I consulted my friend Chris, a veteran fermenter, over at Lost Arts Kitchen. She told me to forget the whey and buy Sandor Katz’s book, Wild Fermentation. Incidentally, I suggest you do the same. For my next batch, I relied on the soil bacteria that came preloaded on my organic cabbage to ferment it and give me sauerkraut. It turned out beautifully.
The more I thought about it, the less sense it made to use whey from yogurt or kefir to supply the bacteria for vegetable fermentation. Milk bacteria like milk. They are specialized to eat lactose. Vegetables do not contain lactose, therefore they are poor food for these bacteria. What I’m looking for are the soil bacteria – those wild little friendlies with whom we had constant contact before the advent of modern farming, pasteurization, and regular bathing. We have more or less eliminated these bacteria in our everyday lives, much to the detriment of our health according to the “hygiene hypothesis”.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m as big a fan of regularly bathing as the next person. I’m just saying that we need to eat as wide a variety of probiotic friendly bacteria as we can possibly muster in order to make up for enjoying clean hands. And rather than eating dirt, I would like to eat sauerkraut. Or pickles. Or pickled asparagus.
Take a look at the list of bacteria involved in the fermentation of vegetables:
- Lactobacillus brevis
- Lb. plantarum
- Leuconostoc mesenteroides
- Pediococcus acidilactici
- Ped. pentosaceus
Now take a look at the bacteria found in regular Nancy’s yogurt:
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lb. casei
- Lb. rhamnosus
- Lb. bulgaricus
- Streptococcus thermophilus
- Bifidobacterium bifidum
There are times when whey from yogurt or dairy kefir should be used to start fermentation, as when fermenting something that does not come with its own friendly bacteria. Examples include lactofermented mayonnaise, ketchup, and lemonade.
Vegetables grown in healthy, organic soil have all the bacteria they need to produce fermentation. If you absolutely cannot get organic vegetables grown in live soil, I recommend trying Caldwell’s Starter Culture for Fresh Vegetables. This starter culture contains three of the bacteria strains (Lb. plantarum, Leuconostoc mesenteroides, and Ped. acidilactici) found in healthy soil. A much better choice for truly delicious fermented vegetables!