In a mission to get people eating fermented foods, two Somerset women are taking on the world. Get ready for Sauerkrautathon!
If there’s one way to wake people up and get a message across, it’s staging a world record breaking attempt. On October 14, during the Wells Food Festival, Katie Vennor and Jo Webster will be gathering the troops (they already have a list of willing volunteers) and attempting to make the largest recorded dish of sauerkraut in the world. Sauerkraut, for those who don’t know, is fermented cabbage and before you turn the page in disgust, it’s one of the most healthy foods you can eat, one of the cheapest and one of the easiest to prepare. Although an unusual taste, it will definitely grow on you; in fact, the more you eat, the more you crave.
Naming their event the Sauerkrautathon, Katie and Jo are inviting people to a marquee in Bishops Palace Park between 10am and 4pm. People can join in chopping, salting and pounding more than 300kg of cabbages and veg which will then be sealed in containers and allowed to
ferment for 12 days. After it’s officially weighed and recorded, the resulting sauerkraut will be distributed in the city over the weekend of 27 and 28 October.
It will undoubtedly be fun but there’s also a serious message behind the kraut-in, one which the two women, and many nutrition and health experts, are promoting.
“We planned the kraut-in to draw attention to just how easy it is to make sauerkraut,” says Katie. “We want to show people how to make sauerkraut at home and persuade them that eating even a small amount of fermented foods on a regular basis can really transform your health.”
‘People who eat a small amount each day find it curbs craving for sweet things and alcohol’
Fermenting preserves food and, although it’s not as familiar to people in this country where we tend to pickle and make sugar-based preserves, people have eaten fermented foods for millennia. Fermented foods also feed gut bacteria, which are now known to play an important part in keeping us healthy, not only for digestion but for general health too, including mental health and wellbeing.
Cabbage is particularly beneficial. It’s already a superfood, but through fermentation it retains its vitamin C content, and its vitamin B content is significantly raised.
The taste is unusual for our palates but that’s partly because sour foods have gone out of fashion in our culture where sugar is in everything and even veg is bred to be sweeter. But give it a try, says Katie.
“Very, very soon you’ll develop a craving for it,” she says before adding, encouragingly: “People who eat a small amount each day find it curbs craving for sweet things and alcohol.”
Katie and Jo are passionate about fermentation and, knowing how eating these foods has helped them, are keen to spread the message.
They’re also delighted at how well received their idea has been. After asking the organiser of the food festival if they could have a tent in which to do their record attempt, the event has ballooned and they now have an impressive list of speakers stepping in including Guy Singh-Watson from Riverford Organic Farms (which is supplying the veg),
Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at Kings College, London, neuroscientist Marcus Boehme from the Cryan Lab in Cork, Alana Macfarlane Kempner, founder of The Gut Stuff and authors and teachers Naomi Devlin and Dearbhla Reynolds.
Along with Riverford, Yeo Valley is sponsoring the event and will also be offering tasters of its new milk kefir, a fermented milk drink.
“Fermenting is not the latest food fad, this is an ancient technique,” says Katie.
Jo adds: “In the UK we officially eat the highest percentage of ultra-processed foods in Europe and according to scientists this is making us a sick nation.”
Katie feels the event is happening at just the right time. Along with increasing knowledge about the importance of good bacteria she highlights the fact of rising obesity, recent reports that life expectancy has now plateaued and food poverty.
“People really need to begin to understand we are what we eat,” she says.
ABOVE:Training for the forthcoming Sauerkrautathon group chopping