Monday, August 23, 2010

Making a cheap sterile anerobic fermenter for Zuurkool, Sauerkraut, Choucroute, Kiszona Kapusta, Kimchi etc.

One of the things I set out to do at the start of the year was make Zuurkool - Dutch Sauerkraut - and a Ukrainian type of pickled cabbage. Sauerkraut is made by a process of pickling called lacto-fermentation. I wont bother going into details here.

Fully-cured sauerkraut keeps for several months in an airtight container stored at or below 15°C.

Neither refrigeration nor pasteurization is required, although these treatments may prolong storage life. However, pasteurization will destroy all of the beneficial digestive enzymes and lactic acid bacteria, as well as the valuable vitamin C content, so it greatly diminishes the nutritional value without any significant benefit.

This type of preservation is something you find right across Europe, and it has various names.
In Alsace and Lorraine in France it is generally called Choucroute. In Germany Sauerkraut, in Holland it's Zuurkool. You will find Kiszona kapusta all over Eastern Europe.
Even in Asia this type of preservation is popular, perhaps the most well known being Korean Kimchi.

Recipes for Zuurkool will come later, the first thing we need to do is prepare the equipment.

Basics, airtight food grade container with an airlock and bung from homebrewwest

The Sauerkraut types we get in Ireland are frequently just pickled in vinegar and filled with preservatives. Real Sauerkraut is very tasty and very, very healthy.

Captain James Cook always took a store of sauerkraut on his sea voyages, since experience had taught him that it was an effective way to fight scurvy, even they did not understand vitamin C fully in those days.
This allowed Cook to map the world and bring most of his crew home safe - quite a feat in those days.

German sailors continued this practice even after the British Royal Navy had switched to limes, earning the British sailors the nickname "Limey" while the Germans became known as a "Kraut's".

The rebranding of French Fries as Freedom Fries in recent times in the US is not a new idea.
During World War I, due to concerns the American public would reject a product with a German name, American sauerkraut makers relabeled their product as "Liberty cabbage" for the duration of the war.

The main problem we have here in making it is the equipment required. It is easy to make, but we Irish are used to buying it in jars or having it with hot dogs.
We are not quite sure how its made - and from the taste we assume it is pickled in vinegar. It's actually fermented.

There are several specialist crocks available on the continent specially made for this with an air tight water lip seal, the best known being the Harsch brand from Germany.

However, the cost of shipping such heavy and delicate items to Ireland from the continent is prohibitive.
So, I had to figure out a way to create anaerobic fermentation  without the costly equipment.
To create this type of fermentation, you need to allow for the release of CO2 while at the same time prohibit the intake of O2 - much easier said than done.

Thats where comes in. A small Irish company, based in Barna, Connemara.
They provide a great service and free shipping, and great advice even for madcap customers who turn up out of the blue asking for advice on how to ferment cabbage.
I knew that brewers are experts in fermentation, and so with their help and advice, I came up with a plan.

If you go to a chipper or a restaurant, they will normally have catering sized food grade containers for things like Mayonnaise, Curry powder etc. - You are going to have to blag one.

So, once you have a food grade plastic container and an air tight lid - your half way there.
It's then a question of bodging together your anaerobic chamber.
First, use a pen to draw the narrow end of the bung on the bucket lid and centre it up.

The centre the wide end over the initial circle. Draw around it - this will give you minmum and maximum diameters.
Cut between the circles, always staying closer or even on the inner one. Insert the bung with the airlock fitted.
Insert the bung with airlock already fitted.
Now, you will see that the bung pushes down the plastic, making it proud on the inner side of the lid, pull it back a little to make that area recessed.
That allows the silicone to settle on the inside of the bung sink and sit easier.

Then use some silicone to seal it fully on top and on the bottom.

It is not only cabbage you can ferment in the chamber, it can be used for other veg like turnip, gherkins etc. It can also be used for curing meat - not sure about fish - and fermenting mash to make into beer or spirits.
Each use will be explored in due time, but if others use this design - please comment here or let me know

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Thanks for commenting - its cool that you took the time