Wherever vegetables are grown and consumed, it is almost certain that fermented versions exist. Moreover, despite the wide diversity of vegetables produced around the world, the principles involved in the manufacture of fermented vegetables are very near the same. Like other fermented foods, readily observed variations certainly exist, and are based on aesthetic preferences, as well as the types of raw materials available in particular regions.

For example, cabbage is widely used as a fermentation substrate, but the actual cultivar that is used varies depending on culture and geography. Thus, in Germany, mild-tasting, white European cabbage is transformed via fermentation into sauerkraut, whereas in South Korea, Chinese cabbage is mixed with peppers, radishes, other vegetables, garlic, and spices, and fermented to make a much spicier version called kimchi.

The manufacture of fermented vegetables most likely evolved from simply dry-salting or brining vegetables. Salting vegetables was a common means of food preservation and was practiced for thousands of years in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, and for several centuries in the Americas. In general, salt or brine was added to the fresh raw material as a preservation aid, and then the mixture was packed into suitable containers and stored at an ambient temperature. If the salt concentration was not too high, this practice would have established ideal conditions for growth of naturally-occurring lactic acid bacteria. The ensuing fermentation would have not only enhanced preservation, but it would have also created highly desirable flavor and aroma characteristics.

It is believed that fermented vegetable technology actually began more than 2,000 years ago. In Asia and the Far East, fermented products were made from cabbage, turnips, radishes, carrots, and other vegetables endemic to the local areas.This technology was exported to Europe sometime in the 1500s, with regional vegetables, such as European round cabbages, serving as the starting materials. Eventually, European settlers to the New World brought with them cabbages and procedures for the manufacture of sauerkraut. It is also likely that other fermented vegetables, pickles and olives in particular, were produced and consumed in the Middle East, at least since biblical times.

Fermented vegetables have long been a staple of Middle-East, Western and Far East diets, not only because of their enhanced preservation and desirable flavor and texture properties, but also because these products had important nutritional properties. For example, sauerkraut has long been known to have anti-scurvy properties, due to the high vitamin C content of cabbage. Sauerkraut was an essential food for navies and seafarers, who had little access to the fresh vegetables and fruits that normally would have served as a source of vitamin C. Cabbage also contains high concentrations of thiocyanates and other sulfur-containing compounds that may have antimicrobial activity. In the Far East, and Korea in particular, kimchi, has become the most popular of all fermented vegetables.Again, kimchi has unique and desirable flavor and sensory attributes, but its popularity is also due to its perceived nutritional properties (see below).

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Brew Your Own Beer

Discover How To Become Your Own Brew Master, With Brew Your Own Beer. It takes more than a recipe to make a great beer. Just using the right ingredients doesn't mean your beer will taste like it was meant to. Most of the time it’s the way a beer is made and served that makes it either an exceptional beer or one that gets dumped into the nearest flower pot.

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