The art of pickling and fermentation is hotter than it’s ever been. Sauerkraut and kimchi are on the shelves in every market, in trendy, colorful packaging, competing against each other for your attention. Restaurants with “house made” kraut and kimchi have earned major cool factor as this trend thrives. America has become more health conscious, and that’s having a huge effect on our trends in food. We’ve all heard by now that kraut and kimchi are full of live probiotics that help us maintain a healthy gut. But this isn’t new news. These fermented foods can be traced so far back in history that we can’t really be sure who to credit.
Check out some of these fun facts and stories we found and share your families’ stories with us!
- Cabbage has been cultivated in China for over 4,000 years. When the Great Wall was being built, laborers ate cabbage fermented in rice wine because most locations were extremely remote and they needed food that could travel.
- Roman writers Cato (195 BC) and Columella (70 AD) wrote about preserving cabbage with turnips and salt.
- Genghis Khan is credited for the spread of fermented cabbage when he invaded China and fed it to his army. The Mongols invaded Asia and parts of Eastern Europe, bringing the foods they ate with them.
- Cabbage is a popular crop in colder climates and it is easy to cultivate, so it wound up becoming a staple vegetable that anyone could grow.
- As the method of preserving cabbage spread, many cultures realized its nutritional value and how it helped them survive harsh winters. In many parts of Eastern Europe, cabbage was shredded before going into fermentation crocks, but many families couldn’t afford proper shredding tools, so, a peddler would go door to door and shred cabbage for a small fee.
- The British learned to use sauerkraut as a way to prevent scurvy and other diseases while at sea, but eventually switched to limes. This is credited to the nickname “Limeys.” As the Dutch and Germans continued to eat sauerkraut, they became known as “krauts.”
- In Korea, salting vegetables was a necessity. Between the harsh weather, and mountainous terrain, it was difficult to find fertile places to grow food. The salting of vegetables turned into a preservation art and they started salting soybeans, eventually making them into a paste. This would eventually lead to making kimchi with soy sauce.
- Early versions of kimchi were much different than they are now. There were no red peppers because no one has gone to the Americas to retrieve it. Cabbage was not primarily used, so most kimchi was made with radishes.
- During the Joseon Dynasty, Koreans were introduced to New World ingredients, forever changing the methods and appearance of kimchi. Eventually, cucumbers, leeks, and bamboo shoots made their way into the kimchi pot, which is around the same time Koreans started adding garlic, spices, and chilis.
- Kimchi became so important in Korean culture that in 1986, a museum was built to honor its history. There are now more than 200 different types of kimchi.
- Sauerkraut is often paired with fatty meats, especially with pork sausages. This was a German custom, brought over by the Pennsylvania Dutch. The Pennsylvania Dutch are known to tell their children that if they eat sauerkraut on New Year’s Day they will have a sweet year. New Year celebratory meals were often comprised of fatty meats and kraut because the months before New Years were butchering months. Feasts were comprised of fresh roasted pork and sauerkraut.
- Many cultures believe that long strands of sauerkraut on your plate is a symbol of a long life!