If you have not been living under a rock the last few years, you must have heard about the importance of a good microbiome for all kinds of health issues.
Pretty much everything from our digestion, our immunity, our mental health, our hormones, and our elimination depend on the state of our gut flora.
One of the best ways to ensure that the little bugs inside us are thriving and happy is to include fermented foods in our diet: yogurt, kefir, kombucha, kimchi, pickles, and more. Being from Poland, I am partial to sauerkraut.
It is so yummy and so good for you and the little bugs inside. It can be eaten fresh or cooked, and it is a staple in Eastern and Northern European cuisines. So, how to make old fashioned sauerkraut at home? Nothing could be easier!
Why fermented foods?
People have been fermenting foods for millennia. Mostly as a way to preserve the harvest and extend the life of summer veggies.
Fermented foods are preserved using an age-old process that not only boosts the food’s shelf life and nutritional value but can give your body a dose of healthful probiotics — live microorganisms crucial to good digestion.Harvard Medical School
Even though microbes were discovered in the 17th century (by Dutch tradesman Antoni van Leeuwenhoek), it took another century to realize that these bacteria are fundamental to the fermentation process.
Louis Pasteur – a French chemist – was the first to demonstrate that when living yeast transforms glucose into ethanol, a fermented beverage is a result (wine or beer).
Only in the early 20th century, did we learn that it is also the beneficial bacteria that make yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut.
And only very recently, literally, in the last decade, have we started looking into the vast health benefits of fermented foods and, more generally, the importance of a healthy microbiome for general health.
The digestive tract is teeming with some 100 trillion bacteria and other microorganisms, says Dr. David S. Ludwig, a professor of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health…. fermented foods are useful because they help provide a spectrum of probiotics to foster a vigorous microbiome in your digestive tract that can keep bad actors at bayFermented Foods Can Add Depth To Your Diet
How can fermented foods benefit our health?
Fermented foods can benefit us in multiple ways:
- Can add depth to our diet
- Provide a wide spectrum of probiotics that might populate our digestive tract
- May provide relief from GI conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrom or SIBO
- May ward off chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity
- Provide a good amount of fiber
- Help us be more regular
- Aid in weight loss
- Replenish the microbiota after a course of antibiotics
- Prevent depression and other mood disorders
And, pertaining to our most recent experiences of the global Covid pandemic and other respiratory tract illnesses on the rise, it is encouraging to see that probiotic-rich foods can impact our chances to ward off infections:
Probiotics may improve a person’s health by regulating their immune function. Some studies show that probiotic strains can prevent respiratory infectionsPubMed
I wrote a separate post about probiotic-rich foods and how to start making your own kefir and yogurt, and you can read it here. I’m definitely in love with all kinds of them and try to incorporate them into our daily life.
In my humble opinion, sauerkraut is the easiest one to master. All you need is cabbage, salt, and a jar. That’s it! Not intimidating at all, and ready in about ten days. I hope you’ll consider making it, it’s delicious and oh, so healthy!
Equipment for the beast traditional sauerkraut
Sauerkraut can be made in a ceramic, glass, or plastic vessel. It’s best to use a wide-mouth jar as you will have to “pound” the kraut down daily. Fermentation will be successful when you allow the cabbage to sit in its own juices without air entering the mixture.
Fermentation is an anaerobic process, which means it occurs in an airless environment. The desirable bacteria thrive in this oxygen-free environment digesting sugars, starches, and carbohydrates and releasing alcohols, carbon dioxide, and organic acids.Living Hostory Farms
The vessel for making my Polish sauerkraut comes from a Mexican market. I remember how in Poland we had these terracotta ceramic barrels which were perfect for making pickles or sauerkraut.
For many years, I wasn’t able to find anything similar in the USA until a friend suggested I try looking in Mexican markets. Low and behold I found a perfect dish and it’s been serving me very well.
You can also get a handy fermentation croc, weight, shredding mandoline, and pounder combo like this one:
Or, if you prefer to make your sauerkraut in jars, this one is a nice option too:
What is the best cabbage for sauerkraut?
Traditional sauerkraut is made from green cabbage, with or without the addition of other veggies like carrots, onions, or radishes, and spices such as cumin or laurel leaf.
Personally, I like my kraut pure. Only cabbage and salt are sufficient to create the sauerkraut to die for.
What type of salt is best?
You can use any type as long as it is not iodized. I’m not sure why, but iodine-fortified salt is not creating the proper environment for fermentation.
I like using kosher salt and it works very well.
How long to ferment sauerkraut?
This will depend on the temperature in your kitchen, the time of the year, etc. but usually, the fermentation process should be completed within 10 days up to two weeks time.
The best way to tell if the kraut is ready to be eaten or jarred and stored in the fridge is by looking at it (it will become translucent) and tasting and smelling it (it will be salty and sour with a pleasant aroma).
My sauerkraut recipe
If you ever wondered how to make old fashioned sauerkraut, here is the easiest recipe ever.
2 large heads (or 3 smaller) of cabbage (this should make a one-gallon jar of sauerkraut)
Non-iodized salt (1 TBS per 1 lb of cabbage)
- Sanitize your fermenting dish with boiling water. This is a crucial step because you do not want to introduce “bad” bugs into the dish. The whole point is to encourage the “good” bugs to do their job, and not the bad ones to jeopardize the entire process.
- Slice/shred the cabbage. Some people swear by very thinly sliced cabbage and it does make for more elegant sauerkraut. But, if pressed for time or lacking a mandolin, it is perfectly fine to slice it not so super thinly.
- At this point you can weigh your cabbage as this will let you gauge how much salt to use. (I usually just eyeball it)
- Place all the cabbage in a large bowl and sprinkle with salt, using about 1 tablespoon of salt per 1 pound of cabbage. Use your hands to squeeze the cabbage until it produces some juice.
- Put the squeezed cabbage into your fermenting vessel and push it down to ensure it is covered with the juice (brine).
- To ensure that the cabbage is covered with the brine all the time, you might want to place a small plate on top of it (into the brine). You might want to use a pressing stone or a small glass jar filled with water to keep the cabbage down.
- Cover the fermenting dish with its top or with a clean kitchen towel.
- Leave it in a warm place for about 10 days. Make sure to take a peek every day and keep pressing the cabbage mixture down. After a few days, use a wooden or plastic spoon or chopstick to dig a hole into the cabbage. This will release the gasses that form during the fermentation (it might be a bit smelly but it should not smell rotten or moldy)
Allow only around half an inch of brine on top of the mixture. If more is forming, reserve it and keep it in the fridge to replenish as needed.
After the kraut is ready (looks and tastes right), enjoy it fresh or store it in the fridge in covered jars. You can also cook it in a soup (like a delicious Polish ham hock and sauerkraut soup) or saute with kielbasa or pork ribs.
In case you want to preserve it for a longer time, you can seal it in jars and preserve using a hot bath method.
There you have it! I hope you’ll consider giving it a shot and if you do, please let me know how it turned out.