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Harvard Common Press

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Harvard Common Press
Parent company The Quarto Group
Founded 1976
Founder Larry Anderson, Kathleen Cushman, and Edward Miller
Country of origin United States
Headquarters location Boston
Key people Bruce Shaw, publisher
Publication types Books
Official website

Harvard Common Press of Boston, Massachusetts, is a publisher of cookbooks and parenting books. Founded in 1976 in a house on the town square of Harvard, Massachusetts by Larry Anderson, Kathleen Cushman, and Edward Miller, The Harvard Common Press was purchased in 1981 by Bruce Shaw. The company is housed in a loft in the South End of Boston. It became a subsidiary of The Quarto Group in 2016.[1]

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  • Sandor Katz: The Art of Fermentation; Science & Cooking Public Lecture Series 2017
  • A Public Address by Christine Lagarde
  • Visitas 2017 - Harvard University - Roland Fryer


PIA SORENSEN: So, welcome. Welcome, everyone. Who is here for the first time? I love that. Wonderful! Welcome. So this is the Science of Cooking Public Lecture Series, and we do this every Monday at 7:00 PM. And very soon, I'm about to introduce Sandor Katz, who is going to talk to us about all things fermentation. But first I just want to put this into context. So who was here last week? Wonderful. So for those of you who are new, you know that we're playing a little game every week? Yeah? Do you know? So if you paid very careful attention to what happened last week when Chef Lydia Bastianich was here, you had the chance to win prizes. And in order to do that, you have to answer a question. The prize is these aprons, which I'm going to try to do with one hand-- aprons with equations. [APPLAUSE] So we clap for equations. So Lydia made risotto. And she said it's very important to make risotto in a wide saucepan rather than in a deep saucepan. Why is that? Yes. [INAUDIBLE] The increased area of the saucepan allows all the greens to cook evenly. Anything else you may want to add? Yeah. Good. There's more area for liquid to evaporate. OK. Next question. As Chef Lydia slowly cooked the rise for the risotto, a component that contributes to that creamy base of the risotto was pulled out of the rice and into the sauce. What is the name of this component, and what kind of macromolecule is it? That's two questions. But you get an apron. Anyone? Yeah. AUDIENCE: A starch and a carbohydrate? PIA SORENSEN: Do you know the name of the specific starch? Anyone? Yeah? AUDIENCE: Amylopectin. PIA SORENSEN: Amylopectin. [APPLAUSE] OK, I think this one is easier. So Chef Lydia claims that it is very important that the stock is hot. So she had a pot of risotto, and then she had a stock which she was adding to the risotto just one little at a time. And she claimed that it's very important that this stock is also kept hot. It can't be at room temperature. Is it true that it has to be hot? OK, raise your hand. Yes. It is important. I could have asked you to show me why. So if you were here, you remember the equation of the week, which was this. [APPLAUSE] And if you were a student in this class, on your homework-- which is actually due tomorrow, so please don't spread the word-- you would have calculated how much this affects the temperature of the stock. So if you add, early in the cooking process, you add one ladle stock to it-- you don't have to pay attention to this-- the final temperature, after you've added a ladle of stock to your risotto, is 72 degrees Celsius if you do it early in the cooking process. If you do it late in the cooking process, it's about 82. So yes, adding that ladle of stock actually does bring the temperature down by like 20 or 10 degrees, which you can imagine is enough to actually not really keep the risotto at the right temperature. So these equations are useful, sometimes. OK, so that's it for aprons. So last week, we cooked with heat. Lydia added all kinds of things to water, but basically what she did, from a scientific standpoint, was she added grains to water and then she added heat. And then she waited. That was basically it. This week, we're going to cook with microbes. So you would think at first glance that these are kind of opposite ways to cook. Most of you know that adding heat to food is what sanitizes food, is what kills microbes. And when we cook with microbes, as Sandor will tell us, you really want to make sure that you keep those microbes not just surviving but happy, thriving, dividing, doing their thing so they add flavor, preserve the food, do their thing. So that's kind of our goal for today. And the reason for this is that microbes are busily banks of enzymes. Enzymes are basically proteins. Usually when we cook food, we mess with proteins, right? If you cook a steak, you're messing with the proteins. If you're whipping egg white, you're actually messing with the proteins. If you are cooking an egg, you're denaturing the proteins. You're messing with the proteins. Now if you messed with the proteins inside these cute little yeast, you would be messing with all of these enzymes and the yeast would die. So you don't want to do that. So they may seem opposite, but they have actually a lot in common. So one of the things that cooking with heat and cooking with microbes have in common is it's something humans have been doing for millennia. So I guess the most current number for how long we've been doing this is fish found in Sweden, actually-- that is 7000 BC, so 19 years old is some of the earliest evidence. Our second earliest evidence is similarly about 7,000 B.C. is beer, ancient beer recipes in China. So this is something how humans have manipulated foods in this way for way, way, way back. The other thing that cooking with heat and cooking with microbes have in common is that they're really simple recipes. I mean, cooking pasta-- you add pasta, water, heat, done. Here is sauerkraut-- add sauerkraut, a little salt, time, wait, wait. But then you're done-- eventually you're done. So simple-- really simple recipes. You know, often when we think of cooking, we think of these complex things. You add this, you do this, it's very complex. You have to have a lot of skill and training-- not necessarily that hard. The other thing that cooking with heat and cooking with microbes have in common is they break down larger molecules. So the large molecules of food, the proteins, the carbohydrates, the fats-- you break those down when you cook, say, a steak. So the delicious molecules on top of a brown steak-- it's due to the breaking down of the proteins. And similarly, when you ferment, say, milk, you're basically breaking down the long carbohydrates in the milk, adding lots of microbes. And over time, you're getting these beautiful flavors, but they come from that milk. They come from the long, big molecules. It's the breaking down of them that creates this beautiful, new flavor. So very quickly-- so microbes are good at what they do because they divide really fast. And I like this. I usually do this. So if you have one bacteria, it divides and makes two bacteria. Then the first one dies, and each of these create two new ones, blah, blah, blaH. They keep doing this. And over time, you get something like this. [APPLAUSE] Good, good, good. So you can put all this together in an equation. The equation looks like this, and it basically says that if this much time elapsed and if the time of a generation is this long-- so the time of a human generation is like 30 years-- microbes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour to two hours. You plug it in. You can basically find out how many there'll be after a certain amount of time. So as I thought we should do an experiment, do a little calculation. So question number seven-- this is an old homework problem. E. coli divide every 20 minutes. If the spinach you had for dinner at six-- that's an hour ago-- and there was one bacteria on it, how many extra E. coli do you currently have in your body now? It's seven. And how many do you have tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM? So you can do your exponentials in your head. I'm sure you're good at that. But I can also just show you. So after an hour-- so two-- after an hour we have 60 minutes, the time per generation is 20 minutes. So now you have about eight E. coli in your stomach. It's OK. Tomorrow morning-- that's about 15 hours later, an hour is 60 minutes, over 20 minutes, lots and lots, 10 to the 13. And if every E. coli weights ten to the negative 10 grams, that means you would have three kilograms of E. coli in your belly tomorrow morning. That's a lot. That's why exponentials are amazing. You produce all lot of microbes. Is that true? Is that going to happen? Yes or no? Why Stomach acid? [INAUDIBLE] The early generations die. They run out of nutrients. Yes, exactly. In order for them to divide and build that biomass, they would have to eat stuff in your stomach. And so they would have to eat of you. So they run out of nutrients, and they can't divide that much. You'll still have some E. coli, and you still may get sick, but maybe not as sick. OK so things to think about as we go into this lecture. So it is a great honor for me, huge honor for me, to introduce Sandor Katz. Sandor Katz is one of the great fermentation experts of our time, and we go way back, by like two years, because Sandor has Skyped into my classes and talked to my students for years. And so it's super exciting for me and many of the people on the staff to finally have him here. So please welcome Sandar Katz. [APPLAUSE] SANDOR KATZ: All right, well, thank you. Can everybody hear? OK, great. No more equations. So OK, what I want to start with is just addressing the question, what is fermentation anyway. But first, I want to do a little poll. How many people here would say that they have eaten or drunk something fermented in the course of this day? OK, I'm seeing a lot of hands, maybe most hands. But I would bet that most of the people who didn't raise their hands actually have eaten something fermented already today. Almost every individual in almost every part of the world eats and drinks products of fermentation every day. So if you're here in Cambridge and sort of eating a standard American diet, maybe you had some coffee this morning. Coffee is fermented. Maybe you ate some bread. Bread is fermented. Maybe you had some cheese on that breed. Cheese is fermented. Maybe you had salami or some other kind of cured meat on that bread, which is fermented. Maybe you had a salad with salad dressing that included vinegar, which is fermented. Maybe you ate some chocolate, which is fermented. Maybe something with vanilla in it, which is fermented. But an incredibly diverse range of everyday foods and beverages are products of fermentation. And what is it that unites all of these disparate foods. They're all produced by the transformative action of microorganisms. And from a food and beverage perspective, that's how I would define fermentation-- it's the transformative action of microorganisms. Now I imagine we have some biologists in the house, and the biologists are already shaking their heads because, for a biologist, fermentation means something a little bit different than that-- something that's both more specific, and also a little bit broader. For biologists, fermentation describes anaerobic metabolism, the production of energy without oxygen. And in fact, the cells of our bodies are capable of fermentation. And mostly we operate with respiration. And the most efficient way that our cells produce energy is with oxygen, and we have this elaborate system to distribute oxygen to each of the cells of our bodies. But if we exert ourselves in ways that sort of demand energy beyond what that oxygen can facilitate, then our cells revert to this fermentive mode of energy production, which is less efficient. It produces this byproduct with lactic acid, which can be responsible for giving us that feeling of a muscle burn when we exert ourselves. Now how does this relate to these foods and beverages? Most of the foods in beverages that we describe as fermented meet the biologist's definition. They are anaerobic. When we turn this bowl of cabbage and other vegetables into sauerkraut, that's an anaerobic process that does not require oxygen. When we take milk and fermented into yogurt, that's an anaerobic process that does not require oxygen. When we take grape juice and ferment it into wine, that's an anaerobic process that does not require oxygen. The reason why I typically depart from the biologist's definition of fermentation is that there are a large handful of microbial transformed foods and beverages that do require oxygen. So if any of you like to drink kombucha, a kombucha is an example of an aerobic ferment, call it an oxymoronic ferment because it's a microbial transformation that requires oxygen. But everybody thinks of it as fermented. Similarly, vinegar requires oxygen. Similarly, many types of cheese require oxygen. The Indonesian soy ferment tofu-- I'm sorry, tempeh requires oxygen. So because there are all of these microbally transformed foods that don't meet the biologist's definition of fermentation, I like to work with this broader lay definition that fermentation is the transformative action of microorganisms. However, not every transformative action of microorganisms results in something delicious that we're ready to put into our mouths. And for most people, our primary awareness of the microbial transformation of food comes when we clean the refrigerator. In the deep recesses of the refrigerator, you find decomposed vegetables and things that have begun to mold. And that's also the transformative action of microorganisms. But we don't call that fermented. We have a different vocabulary to describe that. We call that rotten. We call that spoiled. And we reserve the word fermentation to describe intentional or desirable microbial transformations. But I think the fact that we all inevitably experience food decomposition maybe can give us some insight into the inevitability of microbial transformation of our food. Now in terms of science and cooking, one of the things that's most fascinating to me about fermentation is that people have been practicing this for 10,000 years-- I would argue longer, that what the archaeological record really as is finding is it's telling us about the history of pottery. And that's when pottery emerged and that the earlier vessels were all biodegradable. So we're not finding remains of them. But anyway, who knows? But the people who figured out fermentation techniques, they didn't have the benefit of microbiology. They didn't know about microorganisms. And what we now understand is that all of the plants and all of the animal products that make up our food are populated by these elaborate communities of microorganisms. So the question is, are these microorganisms going to decompose our food into something disgusting that nobody would ever put into their mouths, are these microorganisms going to create toxic byproducts or make us sick, or are these microorganisms going to somehow elevate the food and make it more delicious, more stable, more digestible, or improve the food in some way. And without knowing about the existence of microorganisms, people in every part of the world figured out through observation, through trial and error, through happy accidents, who knows how they figured it out how to guide the microbial transformation of the food. And really what the practice of fermentation amounts to are manipulations of environmental conditions that determine which of the multitude of organisms that are present on anything that makes up our food are going to develop and in what way they will be transformed. So a head of cabbage-- here, I'll be referring to this repeatedly through the evening. But if we just left a bowl of cabbage like this sitting on the counter for two weeks or two months, it is not going to turn itself into sauerkraut. And it's really quite predictable what's going to happen. And some of us have seen the early stages of this-- like maybe you had a piece of cabbage like this leftover from something you cooked. And let's just say there was no room in your fermentation slowing device, your refrigerator, and you left it on the counter, and you didn't get back to it the next day, and it sat there for a few days. Has anyone ever seen like a little film of a mold develop on those cut surfaces? And you can still use the cabbage. You just sliced those away. But where the carbohydrates are losing out in the presence of oxygen, mold is going to grow. So it's possible to have a bowl of cabbage turned into a cloud-- oh, here, you're not gonna see where it's-- it's possible to have a bowl of shredded cabbage turn into kind of a cloud of mold that could literally reduce that cabbage into a puddle of slime that bears no resemblance to delicious, tangy, crunchy sauerkraut. Also, I mean not to scare anyone about eating cabbages or other raw vegetables, but the bacteria that produces the scariest food poisoning pathogen that we know of, Clostridium botulinum, which produces a toxin called botulism, it's such a common soil bacteria that probably none of us have ever eaten a vegetable in our lives that didn't have cells of Clostridium botulinum. But we really only ever hear about botulism in the context of canning. So if you sterilize food in a jar in order to preserve it but you fail to use adequate heat, Clostridium botulinum can survive higher than boiling temperatures. So what you do is you sort of kill everything else and leave that as the sole survivor in the very contrived environment where it can thrive in the total absence of oxygen-- obligate anaerobic. It can only function in the absence of oxygen. We don't really spend much of our time in a totally anaerobic environment. So when you chop up cabbage to make a coleslaw or to ferment into sauerkraut or to make a stir fry, you don't have to worry about the botulism. It's only if you put it in that specific environment where it can grow. So there's a lot of potential ways that a cabbage or a glass of milk or a glass of grape juice or anything that we could eat-- there's a lot of different ways that it can microbially transform. And which of the microbes that are on it are going to develop is entirely an environmental question. And so fermentation is all about manipulating environments to encourage the growth of certain kinds of organisms while simultaneously discouraging the growth of other kinds of organisms. So I mean, what we'll be doing eventually with this bowl of cabbage is we're going to get the vegetables submerged under their own juices. And that just protects them from the free flow of oxygen. So the molds can't grow. It's not totally anaerobic. There's dissolved oxygen in the water. So the Clostridium botulinum can't grow, and in that sort of protected environment the lactic acid bacteria, which are generally believed to be present on all plants growing out of soil on planet Earth, they can thrive and flourish. And as they acidify the environment, they kill off most of the other organisms that are present. And that's part of what enables the food to be so effectively preserved. So fermentation is the transformative action of microorganisms. There is no food that cannot be fermented. It doesn't mean every food has equally prominent traditions of fermentation. Avocados are like an example of a food that, I don't think that there's much tradition of fermenting. But I've put avocado in sauerkraut. It works great. And nothing that we could possibly eat could not be fermented. And then a related issue is fermentation is practiced everywhere. I definitely do not possess encyclopedic knowledge of culinary traditions everywhere in the world. But I've been looking really hard for counter-examples for more than 20 years, and every time someone has proposed I'm a part of the world where they believe that fermentation is not practiced, I've been able to learn about a fermented food or beverage from that part of the world. So I think it would be conceptually possible for hunter-gatherer people to live without fermentation. If you're going to spend each day procuring the food resources that are going to get you through that day, you don't really have to think too much about the dynamics of how food fares over time. But as people in different parts of the world transitioned from hunter-gatherer societies into agricultural societies, if you're going to invest your energy and your resources into crops that are ready at a certain moment of the year, then that is only feasible as a strategy for survival if you have some strategies in mind for how you're going to preserve the harvest to get you through the rest of the year. So I would argue that agriculture itself would not be possible without fermentation. It's not the fermentation is the only ancient method of preservation, but most of the ways that we preserve food today just hadn't existed in the past. I mean, OK, we can't even imagine how you live without a refrigerator. And if we were sitting here just 100 years ago, nobody would have a refrigerator. And bear in mind that most households on planet Earth in 2017 do not have a refrigerator. Refrigeration is not universally available. And so people use other techniques for preserving food. Then, we might think about canning. Some of us might think of canning as an old time preservation technique because we mostly associate it with a grandparent or great grandparents or something like that. Canning is a 200-year-old technology. It was patented in France in 1812, where it's called up appertization because they remember the name of Nicholas Appert, the clever Frenchman who invented the process of sterilizing food in a jar. So if you take away refrigerators and freezers and canning, there aren't that many other methods of preservation. There's drying food. Drying food preserves food basically by depriving the microorganisms that are on the food of the water that they need in order to function. So dried foods are not sterilized in the way that canned foods are. The microbes are present, but they're in a state of dormancy because they lack the water that they need in order to function. And certain foods are just dry when they're mature. That's their nature-- any kind of grain, any kind of bean, any kind of nut. They're just dry when they're mature. Other foods can be dried, like fish or meat or fruit or vegetables. Really any food could be dried. And then beyond that, fermentation has been just a major way that people have preserved food. Sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles-- these are all strategies for people in temperate parts of the world to preserve vegetables from the limited season when they can be grown to get people through the rest of the year. Cheese, we mostly think about cheese as something that's tasty and something that you walk into a gourmet store, and there's all these different choices and exciting flavors and textures and all that. But I mean, really what cheese is preserved milk. Cheese and yogurt and kefir and other forms of fermented milk really are strategies for extending the life of this, or the usefulness of this you know extremely perishable food. Salami-- you walk into a delicatessen, and the salami is just like hanging from a string in the ceiling. I mean, that's preserved meat. You take this animal that you've been feeding for months, and you know it weighs 300 pounds. And you can't eat it all at one sitting. So you have to have strategies to preserve the meat so you can eat it over a longer period of time. And that's what all cured meats are. So preservation has been just an incredibly, incredibly important reason why people ferment. I wish I could say that I got interested in fermentation for something as high minded as that. But what first made me start thinking about fermentation was the flavors of fermentation, and fermentation creates compelling flavors. And if you walk into a gourmet food store anywhere, most of what you're going to see and smell are products of fermentation. And most of the world's greatest delicacies are products of fermentation. And fermentation creates strong flavors. Of course with strong flavors, not everybody loves every flavor of fermentation. And I think cheese illustrates this so well. So as my taste has evolved-- and I wasn't born like this-- but like I love stinky, stinky cheese. And if I can smell it from hundreds of it away, it-- just catches my attention, and I'm dying to try it. And I'm so sure not everyone in here would share my passion for stinky cheeses and. Whenever I have a really very ripe, sticky piece of cheese and I invite some friends over to share it with me, inevitably somebody gets to the door and just makes this awful face. And they're thinking, did something die in here. And they would never ever think about putting something that smelled like that into their mouths, and the world of fermentation is just full of these strong flavored. They're what we would call acquired tastes. You're not born loving a stinky cheese. You're not born loving surstromming, the Swedish low salt fermented Herring. Just the stronger flavors of fermentation, people learn to like through exposure, through seeing other people get excited about them, through being willing to taste them a second and a third time. So flavor is a very important aspect of fermentation. What's getting a lot of people interested in fermentation at the present moment is perceived health benefits. So I want to just address that a little bit. It's not like all of these foods have precisely the same qualities. It's not like coffee and bread and cheese and kimchi are all the same. They're all different. They're all based on different foods that have different qualities, the fermentations are different, every food is unique. But the process of fermentation transforms nutrients in some very clear patterns of ways. The first way Pia referred to in her introduction, and that is what I would call pre-digestion and the idea that, while the food is fermenting, the bacteria or the fungi that are fermenting it are breaking down nutrients into more elemental forms. And frequently these simpler forms are easier for us to access. I would say that the most dramatic example of this is soybeans. The reason why the vegetarian subcultures of the West became so interested in soybeans and they became almost a singular replacement for meat and milk is that soybeans are considered to be the plant food with the most concentrated protein. But you really never hear about people just you eating a plate of soybeans for dinner the way they might with lentils or chickpeas. And the reason for this is that our human digestive systems are not capable of breaking down the protein in soybeans. And it won't kill you if you eat a plate of soybeans for dinner, but it'll make you really gassy. It'll give you terrible indigestion, and you're not going to get the protein out of the soybeans. And so somehow thousands of years ago, the Asian cultures that pioneered soy agriculture recognized the indigestibility of the soybeans and figured out how to make soybeans digestible. And we have this whole range of fermented soy foods. There's soy sauce. There's miso. There's tempeh. There's natto. There's really like dozens of other variations. The four that I mentioned are very different in flavor, they're different in texture, they're different and fermentation processes, they're different in the organisms that ferment them. But what they all have in common is that that protein gets broken down into amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. Similarly, when you ferment milk, lactose-- the milk sugar that so many people have a hard time digesting-- breaks down. And many people who can't drink a glass of milk have a fine time eating yogurt. But of course, it's not a question of yes or no. It's a matter of degree, and most commercial yogurt that's available I mean the assumption, at least in the United States, is that people want their yogurt minimally sour. And so most commercial yogurt in the United States is fermented for about 2 and 1/2 hours, which is enough to just set the yogurt but without making it too sour. But what the sourness is is lactic acid, and that's with the lactose is being transformed into. So the more sour it is, the less lactose there is. So if you make yogurt yourself at home, instead of fermenting it for 2 and 1/2 hours, you can fermented for eight hours. You can fermented for 12 hours. You can fermented for 24 hours, and you'll have a different product. It'll be more sour, but there will be less lactose to it. That's pre-indigestion. Even gluten, the notorious wheat protein that so many people have a hard time digesting, can be broken down by fermentation-- not by yeast, but by bacteria. And yeast you can go to any store and buy. Yeast has been present with us forever, and people have been making bread for something like 10,000 years and using yeast. But until Louis Pasteur isolated yeast in the 19th century, yeast was never alone. Yeast has always been used with the bacteria that it travels with-- so on the wheat itself, like on grapes or on barley. The yeast is there, but it's not alone. It's with lactic acid bacteria. So what we now call sourdough, which is natural leavening-- which is really how bread for the first 1900 years was made. The fermentation included not only yeast but bacteria, and those bacteria can break down gluten. So there's a much lower level of gluten in bacterially fermented bread or bread made with natural leavening or a mixed culture. And this question of mixed cultures is really kind of essential because until the emergence of the science of microbiology there was no such thing as singular microorganisms. Microorganisms are everywhere, but they're never alone. They always exist in communities and in pretty elaborate communities. And we've all been reading a lot about the human microbiome over the last couple of decades, and more and more is known and understood about that. And each of us is host to something like a trillion bacteria, many more bacteria than we have human cells with our own unique DNA. I mean, the carrot and the cabbage also have a microbiomes. Every living thing has a microbiome, has its sort of simbiance that they live with. But there are always these elaborate communities. It's never one singular micro-organism. Pre-digestion-- OK, I got off on a little tangent. A flip side of pre-digestion is in addition to breaking down nutritious compounds, fermentation can break down toxic compounds. So there's all kinds of toxic compounds in different kinds of plants that fermentation can break down. And some of them are dramatic, like cyanide in cassava. Cassava in certain parts of the world grows with these extraordinarily high levels of cyanide. And if people were to eat unprocessed cassava roots, they would literally kill them. And yet it's this very important source of nutrients for about a billion people around the equatorial regions of the world. And so in the parts of the world where cassava grows with high levels of cyanide, one of the major strategies for removing the cyanide is fermenting it. And it's very simple. You peel it. You coarsely chop it, put it in a vessel filled with water that initiates a fermentation. And it breaks down the cyanide compounds into benign forms. A lot of food toxins are not quite as dramatic as that. Oxalic acid found in a lot of vegetables breaks down by fermentation. Phytic acid, which is found in the outer layers of seed foods, breaks down through fermentation. There's even some evidence showing that residues of organophosphate pesticides can be broken down through fermentation. So all kinds of toxic compounds and foods can be broken down by fermentation. Then another interesting aspect that's really just beginning to be investigated are the metabolic byproducts of fermentation. And a lot of them are turning out to have interesting therapeutic potential. So for instance, in sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables, there are these compounds called isothiocynates which are regarded as anti-carcinogenic. And they're not found in the vegetables you begin with. They're generated by the lactic acid bacteria over the course of the fermentation. Natto, the Japanese soy ferment-- that's never really caught on in our part of the world because it's got a slimy texture and it's an example of an alkaline ferment. So it sort of smells a little bit like ammonia. I know. I'm making it sound very appealing. But it's actually incredibly delicious. And in that slimy coating that develops on the soybeans is this compound called nattokinase, and you could go in and any vitamin supplement store in North America and buy nattokinase that's been extracted from natto because so many people are taking it because it's been found to dissolve fibrin. Fibrin-- when you hear about people with clogged arteries, the fibers that build up inside of our blood vessels, that's fibrin. And this compound that's a metabolic byproduct of bacillus subtilis as it ferments soybeans actually can break that fiber down. And so a lot of people are taking it in therapeutic ways. Then finally, what I would consider to be the greatest potential benefit of fermentation would be the bacteria themselves. So I talked a little bit about the microbiology. I mean, all of us older people here who grew up through the 20th century, we were brainwashed with this idea that bacteria are our enemies, bacteria need to be avoided. And when they are encountered bacteria need to be destroyed by any means necessary. And science is actually telling a much more nuanced story these days. Bacteria are the matrix of all life. There's an emerging consensus in evolutionary biology that all life is descended from bacteria. The flip side of this is that no multicellular form of life lives without bacteria. And just as we're dependent on these trillion microorganisms that are part of us, so too is the cabbage and the carrot and the cow and the pig. And really everything we eat has its own microbiome. And yet we're still in this war on bacteria mentality, and we all have chemical exposure to compounds that are designed to kill bacteria, whether it's antibiotic drugs, whether it's anti-bacterial cleansing products, whether it's the chlorine that's on all of our municipal water systems. But we all have exposure every day to these compounds that are designed to kill bacteria. And luckily none of them kill all bacteria. But what they do is they diminish biodiversity. And we think a lot about biodiversity in terms of the oceans and the rainforest, but biodiversity is a concept that applies inside our bodies as well. And as we learn about the incredible range of our functionality that involves bacteria, we're also learning ways in which we are hurting ourselves through this chemical exposure that diminishes our biodiversity. So I mean, bacteria in our bodies do way more than enable us to digest food. I mean, that's a very important thing, that bacteria enable us to effectively digest food and assimilate nutrients from food. What we call our immune systems are largely the work of bacteria in our intestines. In the last few years has been incredible groundbreaking work demonstrating that serotonin and other compounds that determine our neurological function-- how we think, how we feel-- are regulated by bacteria in our intestines. And it turns out that nearly every process in our bodies involves these bacteria, and yet we continue killing them all. And so this has given rise to what is called probiotics. It's the antidote to antibiotics to ingest bacteria. And there's a huge industry of you know little capsules that you can buy, probiotics. And each of these capsules is saying, oh, this is a billion cells in this little capsule. Well, it's a billion copies of one or two or three different bacteria which has limited impact on biodiversity. The current contrast to that would be traditional fermented foods, none of which involve singular bacteria. They all involve these elaborate communities of bacteria. And so when we ingest living fermented foods, I mean we are promoting biodiversity in our gut. And we don't fully understand it at all. I mean, there are elaborate interactions between the bacteria we ingest and the bacteria in residence in our intestines. The earliest articulations of the idea of probiotics Elie Metchnikoff writing 110 years ago. I mean, his vision of it was you eat the yogurt, and the bacteria of the yogurt just take over the intestine and make everything better. And it's a highly competitive environment in there. It's not like the bacteria in residence in our intestines just sort of move over and make room for the new bacteria in the yogurt to take up residence, but there is an elaborate interaction. And part of that interaction is a genetic interaction. And one of the most fascinating things about bacteria is their genetic flexibility. So in contrast to us and animals and plants and fungi-- which all have fixed genetics for the course of our lives-- bacteria aren't constrained in that way. Bacteria are extremely genetically flexible. They can exchange genetic information. They can pick up genetic information from the environment. They can get rid of genetic information that's no longer relevant to their existence. And so part of that interaction is a genetic interaction. All of that said, I think that fermented foods are very important. I think there's also a lot of unsubstantiated hype. There are web sites telling people that, if they drink kombucha everyday, their diabetes will go away, your hair will never get gray, you'll reverse aging. I mean, there's a lot of ridiculous things that the people are saying. But I mean I think that the underlying idea that there is great potential when we ingest bacterially rich food to improve digestion, improve immune function, potentially improve mental health and other systems of the body without any risk, is significant. OK, now let me talk a little bit about some fermentation concept. So the first book that I wrote about fermentation-- my books are up there. I'm going to do a little book signing after-- was called Wild Fermentation. I didn't make up this expression. It's found throughout the literature, and it describes something specific. While fermentation is fermentation that is based on the organisms that are present on the food like nobody-- well, I won't say nobody uses starters to make sauerkraut because people are selling starkers to make sauerkraut. But I mean it's totally unnecessary. Lactic acid bacteria are present on all plants. There's no reason to add a starter because you'll find the bacteria you need on all plants. You don't need yeast to make wine either. I mean, nobody had used to make wine you know until Louis Pasteur did his work. I mean, you crush the grapes. The yeast and bacteria are on the skins of the grapes. They initiate the fermentation, and they transform the sugars into alcohol. And then if you don't protect it from oxygen, other bacteria that are there will transform alcohol into acetic acid. But that's wild fermentation. It's just sort of basing your fermentation on the organisms that are spontaneously present. The contrasting style of fermentation, no less wonderful, is when you introduce some sort of a starter. There's basically three different categories of starters I would say. I reference the packet of yeast. That's something that Louis Pasteur and the emerging science of microbiology made possible, isolating singular microorganisms. Yeast is the most common one. If you wanted to make Camembert cheese here in Cambridge, initially it was done as a wild fermentation with raw milk in a certain cave system in France. But if you could simulate the temperature and humidity conditions of those caves, you can go on the internet and you could buy the right bacteria and the right fungus and follow procedures that have been outlined, and you could sort of simulate the conditions of the caves of France. And you could produce Camembert cheese in your apartment in Cambridge. I make koji, which is a Japanese rice with a fungus grown on it that's the starter for making soy sauce, for making miso, for making Sake, for making Amazake and many other foods. And so I buy imported from Japan a fungal starter to make my koji. But what's important to understand about these singular microorganisms is they are brand new in the scheme of things. They're 20th century technology of isolating organisms, and an incredible range of starters are available. But they're new in the scheme of things. The ancient form of a starter is what I would describe as backslopping. And that's basically, you take the old batch and you put some into the new batch. This, is how people make yogurt. The way you make yogurt is you save a little bit of the old batch and you put it into a fresh batch of milk. And there's some temperature manipulation involved in there too, but the source of the bacteria is typically the last batch of yogurt. This is what a sourdough is. I mean, generally a sourdough is started as a wild fermentation because really all of those use and bacteria are present on the wheat or on any other grain. But once you have a nice vigorous sourdough with a good flavor and a good lifting action for your bread, you never bake the whole thing. You always save a little bit to perpetuate it, to introduce into some fresh flour and water. And I've met people who have sourdoughs that are hundreds of years old that's been passed down in their families for generations. And you can do lots of things this way. I mean, before pure yeast was available a lot of breweries made beer by saving a little bit of the last batch to introduce into the next batch. This is the way a lot of traditional salami making has been done-- save a little bit of the old batch to introduce into the next batch. So that's really the ancient form of a starter. And then the third form of a starter are what we would describe generically as scobies, S-C-O-B-Y, which is an acronym which stands for Symbiotic Communities Of Bacteria and Yeast. And so there's really just a handful of these. The most famous example right now would become kombucha. The scoby is the mother of kombucha. It looks like a rubbery pancake, and it floats on top of the sweetened tea. And that community of organisms that are part of the rubbery pancake grow into the sweet tea and digest carbohydrates and transform it into kombucha. Another example of this would be kefir, grains of kefir-- very different appearance from kombucha. They look more like little florets of cauliflower. And embedded in those florets of cauliflower is an incredibly complex community with more than 30 distinct organisms that have been identified that somehow coordinate their reproductions, spin this skin that they share, and ferment milk in the process. There's a handful of other ones. There's one called tibicos, also known as water kefir, which comes from Mexico and looks more like little crystalline structures. And you put them in any kind of carbohydrate rich liquid, and they'll ferment the carbohydrates into acids and a little bit of alcohol. And you can make delicious beverages with them. Now I mean, conceptually all of these starters had to start as a wild fermentation. I mean, where did the first yogurt come from? I mean, it's a little bit of a chicken or an egg problem. But I mean, in my mind it's very clear that it was a happy accident in some very warm place on a hot day, and somebody sort of realized that the temperature had something to do with it and figured out a technique for, through backslopping, reproducing their results. But the questions of origins are, with anything, and certainly with any of these foods is very, very murky and highly speculative. And there's a huge literature that's addresses the question, how did humans discover or invent fermentation. And I mean, my perspective is totally that humans didn't invent or discover fermentation, that we evolved already knowing it. There's a lot of great documentation of different kinds of animals gorging themselves on fermented fruit, including primates. And it just so happens that we evolved with enzymes that can digest alcohol. Interesting. So I mean, humans didn't invent alcohol. I mean, alcohol is a natural phenomenon. If you ever pick a lot of berries, you'll note some of them are fermented. And it's a natural phenomenon that our clever ancestors figured out how to make happen, and we developed a lot of technology. I referred to pottery earlier, but we developed lots of technology to enable ourselves to sort of your master techniques for making these foods and beverages. OK, let me just talk about the cabbage a little bit. And then we're going to leave some time for questions, which hopefully there are some. So this is cabbage, some green cabbage, some red cabbage, some carrots, some onions-- sauerkraut does not just have to be sauerkraut. It doesn't have to just be cabbage. Like literally you could ferment any vegetable you want. We cut the kernels off of an ear of corn into here. Know we could put ocra in here. Any vegetable you want you could put it here. I lightly salted them. OK, for the sauerkraut method, the dry salting method, you have to chop up the vegetables. If you leave the vegetables whole, then you need to mix up a brine solution and ferment it in the brine solution. But when you shred your vegetables, then you can have a more concentrated flavor because you're not diluting the flavor with water. But remember, at the beginning I said that our objective here is to get the vegetables submerged under liquid. So we have to get some juice out of the vegetables. And so earlier when we shredded the vegetables, we lightly salted them, lightly salted them because it's easier to add salt than it is to subtract salt. So at some point I'll taste it and I'll evaluate-- does it need more salt. What I'm doing right now is I'm squeezing the vegetables. I'm massaging the vegetables. And really what I'm doing is I'm breaking down cell walls to release juice. In larger scale production, families or villages that would get together in northern Europe and make big barrels of sauerkraut, they weren't usually doing it like this. They had some kind of a big, blunt, heavy tool, and they were smashing down on the vegetables. Or a story I hear over and over again-- generally people my age or older who grew up in Eastern Europe is memories of having their feet scrubbed and being put inside the barrel so that they'd have their kids jump up and down. Whether you're going to jump up and down or smash it with the heavy tool or, on a small scale, do this and just squeeze it with your hands, you're doing the same thing. You're breaking down cell walls-- oh, OK. And you're releasing juice. I'm going to keep doing this for a couple more minutes while I talk about some of other issues. OK, first of all, let's talk about salt. A lot of people imagine sauerkraut has to be extremely salty. Sauerkraut definitely does not have to be extremely salty. I'm going to add a little bit more salt. But I mean, I'm just doing that. That's just to taste. If we had five different versions, one at a half a percent salt, 1% salt 1 and 1/2% salt, 2% salt, 2 1/2% salt, we wouldn't all agree about which one tasted the best. I mean, we would probably have people thinking each one of them tasted the best. And if you follow a recipe in the Joy Of Cooking which by the way is where I first learned how to make sauerkraut-- if you follow a recipe for lentil soup, it will never tell you how much salt. It'll say salt to taste. And people imagine that that fermentation somehow requires more precision than that, that you need a scale to weigh your salt. I mean, if you're going to have a commercial business and you want to make a consistent product, then you need a scale to weigh your salt so that it tastes consistent. But if you're just making it for your own personal pleasure at home, there's no need to measure the salt. The reason why many of us have the idea that it needs to be very salty is that this was a survival food. If these were the last vegetables we were going to see for the next six months, we have an incentive to use more salt. If on the other hand, we're trying to make something that we're going to enjoy eating, that's going to support our continued good health, then there's just no reason to make it extremely salty. I mean, I get emails every week from people who say like, oh, I really want to eat sauerkraut but my doctor told me I can't eat heavily salty foods. It does not need to be heavily salty. This is not rocket science. It doesn't need to be a precise proportion of salt. In fact, you can make it with no salt at all. I mean, it doesn't taste very good, and it has or it has a really soft texture. The salt does very helpful things. So the first thing the salt does is it starts to pull juice out of the vegetables-- osmosis. The second thing the salt does is, what makes vegetables crispy are pectins, and salt hardens the pectin. So it makes the vegetables crispier. The third thing is, if you from vegetables for a long time or in a warm environment or certain vegetables-- mostly watery, summer vegetables like cucumbers and zucchini, they'll get very soft, very quickly when you ferment them. What makes the vegetables soft-- and it'll happen with sauerkraut too if you do it for a long time or in a warm environment. What makes the vegetables get soft are a class of enzymes called pectinase enzymes that break down the pectins, and salt slows down the pectinase enzymes. It also slows down the lactic acid bacteria. And when your objective is preservation, slowing down the process is actually very helpful. So salt does all these wonderful things. But you don't need a lot of salt. So, OK, I squeeze the vegetables until-- oh, you can't really get it on the camera. What if I go-- no. Oh. [LAUGH] OK. Can you see that, when I'm squeezing the vegetables, it's like a wet sponge and all this juice is coming out. That's when you know that it's juicy enough to get the vegetables submerged. You could measure the salt. The generic proportion that is repeated over and over again in the literature is 2% salt by weight. But you don't need to. Just lightly salt it. It's always easier to add salt than it is to subtract salt. As for a vessel, a glass is perfect, a jar. Wide mouth is a little bit easier to deal with than something with a narrower neck. But you can do it in a mayonnaise jar, and it would be totally fine. You can use ceramic crocks. You can use wooden barrels. You can use plastic buckets. The material you really want to avoid is metal because we're using salt as we cultivate bacteria that are producing acids. And both salt and acids can corrode metal. And while stainless steel theoretically resists corrosion, it turns out that household grade stainless steel just has a thin coating that's stainless. And anywhere where it gets scratched, it'll start to corrode. Then the million dollar question in fermentation is how long do you ferment it. And there's just there's no straightforward answer to that question. The acids accumulate over time. As a survival food, people in a temperate environment might make this in September, October, November, depending on where they live and keep eating it through the next spring when there's fresh vegetables. It doesn't mean you have to wait for six months to eat it. It means it's still good after six months, particularly if you have a nice cool place where you can store it. So you just fill the jar, then fill it some more. You don't want to fill it to the very, very top because it's going to produce carbon dioxide and expand a little bit, and we don't want it to all spill out. You can see, as I press down, the juice is rising up. I chopped up too much. It takes about two pounds of vegetables to fill a quart sized jar, a kilo for a liter. So now the vegetables are submerged under liquid. There'll be more liquid tomorrow. No matter how much liquid there is, the vegetables are going to want to float to the top, like our bodies in the ocean. So what I like to do is-- I mean, there's all kinds of gadgets people are making. Somebody just gave me pickled pebbles that are like these little glass disks that go in the jar and hold everything down. A ceramicist friend of mine made me some little ceramic disks to do the same thing. But the good old-fashioned improvisational method is to take one of the outer leaves of the cabbage that has a strong spine, use that almost like a spring, stuffing it in, get the little spines stuck under the shoulders of the jar, and let it hold everything down. And then if it peeks up, it can be sort of sacrificial. I say sacrificial because we're protecting it from oxygen, and there's a surface. There's a place where it's meeting the oxygen. There are all kinds of clever vessel designs that are engineered to protect the surface from oxygen. But OK, how many people here have ever fermented vegetables? How many of you have ever had any funky surface growth develop? Oh, look, it's the same people. So I mean the vulnerable place is the surface. That's where your protected environment meets the oxygen. And where the oxygen is all these other forms of life can develop, most prominently molds. So the funky surface growth can be a combination of yeasts and molds. Almost always the molds are white molds that will get darker as they mature and sporulate. I don't want anyone to go home thinking they heard me say it's OK to eat any kind of mold. But because there are definitely molds that are extremely, extremely toxic and you definitely don't want to touch any like bright colored mold, but molds that start out white and stay in a monochromatic range are generally regarded as safe. Everybody scrapes them off the top. Remove any discolored or softened vegetables near the top. And what's underneath it is fine. And this is sort of like repeated throughout the literature. And I mean, just the fact that I've been doing this for 15 years and never had anybody say I followed your advice and then my friend with extreme mold sensitivity has had a reaction. It just makes me feel increasingly confident that they were totally, totally harmless. And just everybody who does this has this experience, and it's not a problem. OK, I could go on and on and maybe I will but-- PIA SORENSEN: But how about we-- thank you all of you for coming, and thank you, Sandor.


Parenting Books

The Nursing Mother's Companion

In 1984, an unsolicited manuscript arrived at the company's new office in Boston. The manuscript—The Nursing Mother's Companion, by Kathleen Huggins—was the first comprehensive handbook on breastfeeding issues ever to be published. Still in print, now in its fifth edition, and with sales topping 1,000,000, The Nursing Mother's Companion remains the standard in the category. It has been the cornerstone of a childcare publishing program renowned for its combination of professional advice and nurturing support.

The Joy of Pregnancy

In 2008, The Harvard Common Press published The Joy of Pregnancy, by Tori Kropp. Kropp, a childbirth educator and perinatal nurse for more than twenty years, wrote the book in response to what she perceived as a trend of women becoming more anxious about pregnancy than necessary. She saw women in her classes who had read many pregnancy books, and became unnecessarily worried that every ache signaled some dire problem with the baby. Kropp's book aimed to provide a sound medical perspective on pregnancy, while maintaining a calm, supportive, reassuring, and candid tone that she felt was missing from other pregnancy guides.

The book was met with critical praise:

"(The Joy of Pregnancy) is a refreshing mix of medical information and helpful, nonjudgmental advice, which urges readers to inform themselves but also to relax and enjoy the special time and anticipation of pregnancy. Years of experience working with pregnant women gives Kropp a reassuring voice, and her book is sure to leave readers feeling more prepared—and less frightened—about the journey of pregnancy." - Publishers Weekly

"This deserves to be on all consumer and public library shelves, not least because it has the most up-to-date information available but because the information is so clear and compassionate. Partly in reaction to several of the current best-selling pregnancy guides, Kropp… has written a book that does not belabor potential problem areas during this ten-month journey. Instead, she gives similar coverage to both the joyful and the challenging aspects without being alarmist. Kropp keeps the excitement of pregnancy alive..." - Library Journal

Other Parenting Books

The Harvard Common Press has published many parenting reference books of note, including:

  • The Birth Partner, by Penny Simkin
  • Moving With Kids, by Lori Collins Burgan
  • The Expectant Parents' Companion, by Kathleen Huggins
  • The Nursing Mother's Guide to Weaning, by Kathleen Huggins and Linda Zeidrich
  • After Miscarriage, by Krissi Danielsson
  • Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child, by Patty Cogen.


Cookbooks have likewise been a vital publishing category for The Harvard Common Press, particularly in the areas of barbecue, vegetarian, international, regional American cookbooks, appliance driven cookbooks, and books about spirits, wine, and cocktails.

Barbecue Books

In the mid-1990s The Harvard Common Press was awarded its first James Beard Book Award for Smoke & Spice and The Border Cookboo', both written by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison. Other books published by Harvard Common Press include:

  • Good Spirits, by A.J. Rathbun
  • Hot Chocolate, by Fred Thompson
  • BBQ Bash, by Karen Adler and Judith Fertig
  • Born to Grill, by Cheryl and Bill Jamison
  • Paul Kirk's Championship Barbecue, by Paul Kirk
  • The New Gas Grill Gourmet, by A. Cort Sinnes

Baking Books

The Harvard Common Press has published many books about baking, such as The Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook by Beth Hensperger, and dessert, including a series of books by Bon Appetit contributing editor Dede Wilson: A Baker's Field Guide to Cupcakes; A Baker's Field Guide to Chocolate Chip Cookies; A Baker's Field Guide to Christmas Cookies; and A Baker's Field Guide to Holiday Candy and Confections. The field guide format and design made the books unique.

Not Your Mother's Cookbooks

In 2005, The Harvard Common Press published a slow cooker cookbook titled Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook, by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann. The title fast became a new culinary catch phrase. Harvard Common Press registered the moniker and this initiated a series of books creating the Not Your Mother's series, presenting contemporary, healthful recipes that are designed for practical everyday use. The runaway success of the first book led to two more books of slow cooker recipes: Not Your Mother's Slow Cook Recipes for Two, by Beth Hensperger; and Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Recipes for Entertaining, a companion volume to the first Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker book, by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann. The fourth book in the series, Not Your Mother's Weeknight Cooking, by Beth Hensperger, was published in September 2008. The series continues with Hensperger's Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Family Favorites in Winter 2009 and Not Your Mother's Microwave Cooking in Spring 2010.

Other Cookbooks

Other cookbooks published by The Harvard Common Press include:

  • Gadgetology, by Pam Abrams
  • Prairie Home Cooking, by Judith Fertig
  • Vegetarian Planet, by Didi Emmons
  • Catalan Cuisine, by Colman Andrews
  • The Japanese Kitchen, by Hiroko Shimbo.
  • The Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook, by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann

Travel Books

  • Paradores of Spain, by Sam Ballard & Jane Ballard
  • Pousadas of Portugal, by Sam Ballard & Jane Ballard


In 2008, the International Association of Culinary Professionals gave an award for best food styling and photography to Good Spirits, by A.J. Rathbun.

In 2003, the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards named The South American Table, by Maria Kijac, the best Latino Cuisine cookbook in the world. In 2008, it chose the book again as The Best of the Best, naming it one of the best cookbooks published in the past 12 years.


External links

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