What the heck is that, right? It was a name given in 1920 to a particular cultural prohibition – that women during their menses exude some kind of vapors that will halt fermentation in its tracks (and also wilt flowers). This idea apparently has not gone entirely out of fashion.
Recently, it came up in one of my fermentation groups. A member mentioned that his wife refuses to do any fermenting while on her period, on the advice of her elders. Seems she had tried it a couple times and the ferments failed. He wondered if any of the female members of the group had experienced the same phenomenon.
That did not go over very well.
My friend, Summer Bock, made a persuasive argument. Summer Bock is co-owner of Olykraut Gourmet Sauerkraut, with her (female) partner Sash Sunday. Together they and their employees (both male and female), make about 30,000 pounds of delicious sauerkraut every year. Without fail. And they certainly don’t prohibit menstruating women from handling the kraut (which would be illegal, BTW). Olykraut is my go-to kraut if I run out of homemade, and recently won a Good Food award.
In spite of this rebuttal, the idea of menotoxin had quite a few supporters among the women of the group. There were a number of them who were strangely attached to the idea that menses is so powerfully disruptive as to actually be able to destroy microbial life. These forces of menses were variously attributed to hormones, negative emotions, and “energies.” It’s worth pointing out that none of these afflictions are peculiar only to the women of our species, or even to those of childbearing age. Really, if hormones and a bad attitude are enough to spoil a ferment, shouldn’t we be banning teenage boys from the kitchen??
Anyway, one bright side of this conversation is that it gave me the idea to deliberately start new ferments during my menses and document the results for the rest of 2014. Fun idea, huh? I thought you all might like to see what’s going on in the Killer Pickles Kitchen. Keep in mind that many of these won’t be finished recipes, but rather ideas I’m testing out. Also, I realize this isn’t proof of anything; just a fun way to poke holes in antiquated prohibitions. If you want to read a scientific take-down of the notion of menotoxins, I recommend you read this article at Scientific American.
Fermentation Cycles 2014.02
Here’s my calendar with my cycle highlighted and fermentation notes (click to enlarge):
Here you can see my kefir turned out lovely and thick, with nice big curds:
I also started some parsnips with chipotle and orange:
And a Sour Beet Tonic:
Both, you can see, were bubbling nicely after just a few days. Now, I can’t promise that I’ll absolutely love the final product – I’ve never fermented parsnips before, so maybe I’ll hate them! – but there is certainly no question that they are fermenting just as they should.
This is an ongoing series, so be sure to click the “+Follow” button at the bottom of the page to see how things turn out.