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Home » Why Live Culture Fermented Foods Are Good For Your Gut: Kathryn Lukas (Transcript)

Why Live Culture Fermented Foods Are Good For Your Gut: Kathryn Lukas (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of Microbe Evangelist Kathryn Lukas’ talk titled “Why Live Culture Fermented Foods Are Good For Your Gut” at TEDxUniversityofNevada 2024 conference.

Listen to the audio version here:


My Journey Begins

I’m a microbe evangelist. My journey began in 1994 in Germany where I encountered a microbe that would dramatically alter the course of my life. I found it in a farmer’s cellar in a barrel of freshly fermented sauerkraut. It tasted nothing like the bracingly sour canned stuff I’d grown up with. This was mild and tart and crunchy and it fizzed on my tongue. It was so delightful.

But there was something else, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I just knew I wanted to learn more. Learning how to cook and owning a restaurant in Germany gave me ample opportunity to do just that. I discovered that there’s a springtime version that’s typically eaten fresh and that the falltime version, which is meant to last through the winter, is usually a little saltier and typically eaten cooked.

I learned how to finish my sauces and my soups with its juice, best secret ingredient ever. And I noticed that the chef who taught me how to cook would drink it whenever he was hungover, which was often, and he would make this miraculous recovery.

I also learned that the sour in sauerkraut came not from vinegar, as I’d always assumed, but from a transformative microbial process called fermentation. I didn’t really understand what that meant until I went to a natural chef culinary program in California many years later and made my first batch of sauerkraut. We massaged salt into fine shreds of cabbage until they became translucent and weepy. And then we tucked the mixture into a small fermentation crock and we waited for the alchemy to begin.

Learning About Fermentation

Over the next few days, the crock literally came alive. We could hear it gurgling and burping as we worked on other projects in the kitchen. When the instructor handed me a forkful to taste a couple of weeks later, I was immediately blasted back to that farmer’s cellar and that fizz on my tongue. I’d learned the culinary uses for sauerkraut in Germany, but now I needed to understand exactly what had happened in that crock, what had transformed those simple ingredients into something truly extraordinary.

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