We’ve fallen in love with this recipe and this is the only way I will make fries in the future. My kids inhale these and ask for more, no matter how many I make. They are just like I remember fast food fries to be- crisp on the outside, hot and soft on the inside. And since they’re fried in tallow, I feel good about my kids eating them.
When I developed this recipe, I’d been in a fermenting funk. I was having a hard time coming up with something creative. Don’t get me wrong, I love my sauerkraut and kefirs. But I needed something…. more. Different. Something my kids would love. One of my dear friends, Loztnausten, had a post about making shoestring french fries and one on fermenting fries. I had read it long ago, but I kept on having the ‘too much work’ mantra scroll in my head. Hand-cutting all of those fries…. I wanted a food processor with a blade that could do it for me, but it was out of my budget. If I wanted french fries, I would ask my husband to make them for me as a treat, when I was working a late night and he had some free time and was looking to dote on me by whipping up something special and junky in the kitchen for us to munch on while I slaved away on the computer. Last January my husband made some french fries, using the mandolin slicer I had recently acquired from a friend. He asked me to look up what temp to cook them at, as his last batch had turned out too oil-logged. We knew he needed a higher temperature, so I surfed over to Everything Free Eating to see how LZ does her fries and I again saw the fermented fries post.
A light bulb went off.
I did a little research. In this paper, fermentation with a lactic acid bacteria (LAB) resulted in a reduction of the acrylamide in french fries by as much as 90% after 15 minutes. Fermenting in an anaerobic environment is the best way to encourage the production of LAB at home so your can achieve this same result without needing a lab coat, a college degree and an industrial process to cook your diner.
How does LAB fermentation work to reduce the acrylamide? A quote from Science Daily tells us
“Acrylamide is formed as a reaction between the amino acid asparagine and simple sugars such as glucose and fructose. Put simply, the lactic acid bacteria remove these compounds and inhibit the formation of acrylamide.”
If you’d like to read more about how LABs consume these simple sugars, this book is a good place to start studying. The paper mentioned above, Lactic acid fermentation reduces acrylamide formed during production of fried potato products, was published in the journal Aspects of Applied Biology. It says in its summary:
“Lactic acid bacteria (LAB) metabolise simple sugars rapidly, producing lactic acid which lowers pH and reduces the Maillard reactions initiated by heat. This method can be used in industries producing fried potato products to reduce their problems with acrylamide formation. Applying the LAB method to French fries shortly prior to the pre-frying step reduces acrylamide formation as much as 90%. Browning reactions consequently are reduced. Sensory analysis shows loss of colour and burnt smell and taste without affecting quality of final potato sticks. A fermentation time of approximately 15 minutes is needed given a dense LAB culture. The results from large scale industrial- batch as well as continuous experiments – indicate that LAB fermentation provides the best means for acrylamide mitigation in the production of fried potato products.”
So the research says that LAB thrives best in an anaerobic environment. Anaerobic means that oxygen is not present; aerobic means that oxygen is present. In order to get LABs to proliferate, I needed to provide an anaerobic environment that would encourage their growth while discouraging the growth of all non-beneficial species, especially the aerobic ones.
So, how can be get an anaerobic environment in home fermentation? That can only be accomplished with a seal that prevents oxygen from entering while an airlock allows carbon dioxide to escape. Without an anaerobic environment, the LABs will not flourish and the acrylamides will not greatly diminish. Open air fermentation will not reduce acrylamides to the same extent due to the lack of LABs. As the bacteria produce carbon dioxide and use up the oxygen, it reduces the population of undesirable, aerobic bacteria and allows the LAB to flourish in the oxygenless environment. The Pickl-It provides this type of environment, as it as an airtight seal and an airlock for the growing carbon dioxide to escape. An open bowl provides a continuous supply of oxygen, never increasing the amount of LAB present and giving an environment that is ideal for the undesirable, aerobic bacteria to flourish. A mason jar would not, either, as it has to be burped regularly to allow the building carbon dioxide to escape. Any time you burp a mason jar, it allows oxygen to rush into the vessel, starting the process all over again. Not burping the jar would cause explosions, as I have had happen in the past. An air-tight vessel with an air lock is the only way to see the LABs flourish and therefore reduce the acrylamide in the potatoes.
This makes sense to me. The examples of ancient fermentation crocks I have seen contained wooden lids and were buried while they ferment. A good example is Korean Kimchi. Ditto for the Icelanders and their fermented shark, called Hakarl, which sits in the ground for 6-12 weeks to ferment. You don’t get air circulation under the ground.
You will notice in the study, that the concentration of LABs used to reduce the acrylamide by 90% was a 1% solution. In order to reach a concentration of 1% in your own kitchen, you need your potatoes to be in an environment where oxygen can not enter for 3-6 days, according to the Handbook of Fermented Functional Foods. If you preview this book on Amazon using their Look Inside! feature, you can read about it on page 402 of this wonderful and very detailed book. Other parts of this book are available on Google Books, if you’d like to read the beginning of the book.
Mmmmm… crispy outside, soft inside, and just the right amount of salt!