Growing up with a German family there was never a shortage of sauerkraut. At least once a week we would have it in our meals. Usually with franks. Somewhere down the line, as I got older, it slowly disappeared. Not sure if our eating habits just changed or possible complaints from my brother and I. To be honest, as a kid I can’t remember if I really liked sauerkraut or not. But as I continued to age, at some point in my life, it reappeared and I fell in love.
There are endless possible flavors of kraut, but NONE is better than homemade! And the longer it sits, the tangier and more flavorful it becomes. Sauerkraut literally translates to soured cabbage. It has a long shelf life and like all fermented foods, is packed full of health benefits. As it ferments, lactic acid builds up, which consumes the sugar in the cabbage and gives it its tangy flavor.
It is a good idea to incorporate fermented foods into your diet. They aid in digestion, specifically protein digestion and provide us with the beneficial bacteria our gut needs to stay healthy. I talk more about the benefits of fermenting foods in my Raisin Chutney recipe.
- All cabbage is high in vitamins A and C
- Rich in antioxidants
- Full of probiotics and enzymes which aid in digestion
- Anti-inflammatory properties
- Immune booster
- Much cheaper than store bought probiotic supplements and just as good if not better!
There are several different ways to make kraut. I use liquid whey that I separate from the organic non-homogonized grass fed yogurt we eat to aid in the fermentation process. But if you don’t have whey or don’t want to use it, you can also simply allow the salt to work it’s magic and within a short amount of time, the kraut will start to ferment on it’s own. The KEY is to make sure your kraut is COMPLETELY submerged in liquid. I leave mine out for 3 days to properly begin fermentation before I place in the fridge. Ferment as you like at your own risk. Just be aware there is a higher risk of bacteria contamination any time you leave food out. It is up to you how you decide to ferment.
The Good Stuff:
- Cabbage – At least 1 head of cabbage (feel free to use any type of cabbage but I recommend using regular white cabbage the first time you make kraut just to get used to it)
- Salt – 1 tablespoon per head of cabbage
- Seasoning – you don’t have to use any but you could use juniper or caraway seeds (about 1 tablespoon of seasoning per head of cabbage)
- Glass or ceramic container (don’t use metal as it negatively interacts with fermentation)
- Whey (optional)
- Filtered water (may or may not be needed)
Store bought kraut doesn’t provide the health benefits that homemade does. Kraut that is packaged and sold to a consumer must be pasteurized. The pasteurization process kills most any beneficial bacteria. Also, most store bought Sauerkrauts are actually made by using vinegar instead of actually allowing the kraut to ferment. Therefore, there is no beneficial bacteria provided.
- Shred the cabbage (all the leaves and the core).
- Combine shredded cabbage, whey (if using), salt, and any seasoning and mix thoroughly.
- Now for the hard part, breaking down the cabbage. You can use a wooden pounder or meat hammer for about 10 minutes to soften the cabbage. This will begin to break down the fibers and release juices. Personally I just use my hands and chalk it up to a grip strength workout. Simply squeeze the cabbage and continue to mix it. Do this until the cabbage is tender and you have a significant amount of liquid to cover the cabbage when you press it down. Beware, this will take a little bit of time but the final product is so worth it.
- Place in a glass container and press down the cabbage until it is completely submerged. It should be at least 1 inch below the liquid. If there is not enough liquid you can add some water but the important part is to make sure the cabbage has been thoroughly tenderized.
- Cover with a lid and let sit on the counter at room temperature for 3 days before transferring to the fridge. This begins the fermentation process. If you are not comfortable with keeping your cabbage on the counter you can place in the fridge but I highly recommend waiting at least a week before consuming if you do this.
Your kraut will last indefinitely as long as it continues to be completely covered by liquid. I’ve heard of kimchi (Korean Sauerkraut) that has been around for years. The flavor will continue to change and become more complex as it ages. It will also get a zing on the tongue the longer it sits. This is a sign of high fermentation and high amounts of bacteria and enzymes. The zing is a good sign of healthy kraut.
Eating sauerkraut is a great way to protect the balance of bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract. Sauerkraut is one of the few foods that contain the bacterium Lactobacilli plantarum. L. planatarum is a very dominant strain of healthful bacteria which helps your digestive system in the following ways: boost the immune system by increasing antibodies that fight infectious disease help inhibit pathogenic organisms including E.coli, salmonella and unhealthy overgrowth of candida (yeast) create antioxidants (glutathione and superoxide dismustase) that scavenge free radicals which are a cancer precursor transforms hard-to-digest lactose from milk to the more easily digested lactic acid. It neutralizes the antinutrients found in many foods including the phytic acid found in all grains and the trypsin-inhibitors in soy generates new nutrients including omega-3 fatty acids, digestive aids and the trace mineral GTF chromium. These various properties are the best scientific reasons given for what has been known by loyal users for millennia, sauerkraut cures an upset stomach and is the best natural physic there is. Many sources say raw fermented foods are beneficial to the digestive system by increasing the healthy flora in the intestinal tract or creating the type of environment for them to flourish. Sauerkraut and its juice are traditional folk remedies for constipation. Fermentation actually increases nutrient values in the cabbage, especially vitamin C. Fermented foods are also said to facilitate the breakdown and assimilation of proteins. They have a soothing effect on the nervous system. The benefits of sauerkraut and sauerkraut juice have been recognized for generations. In some families of southern Germany, the children are fed raw sauerkraut twice weekly to support their intestines. Today it is thought that these benefits may relate to a high proportion of lactic acid in sauerkraut and sauerkraut juice that naturally supports the digestive processes, maintain intestinal flora, and increase the feeling of well-being.