I’ve always admired the meticulously detailed approach wine making takes with their ingredient. Conversely I love the simplicity of sauerkraut’s process which takes no special knowledge or skill. Here we might just have found a meeting of both worlds- a flavor enhancing method that begs for our laziness.
I recently took forray deep into wine with a goal to really understand it, but also because each product of fermentation, while equipt with its own unique history, process, technique, and technology always have something to share with the greater community of fermented foods.
There’s much to share but specifically I want to speak of Carbonic Maceration.
Contrary to that quintessential image of feet smooshing grapes in a barrel carbonic maceration is a fascinating technique that asks for no crushing, in fact, really nothing at all.
Whole unbroken clusters of grapes are dropped into a vat suitable to be air-tight. Once filled, the lid is sealed, and the magic gets to work.
Fermentation begins inside the whole grape berry and after a week, or maybe a few, the grapes are pressed and the wine, typically a red, can be drunk immediately.
The benefits of this method first are practical. The grape harvesters and winemakers get a wine that requires no aging and is drinkable in time to celebrate the completion of a season with that year’s very grapes.
Secondly, there is the flavor.
The intact grape intracelluar fermentation begins with enzymes whose gases consequently push away any oxygen making sure of an anaerobic environment flooded with CO2. Because of the grapes wholeness less color and tannins are ferried over to the juice, the acidity tends to be low, but fruit aromatics are enhanced.
This process makes use of extra amino acids from the solids of which together with the resulting ethanol from fermentation can create additional esters contributing to the heightened fruity aromas. Often noted are flavors of cherry, bubble gum, raspberry, and strawberry.
So how does this relate to sauerkraut?
Lately I’ve been getting lazier with my ferments. After enough times through the process I tend to quickly figure out what I can get away with.
Last winter I made a 3 gallons of sauerkraut without the usual massaging of the cabbage. I simply chopped my ribbons, mixed in some unmeasured salt, and stuffed it in the bucket like shuving more knick-knacks into an already overpacked “everything” drawer. I employed a knee to help snap the lid on shut.
I did not help the cabbage with any liquid and what’s more is that it was already old and fairly dry.
Next I left it alone for a few months. At one point I believe the lid was bulging but that eventually took care of itself, probably leaking out at some point.
Deciding to make one of my favorite dishes, bigos, I hunted for that forgotten kraut bucket among my bucket stacks. Upon opening it I was met with not a single hint of funk but instead a fruity, nutty, cinnamon aroma.
The sauerkraut was much darker than usual, a greyish brown, which makes sense considering some oxygen exposure it got from not being under a brine. The texture was full, intact, and wonderfully crunchy. I dug deeper to look for a change in color where the brine line appeared but amazingly I found only a little pool at the very bottom.
If I were to classify this sauerkraut I would absolutely call it elegant and fun. There was certainly some assistance from the long aging but I couldn’t help but notice the low acidity, the unusually fruity aromas, and floral sweetness, and lack of funk.
I’m no scientist so it wouldn’t be right to make any fantastic claims. The cabbage lacks the skin like a grape, obviously it isnt tannic either, and it doesn’t have the same sugars or acids.
What is similar and notable is the lack of brine or juice for the solids to ferment in. Both grape and cabbage were not pre-crushed and allowed to macerate anaerobically, in a CO2 full environment. With grapes the fermentation done by emzymes ceases when the alcohol reaches 2% and they die off. The grapes fall apart and open themselves up to let yeasts do their normal thing. In the case of the cabbage we likely weren’t ever going to get 2% alcohol which made me think about the distinct lack of yeasty flavor on the kraut.
While I won’t speculate on what I don’t know the flavor of this sauerkraut is different and striking.