Sauerkraut, or kraut as we like to call it, has been a staple at our house for years. It is delicious, super easy to make, and it is great for gut health. Before I explain how to make sauerkraut, maybe I should tell you why fermented foods rock. After reading this, you might want to make sauerkraut and other fermented foods a staple in your house as well!
WHATS SO GREAT ABOUT FERMENTED FOOD?
Humans have been fermenting foods for millennia. Before refrigeration was available, fermenting was used as a way to preserve foods that would otherwise spoil. Most, if not all cultures have some form of famous fermented food – Korea has Kimchi, Latin America has Cortido, and Germany has Sauerkraut. As well, milk can be fermented into yogurt or kefir, and tea can be fermented into kombucha.
When microbes “eat” or ferment foods, they produce lactic acid, aceitc acid and alcohol. It is these by-products of fermentation that act as natural food preservatives. They prevent the food from rotting as well as help food retain its nutrients. In addition to those chemicals, microbes also produce nutrients such as B vitamins, vitamin K2, enzymes, and short chain fatty acids (which are pretty much colon superstars!). Not only does fermenting make food last longer, it also makes food more digestible and nutritious!
The most profound health benefit of eating fermented foods, is consuming the probiotics they contain. Probiotics are living bacteria that are beneficial to our health. Probiotic supplements have been shown to improve digestive issues such as constipation and diarrhea, as well as boost our immune system, reduce inflammation, calm anxiety, and improve cognitive function. In fact, scientists are currently researching which specific strains of probiotics best help treat different diseases. Pretty cool stuff, if you ask me.
Now, back to the humble Sauerkraut. Sauerkraut is called a lacto-ferment. This means that it is Lactobacillus bacteria that ferment the sugars from the cabbage into lactic acid. Lactobacillus bacteria are found pretty much everywhere, especially on the surface of plants that grow close to the ground. Salt is used to make Sauerkraut, as well as many other ferments because it inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria, but allows Lactobacillus bacteria grow. Lactobacillus bacteria are not only present on plants but are also found in our digestive tracts. So when we eat lacto-fermented foods, we are essentially eating a Lactobacillus probiotic. Whey can also be used as a fermentation starter because it is rich in Lactobacillus bacteria.
HOW TO MAKE SAUERKRAUT
First of all, you need the right fermentation tools. The most important tool is the vessel you use to ferment. The crucial thing to keep in mind when making sauerkraut is that the all of the cabbage needs to be submerged under the briny water at all times. Any little bits of cabbage sticking up out of the water’s surface will go moldy. Moldy cabbage is not sauerkraut. Therefore, the best fermentation vessels are large glass or ceramic containers that have a wide mouth. The wide mouth allows you to put a weight on the cabbage, holding it under the surface of the water.
I have an old school fermentation crock, and I love it. I can fit a small plate inside, as well as a jar of water to hold the cabbage down. If you are just starting out fermenting and do not want to invest in an expensive crock, fermenting lids that fit on top of mason jars are perfect. If you are a seasoned fermenter or want to make large amounts of sauerkraut at once, I suggest investing in a crock.
Now that you have the right vessel, let’s start fermenting!
Ingredients you will need:
- 1 or 2 heads of cabbage (depending on the size of the cabbage, and how much you want to make)
- 1 – 2 Tbsp of salt (if you use whey, only use 1 Tbsp of salt)
- 1 Tbsp of whole caraway seeds (optional)
- 4 Tbsp whey (also optional, if you don’t have whey, use 2 Tbsp of salt)
How to make Sauerkraut
- Start by coring and shredding or finely cutting the cabbage, and place it in a big mixing bowl.
- Add the salt, caraway, and whey to the shredded cabbage.
- Next massage the salt into the cabbage. If you taste the cabbage now, it should taste quite salty. The salt draws the water out of the cabbage, which makes the finished product, the sauerkraut, crunchy.
- Let the salty cabbage sit in the mixing bowl for a few hours.
- Then transfer the salty cabbage to your clean crock or mason jars.
- Press or pound the cabbage down. Juices from the cabbage should be collecting on the top of the cabbage. If there is not enough cabbage juice to cover the surface of the cabbage, add purified water until the cabbage is about an inch under water. Then use either fermentation weights or something else to hold the cabbage down under the brine. In my crock, I use a small plate with a short mason jar full of water to hold the cabbage down. If you use a jar to hold down the cabbage, I recommend using a plastic lid on the mason jar. The metal lids go rusty when used this way. Then put the lid on your crock and your done the hard work! If it is fruit fly season, cover your crock with a tea towel and put an elastic around it. This will prevent fruit flies from taking over your kraut.
- Now all you have to do is wait. Let the crock sit on your counter for about 3 days. Look at it regularly to make sure all the cabbage is still submerged and press down on the plate/jar/weight to release bubbles from the kraut.
- Next, transfer your kraut into mason jars and put them in the fridge!
- Eat a little every day for gut health!
If you want to dive deeper into fermentation, I recommend picking up these great books – The Art of Fermentation and Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz. Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon also has some tasty ferment recipes.
I WOULD LIKE TO HEAR FROM YOU!
Do you make sauerkraut or other fermented foods?
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