A lot of people think they don't like sauerkraut. It's usually because they've only ever had the modern vinegar pickled cooked stuff. This traditionally prepared sauerkraut is a super food.
Hippocrates, wrote about 2500 years ago that all disease begins in the gut. Digestive health cannot happen without healthy well-functioning gut flora. Beneficial bacteria provide a barrier against toxins entering our bloodstream. Probiotics can help improve or cure ADD, dyslexia, allergies, digestive disorders like IBS, asthma, eczema, ear infections, chronic cystitis, candida, autoimmune disorders, fibromyalgia, arthritis, diabetes, depression and other mental disorders. Eighty percent of the immune system is in the intestines. And (this is my favorite) 60-70 percent of serotonin, one of the feel good “brain” chemicals, is made in the gut.
There are many causes for unhealthy and out of balance gut flora: antibiotics, contraceptives, and steroids to name a few. Equally devastating are modern junk food, high carb diets, and the modern stressful life. The gut can also be damaged by stress. Have you ever had digestive upset when stressed? Don’t feel like eating? That’s the neural tissue in your gut telling you that it’s not doing well. There is even evidence that when we are under extreme stress the gut becomes more damaged, increasing psychological symptoms and food allergies.
Probiotics can be taken in pill form but these are often ineffective and/or very expensive. Every traditional culture includes probiotic fermented foods. The fermented food that we are most familiar with is yogurt, but there are many many more: sauerkraut, kimchee, pickles (not just cucumbers, but also beets, carrots, green beans), fruit chutneys, raw cheese and other dairy products, salami and pepperoni. There are also lots of probiotic beverages like kombucha, kefir, kvass, herbal drinks like ginger ale, and unpasteurized beer and wine.
Cabbage adds benefits of its own. It contains compounds that are strong preventatives for bladder, colon, and prostate cancer. It has also been used as a treatment for as a treatment for constipation, stomach ulcers, headaches, obesity, skin disorders, eczema, jaundice, scurvy, rheumatism, arthritis, gout, eye disorders, heart diseases, aging, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Here is my recipe for sauerkraut that even sauerkraut haters love.
5 pounds (about 2 heads) cabbage
3 tablespoons sea salt
filtered (chlorine-free) water
juice from the last batch, or the leftover juice from a jar of Bubbie's Garlic Pickles, or whey (the clear liquid off the top of yogurt). Don't stress if you don't have any of these. They contain starter culture but it will work without.
1. Chop or grate cabbage, finely or coarsely, with or without hearts, however you like. I like to mix green and red cabbage to end up with bright pink kraut. Place cabbage in a large bowl as you chop it.
2. Sprinkle salt on the cabbage as you go. The salt pulls the water out of the cabbage, and this creates the brine in which the cabbage can ferment and sour without rotting. Salt also keeps the cabbage crunchy by inhibiting organisms and enzymes that soften it.
3. Add other vegetables if you like. Carrotss, onions, garlic, seaweed, other greens, brussel sprouts, beets, burdock root, apples (whole or sliced), caraway, dill, celery seeds, or juniper berries.
4. Mix ingredients together and pack into crock or mason jar. Pack a bit at a time and tamp down hard using your fists or any other sturdy kitchen implement.
5. Pour in some juice from a previous batch, or the leftover juice from a jar of Bubbie's Garlic Pickles, or the whey (the clear liquid off the top of yogurt). These are starters - chock full of the probiotic bacteria that ferments the cabbage.
6. Cover kraut with a plate or some other lid that fits snugly inside the crock. Place a clean weight (like a glass jar filled with water) on the cover. This weight will force water out of the cabbage and keep the cabbage submerged under the brine. Cover the whole thing with a cloth to keep dust and flies out.
7. Press down on the weight to help force more water out. Continue doing this as often as you think of it for about 24 hours, or until the brine rises above the cover. If the brine doesn't rise above the plate by the next day, add salt water to bring the brine level above the plate. Add 1 tablespoon Celtic sea salt to 1 cup of water and stir until it's completely dissolved.
8. Check the kraut every day or two. The volume reduces as the fermentation proceeds. Sometimes mold appears on the surface. Skim what you can off of the surface; it will break up and you will probably not be able to remove all of it. Don't worry, the kraut is under the anaerobic protection of the brine. Just rinse off the plate and the weight.
9. Taste the kraut. Generally it starts to get tangy after a few days (faster when it's warm, slower in cool temps), and the taste gets stronger as time passes. After a week or so, I transfer my jars to the fridge. Kraut will keep in the fridge for several months. Eventually, it becomes soft and the flavor turns less pleasant.
10. Enjoy. Save some of the juice for the next batch, but make sure you drink some. Sauerkraut juice is an a rare delicacy and unparalled digestive tonic. Each time you scoop out some kraut, you have to repack it carefully. Make sure that the kraut is packed tight and stays below the level of the brine. If you need more brine, add salt water as above and leave at room temperature for a day before returning to the fridge.
Credit: adapted from Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz. Chelsea Green Publishing, 2003