By Danielle Bongiovanni
Sierra Club is celebrating Earth Month online with six educational events throughout April. On April 2 Anne-Marie Bonneau, also known as the Zero-Waste Chef, was invited to demonstrate how fermentation can reduce food waste.
Bonneau began by informing the audience that one-third of food in the world goes uneaten. In the US, that amount rises up to 40%. Fermenting vegetables at home is a good way to avoid food waste. It is also cost-effective, as buying fermented products from the store is more expensive, and using vegetables at home that may have gone uneaten can save money. The average household of four loses $1800 annually on wasted food.
Sauerkraut is a popular food made from fermentation. Bonneau explained “All you need is cabbage. I’m making mine a little fancier, I’ve got carrots.” All vegetables will ferment in the right environment since they are covered in lactic acid bacteria.
She began by peeling one leaf from the cabbage, setting it aside, then finely chopping the rest of it and her other vegetables finely. Next, she added salt. Her ratio was two teaspoons of salt per two pounds of cabbage. Salt extends the life of the food by slowing the fermentation process. It also kills any bad bacteria present. As a result, she claimed, “It’s actually probably the safest form of food preparation.”
She stirred and crushed the contents of the bowl by hand, then placed a plate and a heavy jug directly on top of the vegetables. She draped a towel over it to fully cover the bowl’s opening. By leaving it like this for a few hours, the rest of the liquid is squeezed out.
Bonneau continued working with a bowl she had prepared up to this step about two hours ago. She lifted the plate to reveal a layer of liquid resting on top of the vegetables. The mixture was ready to be packed into jars. “Any jar will do,” she said, although ones with glass tops and rubber gaskets work best. Mason jars with metal lids will rust from the acidity.
She packed the jar until a few inches of space were left at the top. “If you pack it in and you don’t get very much liquid, you can top it off with water,” she instructed. The contents must be entirely covered with liquid to avoid mold or decay.
Once the veggies were entirely covered with liquid, she placed the cabbage leaf she had set aside earlier on top. She then added a small glass weight and closed the jar tightly. In her experience, fermentation takes at least three days, and she recommended occasionally opening the jar to release some of the gases and to check the flavor. The longer the jar is left to ferment, the more sour and tangy the flavor will be. Once the taste is satisfying, the jar should be moved to the fridge to slow the fermentation. It can be stored there for over a year.
Bonneau claimed eating a bit of fermented food each day made her healthier. Recent research supports her experience.
When asked what else she liked to ferment, Bonneau beamed and showed the audience a jar of fruit she had prepared earlier. “I am obsessed with preserved lemons,” she said, although her other favorites include fermented chutney, peaches, and bell peppers.
As the event came to a close, Bonneau gave her audience a final encouragement. “You never get bored if you start doing this, because there’s so much to learn and so many experiments to try.”
A recording of the event will be made available @sierraclub’s IGTV. Anyone interested in attending future Earth Month events can register online. Recipes including this one and tips for zero-waste living are available on Bonneau’s blog, zerowastechef.com. Her upcoming book, The Zero-Waste Chef: Plant-Forward Recipes and Tips for a Sustainable Kitchen and Planet, contains 75 vegetarian recipes, tips on what to do with leftovers, and a chapter on the benefits of going zero waste.