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Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods

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"Fermentation has been an important journey of discovery for me," writes author Sandor Ellix Katz. "I invite you to join me along this effervescent path, well trodden for thousands of years yet largely forgotten in our time and place, bypassed by the superhighway of industrial food production." The flavors of fermentation are compelling and complex, quite literally alive. This book takes readers on a whirlwind trip through the wide world of fermentation, providing readers with basic and delicious recipes-some familiar, others exotic-that are easy to make at home. The book covers vegetable ferments such as sauerkraut, kimchi, and sour pickles; bean ferments including miso, tempeh, dosas, and idli; dairy ferments including yogurt, kefir, and basic cheesemaking (as well as vegan alternatives); sourdough bread-making; other grain fermentations from Cherokee, African, Japanese, and Russian traditions; extremely simple wine- and beer-making (as well as cider-, mead-, and champagne-making) techniques; and vinegar-making. With nearly 100 recipes, this is the most comprehensive and wide-ranging fermentation cookbook ever published.

187 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2001

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Sally Fallon

2 books

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 381 reviews
Profile Image for Jan Rice.
508 reviews427 followers
November 15, 2014
Began reading circa 2010, reviewed in September 2014

When I told an inlaw I had been making my own sauerkraut, she told me a story. When she was little her mother had made sauerkraut and tried to get the family to eat it, but no one except her (the mother) would touch it. And she ended up in the hospital with food poisoning.

I've been eating it since January and have lived to tell about it.

This isn't the familiar tossing veggies with vinegar and salt that you refrigerate right away. This is fermenting vegetables under brine while they sit on the counter. But people have all kinds of fears that make us think we have to have everything commercially preserved and cooked to death. Consumers of the world, throw off your fears!

I can't remember when I read about this book, but I think it was around 2008 or 2009. As cookbooks will, it sat around for months--read, years--until I finally read the first 25 or 30 pages. It was galvanizing. How we have been brainwashed into being afraid of food. The politics of food. How, although we turn up our noses at the "rotten foods" of other cultures, we idolize our rotten milk (that's cheese!) and other fermented delicacies and delectables.

Speaking of "idolize," there was a Lithuanian god of pickled foods (or, maybe pickles and beer):

(Image from a card design by etsy.com)

I proceeded to buy copies for my two grown children (that was in 2010, per my Amazon order trail), but I still didn't try it at home--until early this year, when my daughter brought me some of her sauerkraut, and we made kimchi right here in the kitchen. Then I became totally hooked and haven't been without sauerkraut since.

She made the kraut out of one green and one red cabbage, for a pretty pink, but to me pink means, if you drip, it stains. Since I have some with breakfast every day I just stick with the green.

I can make pickles, too!

Bing included a photo of the author with its Roguszys images, and that's appropriate. Sandor Ellix Katz is the guru of fermentation.

If you look up sauerkraut or fermentation elsewhere you get remonstrations on how to avoid food-borne dangers and advice as to all the equipment you need to buy. Not so with Sandor Katz. I read the following encouraging words somewhere: If you become fearful, picture 18th century sailors reaching into the keg for a handful of the wondrous agent that held off scurvy and kept their teeth in their heads. Since your level of hygiene is much, much better, don't worry!

True, I don't leave the sauerkraut fermenting on the counter indefinitely. So far, after less than a week I have it packed away and refrigerated, where I don't have to worry about it while it continues to ferment more slowly. You need glass jars with plastic lids. I have some old honey jars that are perfect for this.

There seems to be quite a large margin of error. This summer I could no longer find the pickling salt I'd been getting at the farmers' market so I purchased a name brand in the grocery store. I'm not sure what this means, but the new brand is noticeably saltier. Yet no problems had arisen using the former brand.

The author is very personable. I heard him speak a couple years ago at the local feminist bookstore, so even though he's acquiring wide recognition he doesn't abjure small venues. He writes well, too--communicating his message yet never hectoring. He's seemingly living that message, having found his niche, his passion, his calling.

When I decided to write this review I found myself giving some thought to what it means to have found the mission that makes one's life worthwhile and to be on that mission and spreading the word. I've just been reading elsewhere about individuals who resolved their alienation and found their meaning in communism or fascism. And how some historians put the huge humanitarian disasters of the last century at the feet of just one or two individuals who had messages that did spread. Amidst all the din and the information overload, what is the good, the beautiful and the true?

May we have a nose for truth just as we have one to sniff out the progress of the fermentation process!

The author has rated a newer hardback, The Art of Fermentation: An in-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World, which I don't have yet. As a sample of what this is all about, here's the sauerkraut recipe from the one I have: http://www.wildfermentation.com/makin... . There is so much in the 2003 book I haven't tried, for example, sourdough. I crave injera bread but had a bad experience in the past (before Wild Fermentation). ...Nope, no food poisoning; just stank up the house. I have, but have not read The Revolution Will Not be Microwaved: Inside America's Underground Food Movements.

Read more here: http://www.chelseagreen.com/bookstore...

Pics added 11/1/14:

"Tonight (Oct. 26) I was honored with the 2014 Craig Claiborne Lifetime Achievement Award from the Southern Foodways Alliance at the end of an amazing conference asking the question "Who is welcome at the table" and addressing issues of race, class, gender, and sexual identity."

"Ready to make kimchi... (Nov. 1)"

And, it's scientific! :)
Profile Image for Shawndra.
20 reviews7 followers
August 12, 2008
I went looking for a sauerkraut recipe and found Wild Fermentation, a radical faerie's treatise on harnessing nature's microscopic beasties in preserving food. Ever wonder how to make your own miso or tempeh, kefir or yogurt, mead or sourdough? Pickles, hominy, kombucha? Injera like you get at Ethiopian restaurants? A snap!

This freewheeling book is an inspiration from start to finish. The author is HIV-positive and considers lactofermented foods an essential part of his selfcare regimen. After I closed the book I promptly made a 5-pound batch of sauerkraut and I'm never looking back!
Profile Image for Alain Harvey.
12 reviews14 followers
January 12, 2013
A self-avowed “fermentation fetishist,” Katz travels around the country giving lectures and demonstrations, spreading the gospel of sauerkraut, dill pickles, and all foods transformed and ennobled by bacteria. His two books—“Wild Fermentation” and “The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved”—have become manifestos and how-to manuals for a generation of underground food activists, and he’s at work on a third, definitive volume.

In Wild Fermentation Sandor Katz, or Sandorkraut as he is nicknamed, brings fermentation out from the moldering cupboards of pungent Northern Eastern European cuisine to present it as the edgiest of today’s food thinking.

As to whether the “wild” in the title designates the binding’s whacky fluorescents, assimilates the thinking to that of wild food, acknowledges the unconventional, even anti-conventional mindset from which the book is written or searches to highlight the experimental methods and DIY aspect of fermentation is up to conjecture. We could assume it is a sort of all-encompassing wildness. For Katz, a self-proclaimed “fermentation fetishist”, fermentation is an integral part of a movement, a lifestyle, a sort of ecosystem even. He lives in a gay community, a “rural homestead” built from wood salvaged from a coca-cola bottling factory, rearing goats and chickens, powered on solar energy. Bound within this thinking Katz does not let his vision remain in specific potted form but always draws it out to explore larger issues such as community, harmonious living, sustainability, mortality.

Katz, a gardener, cook, and writer, is also a long-term HIV/AIDS survivor who strongly believes that the live-culture ferments in foods have kept him alive and healthy. In this unusual book, he makes a case for the benefits of fermentation, an ancient preservation technique that he says makes foods much more digestible and nutritious and that is lacking in the Western diet. Among other weighty topics, he explores worldwide traditions of fermented foods, the history of human nutrition, and fermentation as part of the cycle of life; many chapters explain the science and techniques of vegetable, bean, dairy, and bread fermentation, with more than 90 recipes (e.g., sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, yogurt, breads, wines and vinegar, and beers) included. Katz has obviously done comprehensive research on his subject and is passionate about it (although he tells readers much more than they want to know about his digestive process). While foodies who enjoy the sensual pleasures of the table will find Katz's attitude completely contrary to theirs, this specialized guide will appeal to those facing similar health challenges.

Drawing widely from scientific sources, in the first chapter Sandor Katz outlines the health benefits of fermented foods. Although he flirts with complex formulae and equations he lets the facts surface to show that: fermentation preserves food, breaks down nutrients into more digestible forms and removes toxins from foods... on a primary level, the living cultures contained in fermented foods ease digestion and facilitate the assimilation of nutrients. And this is it: the consumption of live foods offers a spiritual and practical interaction, interdependence with what we eat. We can move then from the near passive consuming of long dead food, to a creative, transformative action.

An invitation to commune, to communicate with our living entourage – his is a (brave) positive reading of contagion (contact, Latin : con-tagere, touch with) as a form of life-giving communion as opposed to the foreboding it evokes in this double-glazed anti-bacterial fear era.

In his book Wild Fermentation, Katz provides a deeply inspiring call to arms (or crocks?), suggesting that fermentation is akin to food activism. In a world infested with fast food chains, processed “food products”, artificial flavors, and unpronounceable food ingredients, wild fermentation is a DIY alternative to making and preserving foods in a sustainable way, with rich cultural tradition.

Wild Fermentation covers just about every vegetarian food that can be fermented. The section on Vegetable Ferments includes sauerkraut, kimchi, and pickles. In Bean Ferments, Katz explains how fermentation helps to improve the digestibility of beans and neutralizes the phytic acid that inhibits mineral absorption. The section contains methods for making miso and tempeh and includes recipes that use those foods.

Grain ferments contains recipes for porridges, amasake, and rejuvelac. There are methods for making sourdough breads, pancakes, and crackers. The book also includes sections on naturally fermented vinegars, wines, and beers. Dairy Ferments offers methods to make kefir, yogurt, and cheese and Katz includes vegan alternatives for most of the recipes.

I love the way the recipes are presented. Katz urges readers to trust their instincts - not to be bogged down by exact measurements or specific ingredients but to experiment and evolve. It's like Katz takes you into his kitchen to show you what he does and then sends you out to do your own thing. In addition to recipes, Katz includes lots of information on the benefits of fermented foods. He also briefly explores the history and politics of human nutrition, advocating organic and non-genetically engineered foods.

I liked everything about Wild Fermentation. The book is interesting and Katz's style welcoming. His candor about his health and lifestyle make this more than just a cookbook. After reading Wild Fermentation, I felt like I wanted to go and hang out with Katz at his peaceful intentional community in Tennessee and ferment some veggies with him. Katz makes fermenting sound like a fun adventure to embark on.

For more information of fermenting foods, I highly recommend Wild Fermentation. It’s one of the most well-written, personal, holistic, and rewarding books on the subject of food I’ve ever read. It’s not just a collection of fermentation recipes; instead, it’s a complete vision of not only the importance of food and healthy eating, but of a healthy food culture and traditions. Wild Fermentation deserves a rightful place in any personal, professional, or academic Food & Nutrition reference collection -- and should be read by every dedicated kitchen cook . A true gem, it is.

Go sauerkraut!
Profile Image for Kelly.
243 reviews10 followers
August 2, 2014
I realized while reading that this was a reread for me. I enjoyed it, and I got some good ideas about how to begin fermenting again. Sometimes his hippiness is a little much. For instance, I don't especially need to hear a story about how some radishes came to him in a dream. But other than that, the recipes are great and the arguments for incorporating more fermented foods compelling. I wish there were more veggie recipes; I'm not that interested in making wine and beer and completely uninterested in baking bread or fermenting soy. Overall, I think the recipes in Nourishing Traditions are more to my taste, but Katz had more theory.
Profile Image for Beth.
88 reviews
February 24, 2008
Sandor covers all the fermentation you could want to know about, from soy to kraut/veggies to beer and wine. It's an amusing read, including the history of different foods and tales from his experiences living in a community here in Tennessee.

I liked his reasoning that we as a society try much too hard to get away from bacteria and "bad buggies." He embraces a more symbiotic relationship with our environments, allowing natural yeasts to leaven our bread and give character to other foods. Every place has its own different colonies and strains, and something cultured in my house will taste different than if done in yours.

We have lost so much in allowing our foods to be mass-produced and standardized in taste. We have little appreciation for unique tastes and savoring what we eat like the Europeans, and have limited that scope by condemning raw milk sales and not supporting local farmers.

Ok...off the soapbox, for now.

Go make some cheese!
Profile Image for Jason.
158 reviews45 followers
July 14, 2010
Naturally, i'm not through with this book. it is an extensive collection of fermentation processes that you experiment with one at a time. At this point, i have made sauerkraut, sourdough, kimchi, kombucha, hard cider, pickles, beet kvass, vinegar, and sprouted grains bread. There is so much here. I have hardly touched the wines, beers and meads yet.

Truth be told, Katz is a pioneer. He is humble and simple and aims to show anyone who tries this immaculately simple forgotten science. It is beautiful to see produce transform, within its salty brine, from cabbage to kraut or radish to kimchi. there is something sensual about the process, seeing the actual transformation means something, beyond itself. I feel like we have had the world handed to us for so much of our lives, in the way of food preparation at least, that to actually see an engrained process of probiotic change is beyond what the standard American takes for granted. It is a new miracle that is really just an old traditional way.

Like becoming a vegeterian, reading this book didn't just effect my diet; it effected how i view food culture. When i became vegeterian, i started to take note of failings in my health due to lack of protein, fiber, amino acids, calcium; i sought fundamental questions of nutrition and found solutions outside of meat. In the same way, i have always viewed mold as an evil, but this book has taught me about probiotic growth, how some molds are productive in the body. How some things don't exist without fermentation: beer, vinegar, chocolate, buttermilk, cheeses, bread, etc. I am now a little more aware of what i am putting into my body, and because of that, aware of what my body needs.

There are a lot of deceptions in our culture based on misunderstandings. I think of the theme in Idiocracy where the future relies so heavily on electrolytes, they try to water their plants with this salty brine and wonder why they are dying instead of growing bigger. This book is going to help the future from materializing the contents of that hilarious movie. i mean, it's a step.

So go out and learn your shit!
225 reviews
June 3, 2013
"Wild Fermentation" had been living in my home for a little while, since Nick started getting into brewing beer and making fruit scrap vinegar--projects I've assisted with, but never taken the lead on. I was inspired to pick up the book and read it through after reading--and getting pretty obsessed with--a recent NYT article by Michael Pollan, "Some of My Best Friends are Germs." In the article, Pollan makes a pretty convincing case for increasing the diversity of microbacteria in our guts through a varied diet and by tempering our germ-phobia. Through interviews with microbiologists, Pollan learns that our cultural obsession with killing bacteria, and the advanced medical and pharmaceutical practices that make it possible, have actually contributed to the increased rate of asthma and allergies, as well as gastrointestinal issues, in advanced western nations, namely, the United States. Though Sandor Katz isn't a scientist or a doctor, he makes a similar case in "Wild Fermentation," and, further, claims to have experienced numerous health benefits from a diet heavy in foods fermented with wild bacteria. Along with his narrative explication of the benefits of live-culture foods, Katz includes recipes for fermented foods from numerous cultures, including sauerkraut, kimchi, and various cheeses. I'm already an avid home bread baker, and we often have beer and vinegar wild-fermenting in our home, too, but reading "Wild Fermentation" has further inspired me not only to take on more, and more varied, DIY-food projects involving fermentation, but also to include more live-culture foods in my diet.
Profile Image for Athena.
240 reviews40 followers
July 8, 2016
I checked this out from the library at the same time as Katz's encyclopedia of fermentation, The Art of Fermentation: An in-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World : of the two this is definitely the cookbook version and is the book I plan to buy.

This is an excellent resource for fermenting (as opposed to simple vinegar-pickling) foods with many recipes for foods and beverages, and with pithy discussions regarding various aspects of fermentation. Katz's emphasis is on wild fermentation, that is, capturing those bacteria present in one's own environment to begin the fermenting process, but he also gives tips for using packaged yeast, for example, to assist the fermentation process where necessary.

Frankly in my first efforts I'll probably use some yeast to help me along and build some confidence before branching backward through time to actual wild fermentation.

Wild Fermentation doesn't replace what many home cooks consider 'pickling' cookbooks which are typically devoted to vinegared pickles, excepting perhaps a few recipes for brined dill pickles; WF is a supplement to that type of cookbook and deals entirely with slow process fermented foods, both what Westerners consider 'pickles' but plenty more foods and beverages also.

This is a must-have for my home cooking library.
Profile Image for AJ.
1,397 reviews108 followers
January 6, 2019
This book is an excellent resource, and I will likely purchase a copy when I'm ready to start fermenting. The author does a great job of explaining the process of fermentation, providing a brief (and interesting) history, and then explaining the recipes. Most of them are quite simple and just require time and patience. A few require spores and the author provides resources on where those can be purchased.

My favorite part of this book is the author's critique of modern food production and how it ties into global transnational capitalism and economic imperialism. I wasn't expecting to read about that, but it really is an important aspect of our current food system, and an important one that I think everybody should know about. This political and economic explanation does a great job of laying out why it's important to make one's own food, and learning how to ferment is a large part of breaking out of "the system."

I'm very excited to try to ferment, and I'm glad to see that there are plenty of (seemingly) easy things like ginger beer or kimchi to try to get my feet wet before trying more time-intensive things like making my own tempeh or wine.
Profile Image for Racheal.
1,013 reviews82 followers
January 23, 2016
This book it great! The author has such a nice style and the book is the perfect balance of informative and accessible. It has a lot of detailed, practical advice to get you started on your own fermenting adventures plus just enough history and relevant discussion of the problems with the way we eat to get you really thinking. The author is obviously passionate about making and eating fermented foods and I appreciate that! Too many "alternative" food/health books really turn me off with their angry tone or finger-pointing.
All I can say now is that I can't wait to go out and make me some delicious yogurt, sourdough, sauerkraut, honey mead, vinegar, etc!
5 reviews
June 3, 2010
The book has tons of great easy recipes. I have made a few things already, with plans to go into the more advanced ones. The commentary that flows around the recipes is sometimes insightful, but can be a little too "new age-y" and made me sometimes skip some of the small rants. Overall, I highly recommend the book to anyone who wants to get a basic introduction into fermentation in all forms.
Profile Image for Andi.
37 reviews2 followers
November 13, 2014
Here's a book that I wasn't expecting to affect me in any way except to inspire me to make yogurt--and WOW was I surprised to find so much more! Nostalgia ran strong as I read about making sauerkraut and yogurt--two of the fermented foods I grew up watching my grandma make. Along with many other foods I'm familiar with (beer, wine, cheese), Sandor Ellix Katz also shares a wealth of knowledge about fermented foods that are unfamiliar to me--such as tempeh and kefir. I have at least heard of those particular examples, and they have become big in the Western vegetarian diet...but what about kvass (made from stale bread, refermented), or kombucha (a dark tea cultured with a 'mother' or 'tea beast')? Reading about a 'tea beast', which is a gelatinous glob of bacteria and yeasts, had my curiosity piqued! I found myself wanting to experience some of these timeless fermented foods. He describes the health benefits of eating live cultured foods, and as a longtime AIDS survivor, he makes a good case for the benefits of his recipes. These recipes, in many cases, have existed for thousands of years. Fermented food plays a huge role in the history of humankind, predating agriculture.

Beyond the fascinating histories and the techniques of using 'free-range' microbes and bacteria to preserve and enhance food, Katz also takes some time to contemplate life itself. It seems appropriate, given that fermentation relies on living creatures, though tiny, who are a part of the life cycle we also experience. I'm always a sucker for how-to books that get into some deep contemplation of existence. He delves into some thoughts on death, a concept that he's had to face head-on since his HIV diagnosis. His zest for life and its cyclical nature, despite his illness, is truly inspiring. Katz finishes his fermented-foods manifesto with some thoughts on social change. He compares revolution to fire--the 'moment of upheaval; romantic and longed for, or dreaded and guarded against'-- and slow social change to fermentation. "As microorganisms work their transformative magic and you witness the miracles of fermentation, envision yourself as an agent for change, creating agitation, releasing bubbles of transformation into the social order. Use your fermented goodies to nourish your family and friends and allies. The life-affirming power of these basic foods contrasts sharply with the lifeless, industrially processed foods that fill supermarket shelves. Draw inspiration from the action of bacteria and yeast, and make your life a transformative process."
Profile Image for Alex Linschoten.
Author 12 books139 followers
March 4, 2016
What an exciting book! The idea of fermenting foods as a way of preserving them (through anaerobic processes) isn't new. This book explains how you do it. As a result of my reading through to the end, this evening I now have three glass-jar/rigged pots filled with the beginnings of fermented foods: a sourdough starter with rye flour, a green/purple cabbage sauerkraut, and some fermented oats that won't take as long as the other two for me to eat.

I enjoyed how this book is written. Accessible, and very flexible. The emphasis is put back onto the reader in a constructive way. Taste is a way of gauging fermentation experiments, as well as the other senses.

Katz sees the rise of fermentation not only as something that will bring more nutritious food, but also as a way to revive community and to restore our role in the production and cultivation of our food.

For what is basically a short cookbook, this was a really fascinating read. I can't wait to get started on his more recent (longer) work on the same topic, The Art of Fermentation: An in-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World.
Profile Image for Ruth Barone.
147 reviews3 followers
May 12, 2010
Wow. This book was so interesting! It covers all wild fermented foods, from Sauerkraut to Miso, Yogurt to sourdough, and all manner of alcoholic drinks. I learned a lot about the fermentation process, why a little mold won't hurt you (this point may take a while for my mind to digest), and how fermenting food brings out all of the food's nutrients in an extremely absorbent form that is very beneficial to consume. Some of the recipes take only 24 hours, some take years.

The author is a gay man living with HIV/AIDS and it was interesting to learn about his pursuit for nutritious foods as he learns how to live with his disease. He believes that the many fermented foods he eats have helped keep his body from some of the harm of the anti-viral drugs he takes. His background gives a unique feel to the book and provides a different perspective, which I appreciated.

If you have every wanted to experiment with fermented foods, this book is an excellent place to start.
Profile Image for Mic.
93 reviews8 followers
November 1, 2010
This is probably the only cookbook that is interesting enough to read cover to cover and then keep a reference, rather than skim for interesting recipes and toss on the shelf (as per usual). In addition to historical and basic scientific inforation this book includes step by step instructions for fermenting jsut about everyhting, including sourkraut, kimchi, ethiopian t'ej (honey wine), home made cheese, and even fermented fish sauces. It's amazing! Check it out if you're a handy type!
7 reviews1 follower
October 4, 2010
Very informative. The author is certainly a character and I'll probably poison myself making cheese and sauerkraut, but such is life.
Profile Image for Sally.
407 reviews44 followers
August 24, 2012
A guide to making your own naturally fermented products such as miso, sauerkraut and sourdough bread.
Profile Image for Linda Brunner.
418 reviews51 followers
September 25, 2021
So many many MANY foods explored in this colorful and fun book. All fermented with great photos and recipes by the gazillions. I wrote down the groundnut (peanut) stew to try. Over millet.

But this book is about more than food and drink, it's about a philosophy of life. One that I resonate with. Here from the book:

As microorganisms work their transformative magic and you witness the miracles of fermentation, envision yourself as an agent for change, agitating and releasing bubbles of transformation. Use your fermented goodies to nourish yourself and your family and friends and allies. The life-affirming power of these basic food contrasts sharply with the lifeless, industrially processed foods that fill the supermarket shelves. Draw inspiration from the action of bacteria and yeast, and make your life a transformative process.
8 reviews2 followers
October 27, 2019
A little too hippie, but overall a very good introduction to fermenting vegetables. I had made some kimchi, sauerkraut, and pickles before I read Wild Fermentation, so I expected a next-level content as well - I was not disappointed. It allowed me to deeply understand the various processes of fermentation, and learned me a few useful tips. I highly recommend the book, especially to those interested in making home-made fermented food.
Profile Image for Jeffrey Yoskowitz.
14 reviews6 followers
July 13, 2008
--wrote this for www.greenprophet.com--

I sat down to read Sandor Katz’s “Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods” to help me along with my recreational pickling and fermenting skills.

I was hoping to learn a bit about the how-tos when making cheese, meads, bread and kimchi. To my surprise and pleasure I found myself reading a cookbook plus a manifesto –– a guidebook to reclaiming our food supply and living a self-sufficient lifestyle.

An unconventional cookbook, a mission statement with recipes, and a manual to reclaiming the microbial nutrients in our diet, Sandor Katz (also goes by Sandorkraut) supplies a simple, subversive and tasty vision for helping to change and preserve our world through fermenting our food at home.

As he writes of the bubbles that fermentation produces, he himself bubbles with excitement over “doing it yourself” and taking yourself out of the industrial food chain. What makes Sandorkraut’s work so relevant and inspiring is his own personal story, which he slowly weaves into the book chapter by chapter.

An AIDS victim, Sandorkraut has come to rely on fermented foods to help him battle an impending death. He writes that “fermented foods not only nourish, they help protect us form potentially harmful organisms and contribute to immunity.”

Fermentation is not his only method of combating AIDS, but it is one that he considers to be of the utmost importance to his personal health and body’s resistance to the disease. His giddiness and glee over fermentation, which for him is “a health regimen, a gourmet art, a multicultural adventure, a form of activism, and a spiritual path, all rolled into one,” is simply moving.

So what exactly is fermentation? Well, it is the age-old process of preserving and processing foods by harnessing the power of naturally occurring bacteria and employing them to begin the process of breaking down our foods. We all eat yogurt from the supermarket with acidophilus, not necessarily realizing that yogurt is just one of many live-culture ferments rich in pro-biotics.

In fact, Sandorkraut includes various yogurt recipes in his section on dairy ferments. This ancient process makes foods like cereal grains and vegetables much more nutritionally accessible to the human body. “Fermentation not only preserves nutrients, but it breaks them down into more easily digestible forms,” he writes. He cites soybeans as an example of a protein-rich food that is virtually indigestible unless the complex proteins are broken down into digestible amino acids, which explains the Asian food ferments of miso, tempeh and tamari.

Perhaps an even more poignant reason to ferment that Katz cites is pure common ecological sense: food preservation. Organisms produce bio-preservatives such as alcohol, lactic acid and acetic acid during fermentation that retain nutrients and prevent spoilage. With rising food prices and at home gardening on a rise, an abundance of fruits and vegetables can last an entire year if properly pickled, jammed, brewed, etc.

In fact, as the controversy over Shmitta was heating up this past fall in Israel, I wondered whether or not an Israeli fully in touch with its own culture of live-culture fermentation could properly preserve the right foods and not need to find intricate Talmudic loopholes to make it through the year.

Sandorkraut takes the reader chapter by chapter detailing the various methods of fermentation (i.e. chapter 5 – Vegetable Ferments; chapter 8 – Breads and Pancakes).

He also gives a somewhat simplified and generalized history of fermented foods and our modern food culture that offers interesting little tidbits about food history and culture. However, as a whole this recipe book and call to social change wrapped up into one was a page-turner for me from day one. I nearly cried while reading one of his final chapters about coming to terms with death in nature, in which he includes a few words about what he’s learned from living with AIDS.

Since reading the book I’ve had detailed conversations with my older Israeli relative who still makes live-cultured pickles, sauerkrauts and breads in the Ashkenazi tradition. I didn’t expect that fermentation would help connect me to my own culture, but then again, as Sally Fallon writes in the introduction, “The science and art of fermentation is, in fact, the basis of human culture: without culturing, there is no culture.”

The book was an unexpected treat that will rest on my bookshelf and not just in my kitchen, because as much as I hope to utilize his non-didactic approach to food preservation, I hope even more to internalize Sandorkraut’s revolutionary message and vision.
Profile Image for Joseph.
1,236 reviews44 followers
December 30, 2018
First of all, Goodreads has really jacked up the listing for this book. This is for the book, Wild Fermentation: A Do-it-Yourself Guide to Cutural Manipulation. ISBN 978-1-934620-17-5. It’s a 64 page booklet published by Microcosm Publishing, 2001. This listing is for this book: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1.... However, Goodreads shows “other editions” of this book as this one: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1.... Two completely different books, as the latter is an expanded version of this booklet. Additionally, if you go to Sandor Katz’s author page on GR, this booklet is not even listed, although the ebook version is listed separately.

So, for this booklet, many of the reviews below are actually for the second book above. It doesn’t help that Katz has two books with almost identical names, but really surprised GR hasn’t done a better job of separating the two, since GR is associated with Amazon, which is where I bought my copy. This is a good reason to always check the ISBN of whatever edition you’re reading, to ensure you’re reviewing the right book here.

So, on to the review. Katz is basically modern hippie who lives in a commune in Tennessee, becoming something of a cultural (ha, nice pun) warrior for the lost art of fermentation. His books, blog, and workshops have helped to revitalize an ancient form of preserving food which, while never lost, was becoming less and less prominent in the way we eat and prepare foods here in the United States. Covering everything from sourdough breads to kimchi to sauerkraut and cultured milk products, Katz lays out the very simple groundwork for producing these fermented delicacies in your own kitchen.

Fermented food contain many beneficial bacteria, or probiotics, that are essential to our health. These bacteria evolved along with us, becoming part of how our bodies regulate our health. Katz believes he is is a living example of this. He considers fermented food to be part of his health regimen in keeping himself healthy despite having AIDS. My own personal anecdote is that since I started fermenting cabbage into sauerkraut about a year and a half ago, and eating at least a quarter cup of it a day (or other cultured products like kimchi or yogurt - not the heavily sweetened, commercial shit, but the real stuff), I have not suffered from chronic sinus infections. I used to get them at least twice a year, but only had one very mild case in this time period that lasted a couple days versus weeks.

If you’re interested in fermenting foods for the first time, this is a handy booklet, easy to read and follow directions. Katz has a blog, and another fine blog to follow is http://fermentationrecipes.com/ which has a couple of recipes I use often, like the curtido and the beet/ginger sauerkraut.

Fermenting foods is easy and safe, offering up many nutritional benefits. Give it a try!
Profile Image for D.
324 reviews9 followers
April 23, 2017
If there are better books out there about fermentation, I'll consider giving this book 3 stars instead of 4, but it seems to have taken the scene by storm and I'll admit I've now got a to-do list of foods I'd like to ferment: pickles, sauerkraut, sourdough, miso, tempeh, ginger beer, etc. I was already making Kombucha and yogurt, but the educational aspect of the book really helps me put it all into perspective. This is definitely an activist book. The author will be a bit out there for some, but I would definitely recommend this book. Still, at one point, he did go off the deep end with this bit:
"But it was the sugar trade that established the systematic global racism or African slavery. As innovations in the refinement of sugar yielded a whiter and whiter product, the system of its production dehumanized people on the basis of dark skin. In symbol and in flesh and blood, sugar gave birth to the racist world order."
Glad he's not writing history books. I'm also politely skeptical of some of these wild fermentation techniques, but I guess I'll just have to try them for myself.
Profile Image for Kate.
454 reviews
January 3, 2012
Fascinating. I came across this book sort of by accident: after making the pickled grapes in Molly Wizenberg's book, I was idly browsing the Web for more refrigerator pickle recipes and kept coming across references to Katz and his book. Silly me, I didn't really know the difference then between fermenting and vinegar pickling. Even if you're not interested in making all (or even any) of the comestibles, each chapter is readable and engaging. Given his own experience of living with a serious illness, Katz' comparisons between cultivating live cultures for nourishment are not a whimsical affectation as they might have been in another author's hands, and his political commentary is relevant to the subject (even if you don't necessarily agree with what he has to say).
Profile Image for Ietrio.
6,560 reviews25 followers
January 18, 2017
"The Many Benefits of Fermented Foods" is the title of a chapter.

This is a so and so cook book. Loaded with ignorance. Actually fermentation could be harmful. Sure, the fermentation sought by these new age persons might be good and even tasty. Methane can also be produced through fermentation, but somehow in their minds that Methane is less desirable even if it is the product of fermentation. This is the crowd that glorifies the "natural", a fuzzy term, also used by mildly intelligent people who would think that finding a cow, transporting that cow to the chosen habitat, testing the said cow for disease so you won't have to give it antibiotics, milking the cow, and putting the milk at a said temperature with chosen cultures is somehow more natural than Methane or a food additive coming form algae.
Profile Image for jesse mabus.
144 reviews
April 12, 2012
run, don't walk. this book is a love letter to the ecology that we live within and that exists within our bodies. probably the single best diy toolbox to fixing your diet, your health, and the life of this community we co-exist in called terra firma. his comments on death and decay in the final chapter are a wake-up call to change the way we have monetized and commodified even the process of grieving and burial. makes me want to shout out for help to build the laboratory/farm/co-operative/csa and be the change the mess that we have inherited from the lazy and cowardly, the bullies that hold us in thrall to greed and avarice, so desperately needs. gotta get some fermentation up in here.
Profile Image for Jonathan.
6 reviews
May 23, 2012
Great introduction to a variety of fermented foods such as pickles, bread, and more exotic (for american readers) fare such as miso. Katz covers a lot of ground. He does deal frankly with his personal life and how that has influenced his study of fermentation and makes no bones about being a HIV individual. That's turned off some Amazon reviewers, but I didn't find it intrusive - this is not a cookbook, it's a methods book that explains the methods behind the fermentation and the authors journey in learning those methods. It makes for a far more interesting read than a dry "add x to y and let sit z days" type of book!
Profile Image for Chelsea.
47 reviews1 follower
March 20, 2022
I checked this out from the library hoping to find a few good recipes. I found many, and so much more! Sandorkraut's radical perspective on food justice and activism are inspiring, and the stories of his community and loved ones are really enjoyable and authentic. I especially appreciated the chapter on death and how his fermentation journey has helped him make peace with it. I will definitely be buying this book!
Also of note - this book is very vegan-friendly. Many recipes use honey, but he says that agave, molasses, or any other sweetener can be used. This book is all about using what you've got and experimenting!
Profile Image for Ginnette.
5 reviews
November 14, 2014
This book is the bible of lacto-fermentation enthusiasts, filled with easy and fantastic recipes. It is also an eloquent meditation on impermanence, transition, and, ultimately, death acceptance. My copy is tattered and dog-eared since I refer to it regularly for recipes that have become staples in our home, new recipes to try out, and an occasional source of comfort and re-centering when the tragedies of human existence overwhelm me. Even if you aren't interested in making your own yogurt, sauerkraut, or mead (what???), READ THIS BOOK!
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