Sandor Katz, fermentation revivalist, will be at the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong in January 2017. We sat down with him before he started his Asian tour to learn a bit more.
What inspires you about working with the home fermenter?
I discovered fermenting because of my own health journey, and then I became obsessed. Soon, I found teaching and sharing information about fermentation a natural progression. People project so much fear of bacteria onto the process of fermenting. Often I get questions such as, “How can I be sure I have good bacteria growing on my cabbage?” I view my main role as someone who can demystify the process and demonstrate that it is easy and safe. No one has ever been sick from sauerkraut. It’s unprecedented. Even the USDA has no examples of food poisoning from fermented vegetables anywhere in the world.
What do you want to learn over the course of your Asian travels?
All evidence on fermentation in historical writing points back to nomadic people in Central Asia. The techniques and traditions then spread westwards. This includes the earliest evidence of wine making. Right now there isn’t anything written in English about Chinese fermentation, though there is a series on the science and civilization of China that contains an entire volume about fermentation. That book is historical and does not contain recipes or methodology. I’m really interested in living traditions and regional particularities.
What would you say to a reluctant fermenter?
Get over it! But really, I understand. Not everyone wants to do it, and not everyone has to ferment. If you have the desire and you are just nervous; I can provide the reassurance and handholding. Fermenting is ridiculously easy. Buy a kilo of veg, a liter size jar, and don’t wait until tomorrow… just do it! If you spend 10 minutes today, in two weeks you will have delicious and nourishing foods that will be a part of grab and go meals for a good time to come. Your supplies don’t need to be beautiful; find a jar leftover from something else you purchased. Just use what you have.
Do you use ferments for anything other than eating?
Of course! I’ve tried everything, and I’m lucky enough to try others’ creations. I’ve used kombucha face masks and all kinds of fermented skin care products. The idea behind the products is all the same; make nutrients more bioavailable. I even went to a spa in California called Osmosis Day Spa. There they mix rice bran and saw dust in a big tub and moisten the mixture. It then starts to generate heat. You step into the big hardwood hot tub with a hollowed out seat and get buried in the fermenting bed of rice, bran and wood. The temperature gets up to 140 degrees, where you stay as long as you can manage.
What is the most interesting thing you have fermented?
Anything we can eat and be nourished by can be fermented. I love experimenting, and you can see in my pictures on the website, we have a huge space for doing just that. Recently, I fermented butternut squash. It was easy. I peeled the squash, removed the seeds, cut it into cubes and put the cubes into a 5% saltwater brine with some seasonings and star anise. After fermenting for two weeks, I drained off brine, put it into a food processor and turned into puree. All vegetables have the potentially to be fermented all over the world. I’ve fermented in the coldest reaches of Alaska and Canada to the hot, humidity of Indonesia. The only thing that really changes is the time.
“Getting involved in fermenting is like having a pet. If you neglect it you can kill it.” – Sandor Katz
To find out more about Sandor Katz and his visit to Hong Kong, view our article here.