A few weeks ago I started making sauerkraut at home. Sauerkraut is probably one of the most underrated superfoods and some people might not like it because of its smell and taste. But has a variety of health benefits and the fermentation process in sauerkraut produces lots of beneficial probiotics. In addition to this, sauerkraut is really easy to make and very cheap if you make it yourself.
The origins of sauerkraut
Unlike most people think, sauerkraut isn’t a German creation. Sauerkraut originates in China where it was fermented in rice wine. Chinese labourers building the Great Wall over 2000 years ago ate it as a standard meal. It is said that migrating tribes then brought it over to Europe.
Health benefits of sauerkraut
As humble as the ingredients for making sauerkraut are – for the very basic version you only need cabbage and salt – it’s a real superfood. As the cabbage ferments in a salty brine, it develops a variety of health benefits and beneficial bacteria.
Some of the health benefits of sauerkraut include:
- boost circulation
- protect the heart
- increase digestive health
- helps with weight loss
- provide quick energy
- improves the immune system
- strengthen bones
- reduce cholesterol levels and control inflammation.
Apparently sauerkraut can even improve vision and skin health. One thing to be aware of though is that sauerkraut is also high in sodium so it’s advisable to only eat small quantities like one tablespoon per day.
What makes fermented food special?
Fermentation is an ancient method of preserving food by naturally altering the chemistry of it.
In case of sauerkraut, the process of fermentation produces a lot of beneficial probiotics which has positive effects on the digestive tract and ultimately on the rest of the body too. The reason for this is because a large part of our immune system actually lives within our intestinal flora and is run by bacterial organisms.
So when consuming microorganisms from probiotic food these beneficial bacteria take up residence in the intestines where they act as a first line of defence against harmful bacteria and toxins. Some of these good bacteria found in sauerkraut can even be long term residents because they form long-lasting colonies.
What makes cabbage sour?
The fermentation process which creates the pungent flavour in cabbage is called lactic acid fermentation or “pickling” to put it in more simpler terms. Lactic acid bacteria like lactobacilli are driving the fermentation. These lactobacilli occur and grow naturally on raw cabbage since they’re airborne bacteria.
When submerged in brine, lacto-bacilli cause the pH to reduce which makes the environment acidic and therefore unsuitable for the growth of harmful bacteria.
Sauerkraut has a whole range of nutritional benefits and it is a good source of
- dietary fibre
- Vitamin C, K1, B6
- It even provides us with a small amount of protein.
Disadvantages of store-bought sauerkraut
Sauerkraut is widely available everywhere these days and comes ready-made in cans or jars. So why would you bother with making it at home? Store-bought and industrially made sauerkraut more often than not contains additives like preservatives or sugar. In addition to that, it is usually pasteurised which means that the heat has killed most of the healthy probiotics. Buying and eating sauerkraut from regular supermarkets is therefore pretty pointless. So when buying sauerkraut make sure you get it from a trusted source like a local health food store or farmers market. Or simply make your own. It’s super easy, quick and cheap!
Make your sauerkraut at home
Sauerkraut is very easy to make. The basic recipe only requires two ingredients and some utensils we all have in our pantry. Also, there’s is not a lot that can go wrong. The easiest way to start is by buying some cabbage from a local farmers market or organic supermarket and start fermenting!
3kg cabbage 6 tablespoon of salt
The ratio of cabbage to salt depends on the amount of sauerkraut you want to make. I usually one cabbage plus 2 – 4 tablespoons of salt. Usually, I start with 2 tablespoons and add more if required.
Chopping knife Chopping board (of food processor to save time chopping cabbage.) Large mixing bowl Preserving jars, mason jars, jam or pickle jars, etc.
Make sure that all your utensils are clean including your hands. This is also important for the jars. Fermenting is all about the good bacteria so make sure to sterilise the jars in hot water before using them.
Chop the cabbage finely. Discard wilted leaves and get rid of the core. If you have a lot of cabbage it’s probably wise to use a food processor.
Transfer the sliced cabbage into a large mixing bowl, add the salt and start working the salt into the cabbage with your hands. You can also use a potato masher but I find that using my hands works best. Slowly the salt will force the liquid out of the cabbage and the cabbage will become watery. This can take 10 to 15 minutes.
Now pack the cabbage into your prepared jars. I like using kitchen tongs for this but you can also just use your hands or a spoon. Make sure to press the cabbage down firmly and pour all the liquid in the jars too so the cabbage is fully submerged. If there’s not enough liquid simply dissolve 1 teaspoon of salt in 1 cup of water and add enough to submerge the cabbage. Once the cabbage is submerged, close the jar using the lids.
While the sauerkraut is fermenting keep it cool and away from direct sunlight. I usually put the jars in a cool and dark place like the kitchen pantry and leave them for at least 2 weeks. Smaller amounts of sauerkraut will ferment quicker than larger batches. After a while, the liquid will start bubbling and sometimes it spills so I put my jars on a saucer or bowl. Since I’m mostly using small jars, the fermentation process only takes about 2 – 3 weeks and after this time, I put the jars in the fridge to stop the fermentation. Once opened, the sauerkraut keeps for a couple of months in the fridge.
The good, the bad and the ugly
While the sauerkraut is fermenting, you will see bubbles coming through the cabbage, perhaps some foam on top of it or white scum. These are all good signs! Simply skim the scum off the top and continue fermenting.
If you see any black mould, throw the jar away! Always make sure the cabbage is fully submerged in the brine. Never eat any mouldy parts!