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A picture of Sandor Katz

Sandor Katz

Fermentation revivalist

in food

Who are you, and what do you do?

I call myself a fermentation revivalist. I started experimenting with fermentation twenty years ago, and after a decade of indulging my obsession, I wrote a zine and then a book called Wild Fermentation. I've continued to experiment, taught workshops all around the world, and last year I published a much more in-depth book on the subject, The Art of Fermentation. You can find out more at my website.

What hardware do you use?

I use crocks, jars, jugs, and many other forms of hardware. Fermentation has inspired great inventiveness and many of our most basic technologies were originally developed to facilitate the fermentation arts. I use thermometers and temperature controllers when I need to regulate temperatures. But in general I stay away from specialized equipment and high-tech tools and gadgetry. My interest is in the processes of fermentation and their underlying simplicity.

And what software?

The software for fermentation would be the food you are fermenting, along with the bacteria and fungi fermenting them. I ferment all sorts of foods (and beverages). Mostly I rely upon wild fermentation, meaning the organisms present on the food itself, but in certain cases I introduce specific microbial cultures. I maintain a sourdough culture that I've kept going for about 15 years and two different yogurt cultures (one from Bulgaria and one from Lebanon). I also maintain several SCOBYs, which are Symbiotic Communities of Bacteria and Yeast: kombucha, a rubbery disc used to ferment sweet tea; kefir, rubbery blobs that look something like florets of cauliflower, that I use to ferment milk; and tibicos (also known as water kefir), rubbery crystalline structures that ferment fruit juices, sugar water, coconut water, and any other carbohydrate-rich liquid. In addition, for a few exotic ferments such as tempeh, koji, and natto, I use imported powdered pure strain cultures.

What would be your dream setup?

Certain ferments require very specific temperature or humidity conditions, but most of them can be made anywhere. After all, these are ancient rituals that our ancestors have been practicing for longer than history has been recorded. I experimented for many years in an off the grid communal kitchen, nothing fancy. My dream set-up would include an unheated cellar, for long-term storage; several chambers with the potential of creating simulated environments at different temperatures and humidity; and lots of crocks of different sizes.