Shaun is the chef in this house most days, however, I am learning and trying to be more “wifely.” He has made fermented sauerkraut many times and tonight I was his assistant for the first time.
Why should I try fermented sauerkraut?
Fermented foods apply to more than just sauerkraut, in fact all fruits and vegetables can be fermented, although some will yield better results than others. I would like to share the process with those that are interested and emphasize the benefits of fermented foods. It is important to note that the sauerkraut I am describing is completely different from the typical sauerkraut you would buy in the grocery store. Fermented sauerkraut is raw, and full of beneficial bacteria, also know as ‘probiotics’. The basic ingredients are water, salt, and cabbage. The good bacteria breakdown the cabbage by eating or pre-digesting the carbohydrates, this process creates a lactic acid environment which allows the good bacteria to thrive. There is no vinegar added to this recipe, even though when you eat it you would think otherwise. The lactic acid creates an acidic environment, this is a natural preservative that gives it the vinegar flavor. Fermented foods are the oldest means of food preservation known to man, our ancestors were fermenting long before they were canning and some claim it could even pre-date the wheel. All cultures throughout history have a form of fermented foods. Examples include sauerkraut, kimchi, wine, olives, pickles, coffee, chutneys, and sourdough bread just to name a few.
The breakdown of carbohydrates by the bacteria enables it to be more digestible. This allows us to absorb more nutrients. This process actually increases the bioavailability of the Vitamin C by 200 percent from the original head of cabbage. In the past, sauerkraut was brought on board ships to prevent scurvy on long sea voyages. Fermented foods, like sauerkraut, have been show to have anti-inflammatory and anti cancer properties in many studies. Other health benefits of sauerkraut include improved digestion, heartburn relief, and healing ulcers. Some studies have shown the probiotic count of 4-6 oz’s of fermented foods to be more then 10 trillion!! That means one 16 oz jar of sauerkraut could be equal to 10 bottles of the best probiotics on the market. That could be as high as $600.00 in pills for every $5.00 of sauerkraut (even less if you grow your own cabbage from seed). Sauerkraut is nutrient-dense, enzyme rich, a raw food, vegan/vegetarian (when done without the use of whey), and gluten-free.
In regards to the three main ingredients there are some important points to remember. (1) You need to use non-chlorinated water, this means distilled, reverse osmosis, filtered, or well water if you have one. Regular city water will not work because there are many added chemicals which can harm and kill the beneficial bacteria you are trying to grow. (2) The salt needs to be a full mineral salt. Examples: Sea salt, celtic salt, kosher salt, Himalayan salt. Salts you should not use include, table salt and iodized salt because it can damage the good bacteria. (3) If you are doing this for your health, I advise growing your own fruits and vegetables or obtaining a locally-sourced organic product. Conventional agriculture uses synthetics fertilizers, chemicals, and pesticides which can leave harmful residue in and on your produce, even after you wash it. If you are going through all this effort you might as well get the best.
It is also important not to use metal at any time during this process, the exception to this rule is stainless steel. In general, don’t use a metal mixing bowl, metal utensils, or a metal top on the mason jar. Glass, plastic, and wood are great options. The lactic acid can react with metal, such as aluminum, and break it down into your ferment.
Fermented Apple Sauerkraut
- 3 medium cabbages (Any kind will do, feel free to experiment)
- Filtered water
- Real salt
- 1 Onion
- 2 Apples (Any kind, the riper and sweeter the better)
- Carrot tops (Optional)
- 1/2 Gallon glass mason jar, wide mouth makes life easier
- 1-2 oz Starter (From best to least, juice from previous ferment, or whey, or raw apple cider vinegar, or juice of one fresh lemon)
- Shot glass/baby-food jar (To help weigh down cabbage on top)
- Large plate/pie dish (To help catch any spillage)
- Large mixing bowl
- Cutting board
- Chopping knife
Start with clean hands and clean materials, don’t feel the need to sterilize the equipment you are using, remember this process encourages the good bacteria. If your jar has been through the dishwasher that is fine, check to make sure there is no soapy residue, if you are worried just give it a rinse with the filtered water.
Step 1: Clean and core cabbages
Step 2: Remove 2-3 large outer leaves from a cabbage and set aside
Step 3: Chop cabbage and onion, add to large bowl. Each time you add a handful of cabbage to the bowl, also add a generous pinch of salt. Sprinkle the salt over the cabbage and then mix and scrunch it up with your hands by massaging and squeezing the mixture. Continue this layering and scrunching process until you have chopped all the cabbage. The salt pulls the moisture out from the cabbage and you will start having a puddle of liquid at the bottom of the bowl. The cabbage will also shrink up as you scrunch it.
Step 4: Allow bowl to sit out on the counter from 15 minutes to 1 hour
Step 5: Add optional carrot tops (green leafy part, not chopped) to bottom of mason jar. This step is optional, but adding the carrot tops will help your sauerkraut stay crunchy for longer, a matter of personal preference.
Step 6: If using starter, add to mason jar. The started will “kickstart” your new batch, but if this is your first batch ever, you can add 1-2 oz of whey or Braggs brand raw apple cider vinegar, or the juice of one small fresh lemon.
Step 7: Chop apples, add to mason jar
Step 8: Pack rested cabbage, onion and salt mixture into mason jar on top of apples. Pack in tightly as much as possible, the liquid should start to rise to the top of the jar as you pack it in. Keep packing until the liquid reaches the top of the jar. If you run out of mixture before the jar is full to top with liquid then you can top it off with a salt water mixture (use 1 tablespoon of salt per 1 cup of water dissolved)
Step 9: Use the large cabbage leaves you set aside in the beginning to hold down the cabbage mixture, you want the solid mixture to always be submerged under the liquid layer. Sometimes we need to use an added weight to hold the leaves down, a shot glass or two usually does the trick and then we screw on the lid.
Step 10: Place it in an accessible area away from light. In the summer it is better to place it in a cooler location (not the refrigerator) and in the winter place it in a warmer location. We place ours in the pantry and typically set it on a pie dish to help with any spillage because inevitably some may leak out (this is normal).
Check your sauerkraut every day or two. Open the lid and push down the cabbage to release any air bubbles. It’s normal to see air bubbles coming through the cabbage during fermentation. When you press them down daily, you are eliminating the air space between the cabbage. After about a week fermenting on the shelf you may see a white film on top of your ferment, this is most likely NOT mold but yeast. Smell it, if it smells like yeast then that is what it is and it is normal and not harmful. You can just skim it off before you want to eat your sauerkraut. If there is a bad or rotten smell, or visible mold you want to start over. This has never happened to us. Remember to taste your sauerkraut throughout your fermentation process, most people prefer it to ferment for 1-2 weeks. When you like the results, move your sauerkraut to the fridge where it will continue to ferment, although much slower. It will keep in the fridge for a year or even longer, however we usually eat ours way before then, you may notice slight changes in flavor throughout the months as the fermentation process continues. Remember to save some juice to start your next batch.
Enjoy your sauerkraut by itself or add to salads, have as a side dish, however you want, you may even find yourself craving it as a midnight snack! Sometimes we also cook ours to have with kielbasa, but then of course it is no longer “raw” and you will loose some of the probiotic benefits. To learn more please watch these great videos on the benefits and making of fermented foods. Theses sources also have great idea on many variations of sauerkraut and other recipes. I highly recommend looking through several sources and educating yourself before starting your first batch. Good luck fermenting! Please feel free to leave all your comments and any questions below.
Here is a great handout: Intro to Vegetable Fermentation
Cultures for Health put out a boat load of free ebooks on their site that is worth looking at: