Ep. 175: The Sauerkraut Scoop

Fed & Fit
Fed & Fit

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On today's episode, I'm talking with the founder of Farmhouse Culture, Kathryn Lukas all about the sauerkraut scoop!

Fed and Fit podcast graphic, episode 175 the sauerkraut scoop with Cassy Joy

We're back with our 175th episode of the Fed+Fit Podcast! Remember to check back every Monday for a new episode and be sure to subscribe on iTunes!

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Episode 175 Links

  • To order Farmhouse Culture products online or find a retailer near you click HERE.
  • To pre-order Kathryn's upcoming book, The Farmhouse Culture Guide to Fermenting: Crafting Live Cultured Foods and Drinks with 100 Recipes from Kimchi to Kombucha click HERE.

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Episode 175 Transcription

Cassy Joy: Welcome back to another episode of the Fed and Fit podcast. I am your host, Cassy Joy Garcia. And today is a very special interview. I’m so excited for you to hear from the incredible Kathryn Lukas. She is the founder of Farmhouse Culture. And I’ll be you’ve heard of them before. If you haven’t; if you don’t have something already tasty in your refrigerator right now. I’m really thrilled to hear from her today, but just to tell you a little bit more before she introduces herself more thoroughly.

Kathryn is, like I said, the founder, fermented food leader of Farmhouse Culture. Which is a company started in 2008. She has a rich knowledge of the fermentation process. It started with her love of fresh sauerkraut. Farmhouse Culture is known for it’s organic, probiotic rich offerings like kraut, gut shots; I love those. And fermented vegetables.

Lukas’ first book will be released in the summer of 2019. That’s just around the corner. By Ten-Speed press. Oh my goodness. Kathryn, it is such a joy to have you on the show today. Thank you for coming on!

Kathryn Lukas: Oh, Cassy, I’m thrilled to be here. Thank you for inviting me.

Cassy Joy: Oh my, like I said. We pow-wowed a little bit before I pressed recording. The honor is really mine; I’m thrilled to talk with you.

I would love it if you could tell us a little bit more about yourself. And about Farmhouse Culture. And about the big project you're working on right now.

Kathryn Lukas: Ok, alright. Well, I’m a California girl who fell in love with a German, and ended up owning a restaurant in Germany and learning how to cook over there. And as a kid, I refused to eat the canned kraut that my grandfather loved to serve every couple of weeks. And I got to Germany, and discovered kraut in a whole different light when a farmer that we bought some of our products from gave me a forkful of fresh kraut from a barrel. Up until that point, even though I knew how to cook, I still didn’t understand that sauerkraut was fermented in a barrel. I just thought it was cabbage in vinegar; because that’s what it tasted like to me.

And, when I tasted this fresh kraut, I was blown away. It was one of these moments of just pure love. I couldn’t believe it was the same stuff I had rejected as a kid. So I became fascinated with it. And when I came back to the states, having learned northern European cuisine sort of cooking, to be honest I was a little bored with it. I needed to finish raising my son, also. And I ended up in front of the house management and hated it. I was a food and beverage director down in Carmel, and just hated all of it. I wanted to get back to the kitchen.

So I went through a natural chef culinary program, and learned how to ferment. And I remembered that fresh kraut, and it all clicked. And I just went wild. It was like, giving a painter new colors to paint with. That’s what it felt like, having these fermentation flavors. And so, I started fermenting like crazy, and was thinking about what sort; I knew I was going to do another business. I wasn’t sure what it was. And in the meantime, I started selling my sauerkraut through a friends CSA. I was using their cabbage, and they were like; hey, why don’t you bottle some of your kraut up and let’s see if we can sell it through the CSA?

And one thing led to another. And all of a sudden I had a business. And all of the sudden, I couldn’t keep up with the orders that I was getting through the CSA. So I thought; maybe I’m onto something here. And we were not; I wasn’t making basic kraut, which I love by the way. I was also making smoked jalapeno kraut, and apple fennel kraut, and horseradish leek kraut, and all these flavors that I was inspired by either regionally or some of the cultures that were around me at that time. Like our smoked jalapeno kraut, for instance, is inspired by curtido. And I had an el Salvadorian roommate at one point who taught me how to make traditional curtido.

So all these different influences helped create some of these flavors. And then, let’s see, Labor Day 2008, Slow Food Nation happened in San Francisco. It only happened once. They thought 40-50,000 people were going to show up. Over 100,000 people showed up.

Cassy Joy: Oh my goodness!

Kathryn Lukas: {laughs} I was very into the slow food movement. And I’d read somewhere they have an arc of taste that sauerkraut; fresh, raw, unpasteurized sauerkraut, was in danger of going extinct. Now, this was back quite a few years ago. I thought; isn’t that interesting? I bet they would be interested in my smoked jalapeno kraut. {laughs} So I sent in a sample, and I don’t know how many people. They selected something like 260 of us out of a couple of thousand, or something. Who knows what it was. But a lot. And I got to bring my smoked jalapeno sauerkraut there.

And I just finished writing about this in the book, so I won’t go too much about it. But we handed out over 8,000 samples, and sold over 1,000 pounds of kraut.

Cassy Joy: Oh my goodness!

Kathryn Lukas: I was completely blown away. And the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle; the food editor at the time said it was the best thing she tasted at the event. I think it blew people away. Because it just had never crossed their mind to put smoked jalapenos in kraut. And what’s fresh kraut. And what, this is weird? And I decided; you know what? That’s it. I’m going for it.

So in February 2009, I finally leased a real, proper facility. Started production. And within I think 4 months, I was in Whole Foods. {laughs} I mean, it just happened really, really fast. And it was like riding a wild bucking bronc. That’s what it felt like for many years. And I think the timing was right, and now we are in; somebody sent me a picture the other day of our product in Mexico. It’s like; what? Are you kidding me? So now, we sell our product in Canada, the United States, Australia, and now I can say Mexico.

I’m pretty passionate about getting as many healthy, live microbes into as many guts and bellies as possible. Because I do believe these foods can have a remarkable healing effect on people and overall on the culture.

Cassy Joy: Oh my goodness. This is so exciting. The inner me is just doing backflips and cheering. That’s so exciting. What a wonderful story. I cannot wait to read more about it. I’m also; I like to say, now that I moonlight as a nutrition consultant {laughs}. It used to be my fulltime gig, and now I do a whole lot of other business stuff. As you know; people who start businesses accidentally then become passionate about business. {laughs}

Kathryn Lukas: Right.

Cassy Joy: But that is so exciting. And the nutritionist in me definitely gets even more excited; yes, I’m excited from an entrepreneurial perspective that’s really a wonderful story. But my goodness, thank you for bringing such a fabulous, really important product to market and seeing that through. I cannot tell you, Kathryn, how many folks. It was back when I was working with one-on-one clients, or back when we opened up the Fed and Fit Project, which is an online program. We told people; if you're looking for a way to get really great probiotics in you daily, Farmhouse is the one that we love the most! Really wonderful flavors, you're not going to be bored.

Kathryn Lukas: Oh, thank you. Thank you so much. I really appreciate that, Cassy.

Cassy Joy: Of course! And I mean it! I really, we have several flavors in our refrigerator right now. I’m just a huge, huge fan.

Kathryn Lukas: What’s your favorite?

Cassy Joy: The beet one, I think.

Kathryn Lukas: The ginger beets. Yeah.

Cassy Joy: That’s hands down; which is perfect. My husband doesn’t like beets in any form. So he’s afraid to try it. Which works, because I don’t want to tell him that it’s really delicious {laughs} so I get it all for myself. And I do, I love anything a little spicy, so I just do love them all.

I would love it if you could share with folks a little bit about your perspective of why fermented foods are such a beneficial part of a normal diet.

Kathryn Lukas: Well, it’s always hard to know where to start because it’s such a huge subject. Right? As a nutritionist, you understand that more than anybody. We evolved with these fermented foods. And these live culture foods. And I’ll talk a little bit more about the distinction between the two in a minute. But we’ve been eating these for literally thousands of years; these types of foods and drinks.

And then, all of a sudden we stopped. And when Louis Pasteur discovered microbes in food, and pathogens, pasteurization became the way we treated a lot of different foods. And it was a remarkable science and technology that helped save thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of lives.

Unfortunately, sauerkraut wasn’t one of those foods that needed to be pasteurized. But they didn’t understand it at that point. This is about 150 years ago. So we started sterilizing our world. We started a war on bacteria. Sandor Katz, who is the godfather of the modern fermentation movement. He talks about the war on bacteria in caps. We really have gone to extremes to sterilize our world.

And what’s happened is something called; what nutritionists and scientists are calling the Western gut has emerged. We have pretty pathetic guts. And nobody knows exactly what an ideal gut microbiome looks like, but when scientists, like Jeff Leach and Rob Knight, through the American Gut Project. Whey they studied populations; hunter-gatherer tribes in Africa and South America; who are more susceptible to infection diseases, and that sort of thing, or getting killed by a lion or whatever. But, they have almost none of our modern diseases. Almost none. Like diabetes, autism, arthritis, headache. The epidemic of autoimmune diseases we have in this country; they don’t exist in these tribes.

So there’s a lot of research looking at; what are these tribes eating. Why are their gut microbiomes so different? What they all will tell you, all of these researchers, is two things seem to really stand out. Fermented foods, and fiber.

I kind of went down a rabbit hole there {laughs} but I think these microbes are so important to have back in our diets now that we understand that it’s safe to eat them unpasteurized. I think we can experience so many health benefits from indigestion issues, to getting off sugar and getting a healthy fermented food diet. A balanced diet with plenty of fermented foods.

We know lots of different cases, because we used to do 14 farmers markets a week at one point. Where we would see transformations in people’s moods. We would see people on heartburn medicine get off heartburn medicine. And we’re not nutritionists or doctors, and we don’t ever prescribe fermented foods. But plenty of doctors are now, because we know what a shift it can be for so many people. With autoimmune, especially, whose guts are leaky, and that sort of thing.

I can go way deep into this stuff because I just finished writing about it. So I’ll leave it at that for now, and if you have more specific questions, go for it.

Cassy Joy: I love it. Could you, I like to have just enough information to be dangerous. It’s one of those; I find that a lot of this Fed and Fit community, we like to dig down into the details when we want it. Like, maybe diving into an upcoming complication of yours. But at the same time, I think folks really just value; how do you be conversational about something like this at your next cocktail party. And I think those are definitely the biggest hitting bags.

I would love; could you walk us through a little bit. This is definitely something that I don’t know. Could you walk us through the fermentation process? What’s involved there, what does it look like?

Kathryn Lukas: Yeah. So, broadly speaking, almost two-thirds of the world’s food is fermented. Beer, wine, chocolate, coffee. All kinds of foods; salami, that you wouldn’t necessarily suspect are actually fermented. But when we talk about our products, we’re talking about products that are fermented and live culture. The microbes are still active.

Sometimes fermentation is used to enzymatically transform ingredients to make them more bioavailable nutritionally. Or to make them tastier. And in both cases, that’s accurate for sauerkraut. Fermented vegetables in general. So, let me walk you through the process of the sauerkraut fermentation. Just to keep it simple.

When cabbage comes in from the field, it is teeming with lactic acid bacteria. And you know when you bring a plum home from the market, there’s that white powder on it sometimes? That’s essentially lactic acid bacteria. And one of the reasons you shouldn’t wash that plum until you're ready to eat it is because that lactic acid bacteria is actually protecting the plum from invaders; from other microbes, from other yeasts. And keeping it intact and fresh for you.

Same with cabbage. Cabbage is very abundant in lactic acid bacteria. We chop it up. We mix it with salt. And then it makes it own brine. And we submerge all of the cabbage underneath its own brine. And by creating this environment, what we’re doing is selecting for the bacteria that we want. And selecting for the bacteria that we don’t want. A lot of bacteria are not salt tolerant. Especially some of the yeasts and the molds; they don’t like salt at all.

So there’s this crazy process, that first 7 days of fermentation, all kinds of bacteria are competing for who is going to win; their digesting the sugar in the cabbage, and then they’re off-gassing a little carbon dioxide. And every time they do that, they multiply. And by the time the second or third generation of bacteria come through, the bacteria that are being created, their byproduct is sour. And it’s acidic. So they’re producing acids.

So after 21 to 28 days, you’ve got this beautiful, naturally fermented cabbage that now has vitamin B12 in it that it didn’t have before. It’s much more bioavailable. And it’s full of these live microbes. And some of the microbes that are more prevalent; well the one that really is most prevalent is Lactobacillus plantarum. And in gut studies, they talk about that bacteria; if they find that in your gut it’s a good thing. It’s a really, really healthy bacteria. It’s been studied for a long time. We know it’s really good for you. So, those are the bacteria that actually, when they duplicate themselves, they are the ones creating sour.

And then you move the product. In the old days, they’d ferment it and then they’d take it down to the cellar and let it finish down there, and it would stay down there for months. Through the winter months. And in order to make it last through the winter months and early spring, they would heavily salt it. Now, because we can move ours into refrigeration, we don’t have to use as much salt. So what we do is after 21 to 28 days, depending on the product, we move it into refrigeration that slows the bacteria down. They’ll stay alive in slow motion. They’ll stay alive for another; anywhere between 9 and 12 months, depending on the product.

So, even after the bacteria, the live microbes start to die off. Because they run out of food to eat. The product is still wonderfully healthy and safe to eat. It just doesn’t have the rich microbes in them. So people eat sauerkraut that’s 3 and 4 years old. Because it tastes good. Or you can cook with it. So that’s essentially the fermentation process of sauerkraut.

Cassy Joy: Oh my gosh! This is so fascinating. I just learned so much! {laughs}

Kathryn Lukas: Good.

Cassy Joy: That is so interesting. So that does bring up a quick question in my mind. If you're wanting to cook with sauerkraut, I would assume that that would then destroy some of these really important little guys that you're finding in your raw kraut.

Kathryn Lukas: That’s right.

Cassy Joy: Got it.

Kathryn Lukas: For the book; a meal that we made with the photo team, I was just in San Francisco with the photo team a few days ago. We made a dish called choucroute garnie. It’s a French dish. It’s an Alsatian dish. And the chef I learned to cook with was Alsatian, so it’s a comfort food for me. And it’s essentially sauerkraut baked with all different types of cuts of meat. Sausage and pork chops and potatoes. And it’s all cooked in a big casserole. And it’s very comforting. But you kill all the microbes.

But you feed the soul. {laughs} and what we did, we actually had some apple fennel kraut that we’d made for the book, so we served that alongside the dish to the crew, and that was the way we got our probiotics. So there are times that cooking with sauerkraut is quite lovely. Quite a lovely thing to do, especially if you add wine, and apples, and onions.

Cassy Joy: Oh! That sounds so fabulous. There’s a recipe in my first book; our second book is scheduled to come out in January ‘19. And in my first book, there’s a recipe in there. And it’s still, to your point, one of my favorite comfort foods. And it’s so easy to put together. But we take sauerkraut, and line the bottom of a pan with it, and then put shredded potatoes on top of that. Or potatoes first, then the kraut, then we take bratwursts and put those on top, and just bake the whole thing together until the brats are nice and brown, and then top with fresh dill. Serve it with some spicy mustard. Oh, it is so good.

Kathryn Lukas: Right?

Cassy Joy: And so interesting.

Kathryn Lukas: And there are still plenty of health benefits in that kraut, even though it’s been cooked. It’s just you’ve killed the vitamin C, and you’ve killed the microbes. But again, you can serve a little fresh on the side, and you get your comfort and your microbes.

Cassy Joy: I love it. Or have it for breakfast. That’s one of my favorite things, Kathryn, to front load your day with all of those important things. I’m definitely on team kale for breakfast. Just getting some good methylated folate from spinach. Get that in first thing in the morning. Maybe a little bit of liver, and maybe some raw kraut. Put that on your plate first thing in the morning. You can just knock it out.

And it’s so funny you talk about your time in Germany in tasting fresh sauerkraut for the first time. My grandfather fought in world war two, and he was stationed there. And I’m going to forget the name of the tiny town he was at. He was essentially; they were stranded there for about 5 months. And he talks about this sweet old German couple that just fed them bread and sauerkraut from their cellar. And he says; I’ve never had sauerkraut like that since.

Kathryn Lukas: Yep.

Cassy Joy: And he’s since passed. But it’s always piqued my curiosity. When I first tried Farmhouse, I always thought; I wonder if this is what Pawpaw was talking about.

Kathryn Lukas: Yeah. Probably. Especially one with caraway, that’s a very classic Bavarian style.

Cassy Joy: Is it? That’s good to know. I’m going to serve that up for my family one time and talk about it. I would love to know, what are some of your favorite ways, maybe, to get fermented intake into your diet? You know, I said I like to plop a little on my breakfast plate. Do you have any favorite products or hacks that you have found that have been really successful over the years?

Kathryn Lukas: Yeah. We were just talking about the classic caraway. Which, I love creating all these flavors. But the class caraway is still my favorite. {laughs} So one of my favorite things to do is create salads out of our krauts. And actually, we had a customer from Israel who had immigrated from Poland there with her family many years ago. And this was a side dish that she said was on their table a couple of nights a week. So I didn’t invent this. But she shreds carrots into the kraut, and let’s call it a cup of carrots into a pound of kraut. And then half a cup of sliced green onions. And then toss it with some olive oil, and you’ve got a gorgeous side salad.

Cassy Joy: Sounds lovely.

Kathryn Lukas: And one of my favorite ways to get kraut; I mean, I eat kraut a lot. I love the smoked jalapeno in an omelet. I just throw it in at the very, very last minute so it doesn’t get hot. I love it with cheddar cheese. It’s awesome on grilled cheese, but I can’t really eat grilled cheese much anymore. And maintain my girlish figure. So that’s a special treat.

But what I do love is the gut shot. I put it in everything. I make salad dressings with it. I finish sauces and soups with it.

Cassy Joy: Ooh.

Kathryn Lukas: I put it, of course, in my smoothies. My sister came up with a lemonade, because she was trying to get more of it into her son, who is on the spectrum. And she made this wonderful lemonade recipe with it, so that’s what we drink in the summer now. So that’s kind of what I do. I do a ton of gut shot. Probably half a bottle a day. In different formats. You replace half the vinegar in your salad dressing with kraut juice. And voila.

And the last one that I’ve recently discovered that I adore is making ceviche with the smoked jalapeno kraut juice.

Cassy Joy: That sounds so good.

Kathryn Lukas: So half lime juice and half smoked jalapeno kraut juice.

Cassy Joy: Oh my goodness, this makes me want to just cancel my afternoon, run to Whole Foods really quickly.

Kathryn Lukas: {laughs}

Cassy Joy: Just come back; I’m going to make ceviche. We’re going to make a bake, just because you’ve got me craving it. Salad dressings. Oh, that is so brilliant. I hadn’t even though about those creative uses for the gut shots. I had just been sipping on them.

Kathryn Lukas: Yeah. And you know what’s really good? That ginger beet is great in chocolaty smoothies. If you're adding cacao nibs and that sort of thing. I just love it. Berries and chocolate together with a shot or two of the ginger beet. It seems to really work.

Cassy Joy: Oh my gosh. That sounds so wonderful. Well, you’ve just inspired my October. {laughs}

Kathryn Lukas: Oh good.

Cassy Joy: My recipe team in October. That’s so wonderful, Kathryn. And then, whatever. I know you're still in the trenches of this big project. But whatever you want to share about this project coming out, your first book coming out in 2019 of summer. I would love to hear a little preview of it.

Kathryn Lukas: Yeah. So, it is called the Farmhouse Culture Guide to Fermentation. We’re still kind of playing around with the sub, but I think it’s going to be A Practical Guide to Crafting Live Culture Foods and Drinks. And I wrote the book with my son, who worked in the company for a really long time with us. He was our head fermentologist. And as the company grew, I got really fractured, in a positive way. And wore a million hats. So he took the deeper dive into fermentation. His knowledge far exceeds mine at this point. He’s actually now living in Denmark, and working for a company over there as their fermentologist. So, he’s really into it.

And he’d already written a book in Denmark, so this was his second book. So we wrote the book together, and had a blast. We also said we’re probably not writing another book together. {laughs} We adore each other, but it’s like; maybe we’re not going to do this again. It’s also pretty intense when you're collaborating that closely.

And we just finished shooting all of the photography. We had to break it up in two sections. So I got home late, late Friday night. We just finished with manuscript edits late last night. And you know; I’m in the throes of it right now.

So, we’re really excited about it. And it will come out, I think, in June 2019. And hopefully it will be a practical guide that goes a little deeper than some of the books that are currently out there. We get kind of technical, for those who want to get more technical. But if you don’t want to go that route, you can also take it a little bit easier and play with some of the easier recipes. But we’ve got everything from kraut to kimchi to kombucha. We’re even doing herbal beers and kvass. We call it beet sour. We do water kefir soda. Just everything you can imagine, fermented. Even yogurt. So it’s been so fun. It’s been exhausting and fun. I’ve loved every minute of it.

Cassy Joy: That sounds like a book. {laughs} Exhausting, fun, love every minute of it. And as soon as you turn it in. It’s like finishing a marathon. You think; ok, I think I’m good. I’m just not going to do one of those again. And then time goes on, and you're going to have another brilliant idea, Kathryn, I just know it.

My goodness. I cannot wait to get my hands on this book. And we will stay abreast. I will definitely let the Fed and Fit world know about when that is live. Because I can’t wait to sink my teeth into it. That’s so exciting. Congratulations.

Kathryn Lukas: Thank you so much, Cassy, I really appreciate it.

Cassy Joy: Oh my goodness, it is definitely my pleasure. Thank you so much for taking the time, again, to come on today’s show. Could you just tell folks a little bit about where they can find your wonderful products and where they maybe can find you online. And then also so that they get the most up to date notices of your book coming out.

Kathryn Lukas: Yeah. So, if you go to FarmhouseCulture.com, we’ve got a location finder there. We’re in, I think, something like 8,000 stores at the moment. So we are in just about every health food store and Whole Foods and Natural Grocer; a lot of gourmet stores. And then starting to be in a lot more conventional stores. So if you put in your zip code, the location finder will tell you what stores we’re in near you.

I don’t have a lot more information about the book details yet, but we’ll definitely be posting information about it on the website as the editors get more information to us.

Cassy Joy: Perfect.

Kathryn Lukas: Yeah. I think they can find everything there. And they can also reach me there if they go through info@; they’ll pass on emails to me. And I answer a lot of emails; I’m happy to do that. So if anybody wants to talk directly or have a specific question that our team there can’t answer, I’m happy to chat.

Cassy Joy: Oh, Kathryn, that’s wonderful. Thank you so much. You have been so lovely. I really appreciate you taking the time. I will go ahead and link; if you're driving, and you can’t remember to write all this stuff down, I will link to Farmhouse Culture in the show notes over at www.FedandFit.com. So we’ll have everything ready for you there.

Thank you again! Good luck finishing the final sprint of turning in the book and getting all those ducks lined up. I will definitely be cheering you on.

Kathryn Lukas: Oh, it’s been my pleasure. Thank you, Cassy.

Cassy Joy: Absolutely. Everybody else, thanks for joining us. As always, we’ll be back again, next week.


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  1. Kathy Mills says:

    I cannot get this episode to play on iTunes! Is it just me? Bummer!!!!!