Fun Fermentation Facts

The native peoples in the humid Pacific Islands have been preserving fruits in fermentation pits, or chambers dug into the ground and covered with banana leaves, for two millennia. These pits were so highly prized that a man would have his pit inspected by the parents of the woman he wished to marry in order to receive their blessings of the union.

Genghis Khan carried sauerkraut on his raiding forays to keep his soldiers healthy. They conquered Asia and introduced the fermented vegetable to Europe, using salt instead of rice wine, a practice that was later adopted by the Germans.

It is believed that over 100,000 sailors died from scurvy (disease from the lack of vitamin C) between the 16th and 17th centuries. British sailors got the nickname “limeys” because they carried limes on board to get vitamin C.

America is named after Vespucci Amerigo, who supplied Columbus’s ships with many barrels of pickles and sauerkraut.

The Germans brought sauerkraut to the New World and it first appeared in American English in 1776. For the early American pioneers, cabbages and potatoes were the only vegetables they could grow regularly. As the settlers lacked refrigeration, the cabbages were salted and stored in crocks.

The word pickle has come to be commonly known as a “troublesome situation” in a figurative sense. The literal meaning of the English word was mixed 400 years ago with the Dutch expression “in de pekel zitten”—literally, to sit in the salty solution used for preserving foods. Even Shakespeare referenced it in The Tempest, when Alonso asks Trinculo, “How camest thou in this pickle?”