Fermenting Vegetables: Simple Sauerkraut

When I think back to my childhood, sauerkraut was never something I particularly enjoyed. Perhaps I was under the impression that all sauerkraut tasted like canned mushy kraut. Now it seems I can’t get enough: the tangy, salty, and crunchy fermented cabbage. Hmmmmm….. Not only is this fermented tasty treat oh-so good for you, it's so easy to make yourself at home!

For his second round-the-world voyage, Captain Cook loaded 60 barrels of sauerkraut onto his ship. After 27 months at sea, 15 days before returning to England, he opened the last barrel… This last barrel was perfectly preserved after 27 months, in spite of changes in climate and the incessant rocking of the ship. The sauerkraut has also preserved sufficient quantities of vitamin C to protect the entire crew from scurvy.
— Claude Aubert Les Aliments Fermentes Traditionnels

What is fermentation?

During the process of fermentation an organism (like bacteria or yeast) converts a carbohydrate (like a starch or sugar) into alcohol, gases or acid.

What foods are fermented?

Some common foods that are fermented at some point in their preparation include the following:

Copied this pic from another blog. Couldn't resist.

Copied this pic from another blog. Couldn't resist.

  • Some pickles
  • Sauerkraut
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Tabasco Sauce
  • Some breads like sourdough
  • Chocolate
  • Cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Sour cream
  • Kefir
  • Kambucha
  • Kimchi
  • Miso
  • Tamari soy sauce
  • Tempeh

 

when rotten goes right
— Momofuku founder and chef David Chang

Why ferment?

As a method of food preservation

A common reason to ferment is to preserve food (although this isn't always the case). Fermentation can allow certain organisms to dominate, thus preventing the growth of other, potentially harmful bacteria. Those same organisms also produce by-products like alcohol, lactic acid, acetic acid, and carbon dioxide that create an environment that preserves food.

To increase nutrient value

Fermentation increases the amount of B and K vitamins as well as other nutrients when compared to their raw ingredients.

To support digestion

Bacterial and fungal cells found in ferments break down the food, including some components that may be more difficult to digest otherwise. In the conversion of milk to yoghurt for example, lactose is converted into lactic acid, which is why many find yoghurt a lot easier to digest than milk.

Supports immune health

It’s estimated that about 70-80% of the immune system is located in the digestive tract. If you think about it, your guts come in contact with a great deal of harmful organisms and it would only make sense for us to build up defences at the site of contact. As mentioned previously, ferments discourage pathogenic bacteria, making it less likely for them to settle in, activate an immune response, and perhaps even cause or contribute to inflammation. Introducing a large variety of different strains via fermented food supports a healthy gut flora.

How much is too much?

I strongly believe you can eat too much of any one food and fermented food is no exception. Ferments are especially acidic and can erode the enamel on your teeth. I have read that some research from Asia has also suggested a link between diets high in fermented foods and certain cancers. Moderation is key.

You can use a smaller mason jar to hold the cabbage under the brine solution, but it's not necessary

You can use a smaller mason jar to hold the cabbage under the brine solution, but it's not necessary

What you’ll need:

Supplies:

  • Cutting board
  • Knife
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Large mason jar with large opening
  • Smaller mason jar to submerge sauerkraut

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 heads of cabbage
  • Salt
  • Caraway seeds (optional)
SQUEEZE that cabbage like a pro

SQUEEZE that cabbage like a pro

Steps:

  1. Washing: All jars, cutting boards, knives, and bowls to be used with soap and water. Don’t forget to wash your hands!
  2. Prepare the cabbage: remove the outer leaves of the cabbage and cut it into 8ths. Finely chop the cabbage to increase surface area.
  3. Salt and squeeze: Add about 2 tsp of salt per head of cabbage. Mush/squeeze the cabbage with your hands for about 2 minutes. Wait about 10 minutes to allow the salt to draw liquid out of the cabbage (this draws more water out and cuts down the time/energy spent on squeezing the cabbage). Mush/squeeze the cabbage again for another 5 minutes or so until the cabbage softens a little and you can see liquid pooling at the bottom of the bowl.
  4. Spice: Add additional salt and caraway (optional) to taste
  5. Pack in mason jar: squeeze the cabbage into a jar so that it is submerged in liquid. Use a small mason jar to hold down the cabbage if you like. Secure a cloth or cheese cloth on top of the jar to prevent contamination, or alternatively, loosely place a lid on top. If you do use a lid,  make sure to release any carbon dioxide that builds up over the first 2-3 days.
  6. Wait: Place on counter or elsewhere, but keep away from sunlight. Wait anywhere from 3 days to a few months. I suggest trying your sauerkraut every few days starting at 3 days at first to see how long you like your cabbage to ferment (as the flavor changes over time).

Notes:

  • Makes sure your veggies remain under the brine (salt solution). Add filtered or distilled water if necessary.
  • It is common for surface moulds to develop. If this happens, scrape it from the surface and compost. Remove any discoloured vegetables. The rest of the sauerkraut should be safe to eat, as the acidic environment of the sauerkraut is inhospitable to organisms responsible for food poisoning.
  • Bubbles can build up a little on the surface. Don’t worry, this is a common occurrence.
We’re coming around to the astonishing realization that we have to think about not just feeding ourselves but feeding all those other cells that we move through life together with. When you look at food, whether it’s kimchi or chocolate, it’s not just a thing, it’s not just a product, it’s a relationship with other species in nature.
— Michael Pollan in Cooked

Variations

  • Add root veggies like kohlrabi, carrot, etc (grate or chop finely)
  • Add red cabbage for a pink or purple colour

Vessels to avoid

  • Metal: salts and acids corrode metal
  • Plastics: even in food-grade plastics, chemicals leach out over time
"Nom nom"

"Nom nom"

Resources

Sandor Katz leads us through making sauerkraut in this informative video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpROa0T_X7A

Sandor Katz has two very informative books that help you feel confident with your ferments:

Easy recipe from the Kitchn: the first time I made sauerkraut it was based on this recipe http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-homemade-sauerkraut-in-a-mason-jar-193124

Cultures for health: a great resource for recipes, videos, and tons of inspiration http://www.culturesforhealth.com/

Please note: all material and information contained in this post is for educational purpose only and does not mean to replace or augment any advice or consultation provided by a licensed health care practitioner or physician.

Sources

Fallon, S. (1995). Nourishing Traditions. White Plains, MD: NewTrends Publishing Inc.

Gibney, A. (Filmmaker), & Pollan, M. (Author). (2016). Cooked (Documentary). United States: Netflix.

Katz, S. (2003). Wild Fermentation. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Co.

Katz, S. (2012). The Art of Fermentation. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Co.

Merrett, R. (2016, February, 21). Fredericton’s ‘fermentaholic’ says key to health is bubbling away. CBC News. Retrieved from: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/fermenting-cooking-microbes-1.3456589

Reichert, B. (2013, December 14). From kimchi to sauerkraut: Fermented foods are having a moment. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/food-and-wine/food-trends/from-kimchi-to-sauerkraut-fermented-foods-are-having-a-moment/article15867979/

the kitchn (n.d.). How to Make Homemade Sauerkraut in a Mason Jar. Retrived from http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-homemade-sauerkraut-in-a-mason-jar-193124