. And I have come to firmly believe that they just could not exist, because of this sort of inevitability of the presence of fermenting organisms or all sorts of organisms on our food.
OK. Now let me talk a little bit about culture. You know culture is a big word. Culture describes science and language and literature and music and religious practices and beliefs and-- thank you-- and the totality of all that people seek to passed down from generation to generation. When we look at the word culture, it comes from Latin for cultivation. And the idea is that origins of culture, or whatever, is related to the cultivation of the soil and the development of ideas about how to do that. We're developing techniques that we are passing down and all that comes with that.
Then we also use the same word to describe little communities of bacteria. So when we make yogurt and transfer a scoop of mature yogurt containing not only yogurt but these bacteria that have turned the milk into yogurt, and we introduce that into new milk, we call that a culture. And we call the act of introducing it into the milk is culturing. So I think it's fascinating that we use the same word to describe these little communities of bacteria that we have harnessed to transform our food that we use to describe this sort of totality of everything that we seek to pass down from generation to generation.
And as it turns out, in so many human cultures, these cultured foods are really central to culinary traditions and even to cultural identity. So many cultures around the world have very distinctive foods that people within the culture are acculturated to be able to enjoy.
And yet, people from outside of the culture who might come and visit or might be exposed to the culture are often very put off by some of these foods, so one culture's highest expression of their culinary arts is often the worst nightmare of somebody who's outside of the culture.
And actually I was recently reading about a Hawaiian and South Pacific ferment called poi, which is fermented taro. And I was reading an anthropologist's account from the 1930s. And the anthropologist who was writing this paper found that the poi so horribly distasteful that he speculated that there must be like a gene, a poi gene, that sort of enabled the South Pacific Islanders to enjoy this food that was just so intrinsically repulsive to this European guy.
But really there's not a poi gene. There's not a Limburger cheese gene. There's not a natto gene. There's not a fish sauce gene. It's just what you're used to.
And I think we probably all can relate to the idea in the realm of cheese. I think we probably all can-- probably half of us or a third of us in this room love stinky cheeses. And once in a while, we'll go to a gourmet food store that sells a bunch of different cheeses and splurge on a chunk of really stinky cheese. And we'll invite some friends over to share that with us.
But guess what? Not all of our friends like that. Some people don't even want to be in the same room, because they find the smell of it just so utterly offensive. And they can never even consider putting it in their mouths. And the world is full of these foods that to a certain portion of the population or people who were raised around the food is just like as good as it gets. And for people who are not familiar with it, it's just scary. It smells like death or rotting or something that that's scary to them.
Something else that I want to address which Shoshi specifically expressed interest in is the role of fermentation in ritual and religious iconography. And the defining characteristic of fermentation is bubbles. When you set up a fermentation, you sort of watch it come to life. Literally, it is coming to life. But that's been really understood in many indigenous cultures around the world as a very magical event. The introduction of life forces to whatever the liquid substrate usually that's being turned into an alcoholic beverage is.
So there's lots of examples of cultures that had elaborate ritual around it. In some cases, it was understood that people had to teach the ferment how to dance. So you know people would make a lot of noise and dance around it and, basically, teach it how to be active and do that until it got active.
And in some other places, they approached it in exactly the opposite way where they felt like it needed to be undisturbed. It needed quiet and reverence. And so people would leave it alone and had a very different understanding of it.
If you look at the Pantheons of different pantheistic religions to which there is surviving documentation, I mean in Egypt there was a goddess of beer, Nin-kasi. And in Lithuania, there was a god of pickles, Roguszys. So lots of pantheistic belief systems have some sort of specific god or goddesses or more than one of them. In Greek mythology, there was Bacchus who was the god of wine.
But even in our modern age, monotheistic religions-- well, in Islam there's a prohibition on alcohol. In Judaism, we say a prayer [HEBREW] blessed is the creator of the fruit of the vine. And we repeat it with multiple drinks of wine. And in the Roman Catholic mass, what is it that is trans substantiated from the blood of Jesus Christ? It's wine. So even in our contemporary, monotheistic world religions, products of fermentation continue to have a really central place in our religious iconography.
I want to mention one other aspect of culture which is technology. The McDonalds brought this beautiful kraut shredding device, which you can see in the back of the room. And that one that they have there is probably a 19th century shredding device.
But the desire for fermented foods AND beverages has given rise to incredible amounts of innovation. And if you try to imagine the roots of pottery, I mean what greater incentive could there have been for people to develop the technology of ceramic vessels than to have vessels to ferment liquid in.
So humans didn't invent fermentation. There's lots of documentation of all sorts of animals being attracted to fermenting fruit. And even documentation of animals becoming inebriated from gorging on fermented fruit. And we can certainly surmise that our primate ancestors in the African jungle were occasionally enjoying the pleasures of gorging themselves with fermented fruit.
But what's really the uniquely human achievement is figuring out how to make it happen so you don't have to wait for it to spontaneously occur during those overripening moments when they do spontaneously occur. So it's humans, largely because we created vessels that could contain these things.
Actually, Claude Lévi-Strauss, who does lots of speculating about the origins of culture, has had some interesting speculation about the origins of alcoholic beverages. And he basically calls a hollowed out tree that will hold water is like the transitional object from nature to culture. And I'm not sure I follow along with his argument the whole way, but this idea that it's a significant moment when people realize that rather than just waiting to find a beehive filled with honey to wash out from a tree during a storm and get diluted in a puddle and have someone taste it and say like, oh, that's really good. Oh, that's making me feel good.
When people began to intentionally do that-- climb up in a tree and harvest the hive with honey. Find some sort of a vessel to place it in and dilute it with water. Brings some intentionality to the process. So a lot of our cultural development, a lot of our technology that we've developed, really has been in response to this burning desire for fermented beverages and other types of products of fermentation.
Now I just want to talk a little bit about my third theme, community. Microorganisms, as I mentioned earlier, never exist in sort of singular isolated species. You never find just yeast, saccharomyces, like all on its own. You never find lactobacillus just on its own. Microorganisms, like all other forms of life, exist in communities with interactions.
I think it's a really important concept. I mean the thrust of the literature of fermentation and the science of fermentation throughout the 20th century, including the esteemed Dr. Steinkraus has all been all about isolating individual organisms. And in many cases, it's been about how can we improve upon an indigenous practice that people have been doing and enjoying within their communities? How can we look at what they've been doing and pull out the important organisms and then do that in a more hygienic way in a factory with more efficient production?
And all around the world, part of the process of culture is being destroyed. And cultural homogenization has been sort of killing off the indigenous community-based fermentation processes and moving these things into factors of production, which has the result of disempowering people and breeding dependence on a product that they have to buy that they previously had been able to create for themselves.
Now food and beverages brings people together. When communities of people, when families, when any groups of people come together, it is most often around food. Food is one of the greatest community builders that there are.
And really the process of growing food, transforming the raw products of agriculture into the foods that people actually like to eat, these are all community activities. We have this little myth of like total self-sufficiency where one family goes off into the woods and creates a homestead, grows all of their own food, mills their own grain, bakes their own bread. And that is exactly a myth. I mean it's impossible. I mean how can anyone do all of that on their own?
We could have a local food self-sufficiency. We could have regional food self-sufficiency. But it's got to be a community activity. I mean if it takes a village to raise a child, what does it take to try to have a well-rounded diet? It takes lots of people doing lots of different things.
And the fermentation arts are all extraordinarily simple at their basis. They're all ancient rituals that people have been doing forever. Or for a longer time than we know, because the origins of the ferments are not documented at all, because they predate recorded history. They're prehistoric. The earliest written documents in different languages refer to the ferments that already existed in those traditions.
But it's given rise to a huge amount of specialization. So any of us could learn how to brew beer. We could learn how to make some basic cheeses. We could learn how to make sauerkraut. Any of these very popular ferments, but it's not realistic that any one of us could do all of those things or learn how to do them all with any level of proficiency or do them regularly.
So really even when we're talking about reviving local production, I mean we're talking about rebuilding webs in our communities, webs of food production and webs of exchange. And in terms of the broader agenda that I'm interested in which is reclaiming our food, bringing production back to Earth, recreating alternatives to massed produced foods.
Really since the Second World War, the development, first in the US and then the rest of the world or most of the rest of the world following suit, has been centralizing production, mass production, of food. As far as I can tell, the mass production of food has been a failure. And we need to revive the ideas of regional and local production of food. It's been--
--yeah. It's been a failure because it's producing nutritionally diminished food that's making us sick. Right now for the first time in American history, demographers are thinking that our children's lifespans are likely to be shorter than ours. And one of the reasons for this is the diminished nutritional quality of the food that we're eating.
The means by which we are mass producing food is polluting the Earth, depleting water resources, polluting the water, creating new forms of pollution like genetic pollution that we don't really know how to deal with. The decentralized production of food and the transportation of it uses a huge amount of energy. And as long as that energy is available and cheap, I mean I guess there's thousands of products in every supermarket that we can buy. But that's a big if. Following the logic of peak oil and the idea that oil is becoming rarer and more expensive, both in monetary terms and in environmental terms to extract from the Earth, what are the implications of that on food prices and on food availability?
Beyond the fuel involved in transporting food vast distances, there's the question of vulnerability to disruptions-- all sorts of disruptions, whether it's from natural disasters or extreme weather events or wars or terrorism or other kinds of political violence. And basically being dependent on food resources far away just makes us exceedingly vulnerable.
So I think that for me, the big picture of why fermentation is important and why reskilling people with the ability to ferment food for themselves, isn't so everybody can make everything for themselves, but it's because that's such an integral part of redeveloping community, local, regional food self-sufficiency. I mean people don't just eat the raw products of agriculture. People love to eat all the things that you turn the raw products of agriculture into. And these are largely fermented products.
So anyway I could really go on and on, but it'll be much more interesting and fun if we make this a little bit interactive. So does anyone have any questions or comments or bones to pick or things they want to argue about or anything? Oh, good.
AUDIENCE: You started off-- because it had aged so long?
SANDOR KATZ: Absolutely. So it can't grow in an acidic environment. One of the reasons why acidification is such a brilliant strategy for food preservation is because it's also a strategy for food safety. And not botulism, but E. coli especially E. coli 0157 and salmonella and wisteria and really any of the food poisoning organisms that any of us have heard the names of can't grow in an acidic environment. So that's another reason why fermentation is so safe.
Fermented vegetables, as far as I can tell, are the safest food that exists on this Earth. They're certainly safer than raw vegetables. According to the USDA, there has never been a single case of poisoning in the United States from food poisoning-- from fermented vegetables. How many foods can you say that about? I mean you certainly couldn't say that about raw vegetables or fruits or meats or nuts.
Every year, we read all these accounts of spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, almonds, apples. I mean there's one thing after another. So obviously incidents of contamination is a reality. You have a farm that's growing lettuce in the fields. And there's a farm a little bit uphill where there's animals in confinement. And some of their manure trickles down the hill, gets on the lettuce leaves. And there's always the potential for raw foods to get contaminated.
If you took the contaminated vegetables and chopped them up and salted them and stuffed them into a crock to make sauerkraut out of them, the proliferation of lactic acid bacteria would over mill the incidental contaminants. And then as the environment acidified, the contaminating bacteria would be destroyed. So that's why there's never been a case of food poisoning reported from fermented vegetables.
I mean, it's not that it's impossible for cabbages or other vegetables that you might incorporate into your sauerkraut to become contaminated, it's that even if they are contaminated, sauerkraut has this built in defense strategy. Acidification is a hugely important means of protection.
In fact, human reproduction would not be possible without lactic acid fermentation. Basically, women's vaginas, there are populations of lactobacilli. And actually women's bodies produce a specific carbohydrate, a glycogen, to support those populations. It's the acidification of those lactobacilli that facilitate effective human reproduction.
And then the flip side of that is that when babies are born-- when their fetus is in the womb, they're in a sterile environment. But it's sort of in their transit out of the womb that they first get populated by bacteria. So the first bacteria that babies get exposed to are lactic acid bacteria. And then, of course, they continue to get exposed to lactic acid bacteria as they're breast feeding. And it's that sort of buildup of lactic acid bacteria and other bacteria in their guts that enable them to begin to digest solid foods. So human beings have a very, very intimate relationship with lactic acid bacteria in particular.
And that's why live culture, lactic acid fermented foods can be so beneficial to our health, because there are all these factors in our contemporary lives, chemicals in our contemporary lives, antibiotic drugs, antibacterial cleansing products, chlorinated water that have the accumulated result of assaulting the bacteria in our guts on a daily basis. And so it's become important to replenish, diversify, those populations. And fermented foods are a really great way of doing that. Are there any other comments, questions, challenges?
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] Ayurvedic practictioners [INAUDIBLE] too much fermented stuff, too much acidity and inflammation, [INAUDIBLE]?
SANDOR KATZ: OK, question about Ayurvedic practitioners saying that too much fermented foods create too much acidity and inflammation. So, OK. One thing about eating acidic, live-culture foods, even though they are acidic, because they make minerals so much more bio-available, they actually have the net effect of akalinizing us, even though they are acidic.
Now, I'm not advocating that everybody just eat fermented foods. Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. It's really important to eat fresh vegetables, too.
There's been a little bit of a correlation, in some places in Asia, between high consumption of salty, preserved vegetables and esophageal cancers. But basically, when they look-- the elevated levels of cancers are among people who eat almost exclusively fermented vegetables as their source of vegetables. And once you look at people who eat a balance between fermented vegetables and non-fermented fresh vegetables, then you see-- then there is no elevation of esophageal cancer.
I don't think it's really any benefit to eat only fermented foods. Well, first of all, in many places, especially historically, in the wintertime, that has been the fresh vegetables that people have had available to them. But I think, in our time, where even in the context of a revival of local agriculture in a temporary place like this that has a limited growing season-- we have whole houses now. There's ways that people can have some fresh vegetables and fermented individuals, really all year around.
Now, in terms of Ayurveda, it's interesting, because I have heard this idea that Ayurvedic medicine has a bias against fermented foods. But what I've learned is that there's a whole branch of Ayurvedic medicine where they make medicinal preparations out of different kinds of plants, where the plants are fermented, like that's integral to making the medicine, because they understand that the fermentation transforms the medicinal actions of different plants and phytochemicals, just through the fact that they're fermented. So Ayurveda is not unilaterally opposed to fermentation.
But I think moderation is a really good thing for any of us to keep in mind. Alcoholic beverages-- we love it, but it's really important to enjoy them with a sense of moderation. Same with fermented vegetables, fermented soybeans, and really anything.
AUDIENCE: I have a question about actually doing fermentation.
SANDOR KATZ: That's all right.
AUDIENCE: So I have pretty good luck with kimchi, sauerkraut, and those kinds of things. But I find that it's an iffier proposition, in terms of fermenting cucumbers or green tomatoes. And so I'm just wondering if you have some tricks that--
SANDOR KATZ: Yeah, sure. So cucumbers are pretty much the most challenging vegetable to ferment. And one reason is that they're so watery. Another reason is that the time when they're ripe is the time when temperatures are highest. The best vegetables for preservation are vegetables that ripen when it's cool. And cucumbers ripen when it's hot.
The best method that I've used-- and really, the issue is they get mushy. OK, so it's not that they, like, get toxic or taste horrible. It's that they lose their nice crunchiness and get really mushy.
And so a basic conceptual idea is that all living things contain the enzymes to digest themselves. And so vegetables all contain enzymes that digest the vegetables in different ways. So there are these pectinase enzymes that exist in vegetables, that digest pectins. And so when cucumbers get really mushy, it's really because of the pectinase enzymes.
And one solution is to find a cool fermentation spot. So an unheated cellar is ideal, OK.
AUDIENCE: What about grape leaves?
SANDOR KATZ: Yeah. Grape leaves-- so all these tannin-rich leaves seem to inhibit these enzymes. So grape leaves, oak leaves, sour cherry leaves-- I've also used tea bags when I couldn't find any of those things. But those are techniques for keeping the cucumbers crunchier for longer.
When I make cucumber pickles in the summertime, I typically, in Tennessee-- where it's generally 95 degrees every afternoon when cucumbers are ripe-- I ferment them for just two or three days. And then I move them to a refrigerator. So whereas when I make sauerkraut from cabbage or from radishes in November, I'm still eating that. And I'll be eating that up until June or July. And it's got a perfectly wonderful texture.
So it's really a short fermentation time with these tannin-rich leaves, and getting them into a cool spot. A really short fermentation time, compared to anything else.
AUDIENCE: What's the ideal temperature rate for long term storage?
SANDOR KATZ: I would say the preferred temperature-- 55 degrees, 55 to 60 degrees.
AUDIENCE: So there are a lot of industrially produced fermented foods. You go to Green Star and you see the kombucha that's sold all across the country. I don't personally think it's as good as the homemade stuff. I'm curious if there is a trade-off between ramping up production and maintaining the functional integrity of the products.
SANDOR KATZ: Well, that's a great question. So some of you probably remember that maybe a year a half ago, there was a big sort of scare about kombucha, and it was removed from the shelves of a lot of stores, most notably Whole Foods. And that was because I guess it was the FDA sampled some bottles and found alcohol levels-- they were above 0.5%, which is the cut off for food or beverages to be marketed not as alcoholic beverages.
And so actually, many people who are producing kombucha stopped using the sort of traditional culture for making kombucha, which is-- kombucha, kefir, and a couple of other ferments are really notable for their cultures, because their cultures have evolved into really distinct and physical forms.
So if any of you have ever seen mother of kombucha, it's this like rubbery disc that floats at the top of the sweet tea that is fermented, and is gives just a thin film that gets thicker and thicker. And I mean, I've seen them this thick, floating on top of this sweet tea. And it's a community of organisms. It's called a SCOBY in the literature. S-C-O-B-Y, Symbiotic Community Of Bacteria and Yeast.
And so this is what defines kombucha. Another SCOBY is kefir. It looks like little florets of cauliflower. And they're called kefir grains, or sometimes kefir curds. And similarly, it's a community of organisms. The kefir community has been much studied. [INAUDIBLE] identified more than thirty distinct micro-organisms that are present in the kefir community.
But you know, sometimes, these SCOBYs are challenging for commercial production. It's very difficult to standardize. So you will not find a commercial kefir for sale in the United States, that I think is worthy of being called kefir, because they're not made with the SCOBY, which is what has historically defined this food.
Instead, some micro-biologists looked under the microscope and sort of pulled off a few of the organisms that are present in kefir. And so now, kefir that's commercially available is a cultured milk product made with a few of the individual organisms that were extracted from kefir grains, but not with the full community, because one of the organisms in the community kefir is [INAUDIBLE] yeast that transforms lactose into alcohol.
When you're trying to sell a fermented milk product in a natural food store, and market it for children, it becomes problematic if it has more than 0.5% alcohol. And typically, kefir will have 0.8% alcohol, or maybe 1.1% alcohol. I mean, you would need to drink an awful lot of it to feel the alcohol, but nonetheless it is present. So it creates huge regulatory challenges.
Plus, your starter is something that keeps growing. So if you're trying to standardize production, have exactly the same length of time for each batch, if your starter keeps growing, it's really, really hard to standardize.
So basically, the way people, at least in the United States context have gotten around this is, they just extracted a few organisms from that. They call it a kefir starter. You can buy different powdered kefir starters that I think it should be illegal to call kefir. They might be perfectly wonderful cultured milk products, but you know, kefir is this community of organisms from the Caucasus mountains that is embodied in a physical form that has evolved.
There have also been a multitude of experiments in laboratories where people take as many of these individual organisms as they can, and then put them together in a test tube and try to create a new life out of them, and create a new kefir brand. And nobody's been able to do it.
It's like kefir begets kefir in the way elephants beget elephants. It's not created in the laboratory.
But anyway, going back to kombucha-- a lot of the kombucha manufacturers now, you know, because there's this problem with alcohol in the kombucha sometimes-- as long as kombucha is exposed to air, alcohol doesn't accumulate. There's always going to be traces of alcohol, but because it's exposed to air, alcohol exposed to air turns into acetic acid. There are bacteria called acetobacter that consume alcohol and transform it into acetic acid. But as soon as you seal it into a bottle, then there are yeasts as part of that community that do produce alcohol. So when you seal it into a bottle and there is no longer a flow of oxygen, then you start to have greater potential for alcohol accumulation. And that's what happened with the ones that caused this big scare.
But as a result, many of the manufacturers have cased using the traditional kombucha culture, and instead of using various extracts of a few of the organisms from the traditional kombucha culture, and leaving out the yeast and other ones that it might be perceived as being problematic.
So there are a lot of fermented foods that are being marketed that are really like-- they have a lot of cultures. It's not that they're bad things. It's just that they're not the things that they are purporting to be. They're not the things that have historically defined those particular foods.
So I think that there's that. And then there's also just-- fermented foods are like the ultimate in localism in the specificity of place. And I think that cheeses are an especially good illustration of this, because like all of these kind of crazy different kinds of cheeses that exist-- and you know, really, what we can find in fancy cheese stores in the United States is just the tip of the ice berg.
A couple of years ago, I went to this international slow food gathering in Italy called Terra Madre. And one of the things that slow foods is doing is, trying to promote and protect foods that are perceived as being at some risk of extinction.
And so, there were all these really obscure cheeses like I'd never seen before. There were cheeses where the sort of wrapping was the bark of a tree. There were cheeses where the wrapping was the skin of an animal. Really, just like an extraordinary range of styles of cheese making. But ultimately, they're defined by the pastures on which different animals are grazing, and the seasons in which they're being milked, and more than anything by the environments in which they are being aged.
And so historically, specific cheeses were just produced in specific places. And now in Europe, they have this sort of legal mechanism for protecting certain foods. You can only use the name of the food in that particular place. But as a practical matter, there are all of these sort of catalogs and suppliers where you buy all these different cheese cultures, and so you can buy-- the culture for a Camembert.
That evolved as a response to a specific set of environmental conditions. But now you can buy that culture and make cheese with it. And so, most cheese makers are really trying to replicate certain classic styles of cheese, which is wonderful. The classic styles of cheese are great.
But because each cheese sort of evolved as a specific response to specific a environment, there are lots of cheeses that are not being made, because you a smaller and smaller group of them are sort of popular cheeses that are being widely copied and manufactured and marketed. But there are many more cheeses that are not being copied and marketed.
And so there's actually this very interesting woman. [INAUDIBLE] is her last name. She a cheesemaker who got interested in microbiology and got a PhD in microbiology. And she's been basically writing about the loss of biodiversity in cheeses.
So you know, as people are focused more and more on a limited number of cheeses, and sort of buying those specific cultures, there are all these other cheeses that are just falling by the wayside.
There are all these cultures-- I mean, you know, basically-- fresh milk, as most of us grew up drinking it-- it's a 20th century phenomenon. It's only possible to have widespread enjoyment of fresh milk if you have widespread refrigeration. And so, really, the origin of all cheeses is just the inevitable process of milk souring.
And so most people throughout history, and most people still in the world-- the milk that they had access to is sour milk. And there's been all this diversity of sour milk.
And so we have a word in English that's become really kind of obsolete-- clabbery. Clabbered milk. And that really means raw milk left out will acidify and thicken itself, just through bacterial processes. But clabbered milk in different environments and different seasons will have very different kinds of flavors.
And so when people had clabbered milk that they especially liked, they would take a little bit of that sour milk and introduce that into the next batch of milk. And in the technical literature, that's called back slopping. Taking a little bit of the last batch and introduce that into the next batch, and that can be a continuous process.
So all around the world-- everywhere where people domesticated ruminant animals for their milk, people who drank sour milk had all these distinctive styles of sour milk developed. Now, now that yogurt has become this globalized process, basically, the only vocabulary we have for talking about these is to refer to them as yogurts.
So using another slow food example, there's a fermented milk in a region of Kenya that's very distinctive and is always fermented in a gourd. They add the ash of a particular plant to it as part of the process, as part of creating a selective environment.
And slow food is championing this. But the only word they have to call it is Kenyan yogurt. It has nothing to do with yogurt whatsoever. It's a different fermented milk. But like all processes of cultural homogenization-- the language is dying. And everybody is speaking a smaller number of languages. The same thing is happening with these milks, where all of these distinctive styles of cultured, soured, fermented milks, are sort of falling by the wayside as more and more people are kind of embracing the kind of dominant global commodities like yogurt.
And I mean yogurt no disrespect by saying this. And you know, just another note on yogurt that people who have been coming to a couple of talks have already heard me talk about, but I will go ahead and repeat it-- how many people here have ever tried to make yogurt?
It's something that a lot of people experiment with. And if you go buy a package of yogurt in the store, you buy plain, you know, Stonyfield, Dannon, whatever kind of yogurt, and you take a little scoop of that, and you heat up your milk, and you cool it down to 110, you introduce that milk, you create some sort of an incubation chamber and try to maintain it around 110 degrees for several hours, then you can make beautiful yogurt. Then you have that yogurt and you could make another batch of yogurt. But as you get into like the third batch, and the fourth batch, suddenly the yogurt's not staying so thick anymore.
And it's just like with the kefir and the kombucha. Yogurt has been a community of organisms. And microbiologists at the Pasteur Institute at beginning of the 20th century looked at yogurt under the microscope and decided, this one, Lactobacillus vulgaricus, or this one, Streptococcus thermophilus-- these are the important bacteria for yogurt that make yogurt thicken.
Well, there were lots of other bacteria there. So all of the commercial yogurts, starting with the Dannon company in Barcelona 1919, have been making yogurt out of selected, individual strains of bacteria. They combine a couple, or two or three or four different bacteria, but that's not the same as an evolved community that has inherent stability and defense strategies to protect it from other kinds of bacteria and other forms of life that can attack bacteria.
So these evolved communities have an elaborate defense strategies. So traditional yogurts-- people got the culture from their grandmother, who got it from her grandmother, and it just passed down from generation to generation.
When people try to make yogurt with contemporary supermarket yogurt, you can made wonderful yogurt for a generation or two. And then everybody has to go back to the store and buy another cup of yogurt to do another generation or two.
So these traditional mixed cultures really are easier to propagate because they have this-- there is this community dynamics, and community stability. And once we isolate individual organisms-- it can have practical benefit. I'm sure, for yogurt manufacturers, it's much more consistent and predictable to work with a couple of isolated bacteria, than to work with a community. But for people who are household or community level practitioners, it is ultimately a disempowering process, because a generalist cannot isolate individual bacteria and propagate individual bacteria effectively.
So now, instead of being able to just continue propagating the culture received from your great grandmother, you have to keep on going and buying another starter. And really the whole thrust of fermentation science and fermentation literature throughout the 20th century has been all about this-- isolating individual organisms in the name of improved production.
To me, it's exactly analogous to the process of hybrid seeds replacing sort of seeds that farmers had saved over the course of generations, that were well adapted to local conditions. The seed breeders created seeds that did have improvements. Under ideal circumstances, they would give higher yields, or bigger vegetables, or other types of improvements.
But not everyone's farm is ideal conditions. So what it meant is, people had to put in irrigation systems. So that's expensive, and ultimately has ended up depleting water resources. They're not as well adapted to local pests or fungi. So people need to buy chemicals to put on those. And then you have to buy the seeds themselves, because it's not within the realm of what a generalist farmer can do, to sort of create their own hybrid seeds.
So we've replaced a process that was self-perpetuating with a process where practitioners are disempowered and forced to sort of purchase product from some experts who know how to do it.
So that's been the thrust of the fermentation science and literature through the 20th century. And my interest is, and the books that I've been writing are all about the opposite-- trying to help empower people with skills to take back these processes and start doing on their own.
And there are still heirloom yogurt cultures available. And the internet actually has turned out to be an amazing tool for spreading things like that around. So after years of occasionally making yogurt and feeling discouraged when it stopped working after a couple of generations, a couple of years ago, I got a hold of a heirloom yogurt culture on the internet called truespirithealth.com.
I estimate that I've done 45 generations so far with the same culture. And each batch is just as thick and delicious as the previous batch was.
In February, I had the opportunity to go to Indonesia, and I got to visit a village where they make tempeh. Now, I've been eating tempeh for 15 years. And I always use a pure culture starter-- Rhizopus oligosporous [INAUDIBLE], which Dr. Steinkraus actually gave to the USDA. So there's a USDA culture collection that has this sort of one strain of Rhizopus oligosporous and all of the tempeh that's been manufactured commercially in the United States has been made with this single strain.
And I've sort of learned how to propagate the single strain. And it really kind of strains my abilities as a generalist with a laboratory to be able to propagate the single strain. And you have to use a pressure cooker and you have to kind of wipe down everything, and just make sure things are as-- obviously, it's not sterile in my kitchen. But things are as sanitized as possible. And you know, I've had mixed results. Sometimes I get it. Sometimes I don't. Usually I end up just buying my tempeh starter from a mail order source.
But when I went to Indonesia, what I found in this village where they make tempeh is like, a leaf. They sandwich some innoculated soybeans between two leaves, they overripened it, dried it in the sun. When they opened it up, you see two colors of sporulation. You see black, which is the color of the sporulation of Rhizopus oligosporous. And I saw yellow, which is the color of sporulation of aspergillus fungi. And also, just because it was an open environment, there's all sorts of bacteria.
And so you use that to innoculate the soybeans. You make beautiful tempeh that actually has a more complex flavor to it. And then when you need more starter, you just take some of those innoculated soybeans, put them between two leaves, and it's easy for a generalist to propagate. Just conceptually, any ferment to be sort of a continuous process from whatever its origins are to the present-- people didn't have microscopes. People didn't have sterile laboratories. People had to be able to propagate these things themselves.
And you know, whatever the improvements might be for commercial production to have isolated, pure cultures-- they're not better for the home practitioner. Mixed cultures are much, much easier to work with, because there's this community stability that's kind of inherent in groups of organisms that have evolved together.
AUDIENCE: I'm curious about your new book that's coming out, and what ideas you were able to develop [INAUDIBLE].
SANDOR KATZ: Well, I mean, you know, [INAUDIBLE] production has been talked about. There's certainly a pure culture versus mixed culture idea. My opening chapter is called fermentation is a [INAUDIBLE] some of the stuff that I started out talking about-- I develop more.
But really more than anything, it's another book that's about how to ferment things yourself. And it's a book that I couldn't have written in 2001 when I wrote Wild Fermentation.
Any book is like a little slice in time. Anyone who writes a book, hopefully, is someone who's going to continue to take in new information and learn things. And so in 2001, I had eight years of experience fermenting foods. And it was mostly just me and a few books that I found and all my friends that I began to subject to my experiments.
And since the book came out, I've just gotten to teach all over. I've gotten to talk to thousands of people. And I had a web site, and had thousands of people write to me. So I mean, I just feel like-- first of all, I know about a lot more different ferments.
I've gotten a chance to experiment much more widely. But even more importantly, I've just gotten to hear people's stories about what their grandparents did, what they did in the old country that they came from, and the feed they think about all the time that they miss, that they haven't been able to find in the US.
And also, the problems that people encounter. So I feel like by answering and troubleshooting questions via my web site for a decade, I have gained a lot of insight into what the typical problems-- [INAUDIBLE] soft cucumbers or why doesn't my yogurt work after two or three generations, or things like that.
So the new book is just, you know, more in-depth, because my knowledge has become more in-depth. But really, mostly because I've gotten to talk to lots of people. And I also read a lot of books.
I had two hours in the Vanderbilt University library to like skim through Dr. Steinkraus's book when I wrote Wild Fermentation. And I found him difficult, but obviously [INAUDIBLE] He's been such an indispensable resource for me.
And there's a huge literature of fermentation if you start looking around at what microbiologists have written, what various social scientists have written-- I read this brilliant dissertation about the economic consequences of factory production of sorghum beer in Botswana. And it turns out that in Botswana, brewing beer was one of the best opportunities for women to earn a decent living. And basically moving it from community production to factory production has had huge economic repercussions, certainly for these women, and for those dependent on them, and for the communities that they live in.
So anyway, I've been more practiced, more conversation, more reading. And it's a decade later. And I have more to say. Yeah.
AUDIENCE: A little bird told me that you're working on something with Patrick McGovern [INAUDIBLE].
SANDOR KATZ: Oh, that's so funny. A little bird told her that I'm working on something with Patrick McGovern. Well, I don't know. We've had a nice correspondence. You know, he's someone I really admire. In June, I'm going to Philadelphia. And he's going to show me around the museum we're going to have lunch together. But maybe it will turn out that we'll work on something, but I don't know about it yet.
AUDIENCE: Oh. OK. Thanks.
AUDIENCE: I came a little late, so I'm sorry if you already addressed this. I'm just curious if-- your talk kind of touched a few times on the relationship of fermentation to the body, and relationships to the body. I'm curious if you have any insights into different cultures' use of ferments and different cultures' relationships to decay, to death, to body function. Stinky feet smells like rot, all that kind of stuff.
SANDOR KATZ: Well, that's pretty big and broad. I mean, I'm not sure how to answer that question. I mean, you have the one level. It's a pattern repeated across so many cultures that fermented foods, and in particular, foods with live cultures, were just sort of understood by folklore to be especially supportive of health, or healing, or magical foods, in some way.
The other level-- you're talking about stinky cheeses or something-- people are always likening stinky cheeses to various body parts and things like that. And a lot of the squeamishness that people have about certain fermented foods is that it's sort of like it works the edge of what they're sort of instinctively repulsed by. [INAUDIBLE] death and decomposition. It's sort of like working that edge. But I don't know if that answered that question.
AUDIENCE: Fair enough.
AUDIENCE: To go in a slightly different direction, because I'm curious about how fermented products and fermented communities are used in spa treatment, or in other hygienic products that [INAUDIBLE] invoke marginalized sector of health care that's not necessarily something you eat. I think there was a spa in--
SANDOR KATZ: Yeah, yeah, sure, sure. In Freestone, California, the Osmosis Day Spa. They basically-- what they had was like tubs of rice bran and sawdust cultured and fermented and quite warm.
And once they're really active and generating heat, they'd fill a tub with it. And there's a spa treatment where they basically make a little space in the shape of you laying down. And then you'd lay down in it. And they cover you up. And it's incredibly hot. It's 140 degrees.
The temperature if you just stick a thermometer in there is 140 degrees. It doesn't really keep your body warmed to 140 degrees. I stayed in there for like half an hour or so.
You have a host who comes and pampers you, puts cold clothes on your forehead, gives you a little sort of bent straw with cold water to sip while you're in there. But it really is this amazing, exfoliating feeling. It's really like bacteria eating the dead skin off the [INAUDIBLE].
You know, it felt really great. I felt really kind of jelly when I got out of there.
AUDIENCE: The stuff that we hear about mineralizing the body as a health regimen for hundreds of years. People go to credible water sources that have unique mineral compositions. And they drink these waters, they bathe in them. But we could look at these bacterial communities as another way to treat our entire body, not just our digestive tract, with a community [INAUDIBLE].
SANDOR KATZ: Well, people also sometimes use fermented medicinally as poultices. I actually met this elderly Russian born woman in Australia when I was doing some workshops out there in [INAUDIBLE] and she told me this great story, that her husband had skin cancer.
And it was like a cancer in his ear. And he was scheduled for surgery to have this cancer removed. And one night, she had a dream. Her grandmother came to her in her dream, and reminded her that in Russia, when people would have an infection or any kind of skin irregularity, they would put a poultice of sauerkraut on it.
So this woman, in the morning, she told her husband about the dream, and he agreed to let her put some sauerkraut on the skin cancer in his ear. And it started shrinking. And he ended up not having to have the surgery.
And it's well-documented that sauerkraut has compounds called [INAUDIBLE] that are [INAUDIBLE] anti-carcinogenic compounds. So it all kind of makes sense.
But I mean, sure. I think you there's all sorts-- I've heard of people soaking their feet in vinegar to get rid of fungal infections on their feet. There's lots of applications beyond just ingesting them-- to use the fermented organisms themselves, or their metabolic byproducts, such as [INAUDIBLE] acid, in different kinds of topical, medicinal ways.
And the Osmosis Day Spa, they didn't invent that. That's something that's done in Japan. From what I've been told, it was something that was invented in this century in Japan, but it's practically like a [INAUDIBLE].
AUDIENCE: What are a few of your favorite fermented foods?
SANDOR KATZ: That's so hard. What are my favorite fermented foods. I feel like, it's like, which is your favorite child, or something? I'm very devoted to sauerkraut. I mean, I really do love sauerkraut. I really do love beer.
But I love experimenting. Probably the fermented food that I eat the most frequently is, I make these, like, savory, vegetable sourdough pancakes. Sometimes I'll go for weeks where, twice a day, my meal is some sort of vegetable, maybe a little cheese grated into my sourdough, mixed in with an egg, and I make these pancakes. Like, I just never get tired of them. I always vary them a little bit. I love to make those.
That was my favorite. I love cheese. Oh my god. I mean, I guess I would have to say, like a creamy, creamy, strong-flavored cheese. Yeah. [INAUDIBLE] You know, but if I was going to be on a desert island, if I was stranded on an island with only one food, I would never take the stinky cheese. I'd stick with the sourdough pancakes or a sauerkraut. Or both. [INAUDIBLE]
AUDIENCE: So I'm curious-- like what would happen if you took a Dannon yogurt, and you did it a couple of generations-- what if you kept going? Would you get a new community [INAUDIBLE] would it take a hundred generations, a thousand? That would be crazy.
SANDOR KATZ: I don't know. Evolution just isn't that predictable. I mean, if you have access to raw milk, you can just leave raw milk on the counter. And it will sour itself. You'll have cultured milk, clabbered milk.
But in terms of a stable community-- I don't think that that's that predictable, how long that would take. I mean you know just conceptually-- the first yogurt, nobody has a starter. The first yogurt was a spontaneous event that occurred somewhere. The first kefir was a spontaneous event that occurred somewhere, that somebody especially liked, and probably through some trial and error, figured out how to propagate.
I just don't think that these events are that predictable. In some environments, you could leave out milk every day for decades, and just never get something that might taste good, or that turns into a stable community. So I don't know. And I don't know enough about microbiology. To be perfectly honest, I haven't taken biology classes since ninth grade.
I've read a literature, but I'm kind of missing certain underlying concepts. And I just don't know. But I think that it's very, very unpredictable. It could happen. You know, you could leave out raw milk in your kitchen, and actually turn out to have something that you love much more than yogurt or kefir, that could be the next global soured milk product. But the likelihood is it wouldn't.
AUDIENCE: You mentioned sourdoughs. I'm curious about the cultures that are available commercially.
SANDOR KATZ: Yeah. So sourdoughs are really interesting. In a way, I would say that they're the exception to what I've been saying about stable communities, because most of the research that I've found about sourdoughs-- actually, there's this New York state baker in the Hudson Valley, Daniel Leader, who's written a couple of really great books about the bread.
And he was out in California, visiting a bunch of bakeries. And somebody gave him some of their famous San Francisco sourdough starter. And so he did this thing where he sent some of it directly to a laboratory for some microbial analysis, and took the rest of the sourdough that he was gifted with.
He went over to New York state. He fed it a couple of times, baked some bread with it, and then took the starter that he had left and took some of that, and sent it to the same lab for microbial analysis. And what he left California with wasn't what he had in New York a week later.
Basically, the sourdough starter had become his environment. So between the flour that he was feeding to the sourdough-- and all grains have their own microbial ecosystem, between what's on the flour and what's in his bakery, basically, the community in that sourdough was not stable.
And so even though sourdoughs are really different in different places depending on the environment, there's really only a couple of different genuses-- it's basically the same genuses and organisms, or genera of organisms, that are found in sourdoughs around the world. So there's a lot of similarity, but it's never the same. And you don't really get the same kind of community stability as you do in yogurt, or in tempeh, or kombucha, or kefir, or some of these other types of ferments.
So you know, I mean, I've mostly started sourdoughs just from scratch. And then over the years, different people have gifted me [INAUDIBLE] sourdoughs. They hear somebody brought it from Europe with them, and have been feeding it over the course of generations. But really, ultimately, they all end up tasting the same in my kitchen. And I've just ended up just throwing them all together, and have this bastard sourdough [INAUDIBLE].
I mean, for a little, I was trying to maintain all these different sourdoughs. And I just realized they all taste the same. As distinct as they might have been when somebody left Europe with them, 150 years ago, or wherever they came from-- just in the environment of my kitchen, and fed the same flour that I use-- they all sort of became the same. And so I just decided to throw them all together.
AUDIENCE: Is it the case, though, that it's not a stable community? Or did it stabilize itself in your kitchen?
SANDOR KATZ: Yeah, sure.
SANDOR KATZ: Yeah, I mean--
AUDIENCE: You could take back [INAUDIBLE].
SANDOR KATZ: Yeah, I mean, except that it seems like it's mostly about the substrate-- the flour that you are feeding it. So you know, there's been some interesting microbial analysis within a bakery. And so the rye sourdough will be a little bit different profile than the wheat sourdough, because you're getting slightly different populations of organisms proliferating on each of those different plants.
Anymore burning questions from anyone? Well, I thank you so much for your interest. If any of you want to buy copies of either of my books that already exist, I have them right on that table. And I also have little postcards about my new book, The Art of Fermentation. And I encourage you to please check that out when it comes out. And I thank you all for your interest and attention.
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In this April 2, 2012, seminar, Sandor Ellix Katz is a renowned fermentation revivalist and author of 'Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition and Craft of Live-Culture Foods' and 'The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved'. In this seminar, he discusses his new book 'The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World'.