Basic Sauerkraut Recipe
by Maia Bedson
Winter 2016, Living Well Magazine
Fermented foods, which our ancestors considered a dietary staple, have had a resurgence as the newest health trend in all the hip cafes, and rightfully so – it is a wonderfully beneficial revival that can significantly improve our health on both a physical and mental level.
And you don’t have to buy expensive store-bought versions, as they are really quite simple to make in your own kitchen.
Over the last few years, I have turned our kitchen into a (stinky – as Paul would say) laboratory as I have experimented and adapted varying recipes and methods for this ancient craft, and I feel confident that anyone with an interest in fermenting can find success with it. I encourage you to roll up your sleeves and step into the witchy and wonderful world of fermenting!
Fermented Foods 101
Fermented foods are those foods that are produced or preserved by the action of microorganisms such as yeasts, bacteria and fungi.
Traditional forms of fermenting include sauerkraut, kimchi, cider, sourdough bread, wine, cheese, chocolate, yoghurt, beer, tempeh, miso, kvass, and vinegar – to mention a few.
And it is a practice that can be traced back millenniums. Mead (honey and water) is regarded as the most ancient wine in human civilization; many African cultures used and still use fermented sorghum and corn as a dietary staple; there is evidence that Chinese workers ate fermented vegetables while building the Great Wall of China; cassava and taro were widely fermented in equatorial regions of Asia and Polynesia; countless sailors’ lives were saved from scurvy when sauerkraut was introduced as a preventative on exploration voyages; and a rich tradition of fermenting also existed throughout Russia and the Balkans. There are many other examples of food fermentation across world food traditions.
In more recent times, there has been extensive study into the significance of the health of our microbiome (the vast array of microorganisms in our digestive tract, which outnumber our human genes 100 to 1) and the resulting effect on our health and wellbeing.
Our gastro-intestinal tract has approximately 150 times more surface area than our skin and contains more immune cells than any other part of our body (estimates range between 60% to 80%).
Our GI tract has more contact with innumerable molecules and organisms than any other organ of our body thus having an important protective role, in addition to absorbing the nutrients our body needs to survive.
We now know through research that beneficial bacteria contribute to a healthy immune system and improved auto-immune conditions – i.e. bloating, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, allergies – any kind of digestive issue really. They also help with sugar cravings, have an anti-anxiety and anti-depressant effect, and have shown promising results with autism (which is often associated with leaky gut and IBS) – just to name a few.
Fermented foods keep the bacteria in our digestive tract healthy, add good bacteria and crowd out the unhealthy bacteria, promoting repair, detoxification and healing.
One of the simplest fermented foods to make is sauerkraut. Some recipes call for liquid whey or other ‘starter cultures’ to be used, but I prefer the ‘wild ferment’ method of using salt to encourage the promotion of the natural bacteria found on vegetables, which increases the development of various lactic acid bacteria (the good guys) while inhibiting unhealthy bacteria, yeast and fungi (the bad guys).
I recommend using around 1.5% salt by weight – that is, 1 tablespoon of salt per kilogram cabbage. Many other recipes call for far more than this and can result in a soggy and overly salty result. In time, you will not need to measure but will gain a ‘feel’ for the amount of salt needed as you work it into the cabbage.
Start by consuming small amounts – about a forkful twice per day with meals is enough to begin, as it is very potent. Once your body becomes used to it, you may notice that you start to crave more, as your body begins to delight in the healing qualities.
Basic Sauerkraut Recipe
Fresh organic cabbage
Good quality salt – I prefer Murray River salt but Himalayan or sea salt will do – avoid table salt which contains anti-caking ingredients
Wash and reserve the outer cabbage leaf
Finely chop or shred the remaining cabbage into a non-metallic bowl
Sprinkle salt over cabbage and massage firmly with your hands, to squeeze liquid from the cabbage and create a natural brine
Note: if not much cabbage juice is being released initially, cover with a cloth for an hour or two and leave the salt to draw more liquid from the cabbage (pounding the cabbage with a potato masher can also help release more)
Pack the cabbage and liquid into a glass jar, pressing down firmly as you go to eliminate air – leave about 1 or 2 inches at the top of the jar
Cover the packed cabbage with the reserved outer cabbage leaf and press down firmly to submerge the cabbage in the brine
Place a weight of some kind on top of the cabbage leaf to keep the cabbage covered in liquid – a smaller jar, clean stone or glass weight will work well – then fix the lid to the jar
Store the jar in a warm place, not in direct sunlight – the ideal temperature being between 15-25 degrees Celsius
After 2 or 3 days, the jar will need ‘burping’ daily (seriously!) to allow the CO2 to escape. This means just loosening the lid and then tightening again. This is a sign of the lactic acid bacteria eating the sugars in the cabbage and it also acts to kill off any bad bacteria from growing
It will be ready to consume after about a week, although I like to ferment for much longer (4 weeks or more) as this produces a greater variety and quantity of beneficial bacteria
Once your preferred level of ferment has been reached, store sauerkraut in the refrigerator
Therapist, Facilitator, The Gawler Cancer Foundation & Yarra Valley Living Centre
DipHol Couns, Grad DipCounsHS, Grad DipClinNut
Maia is a counsellor, meditation instructor, a practitioner of various forms of natural therapies who has worked in the area of energetic healing for over 20 years and has worked at The Gawler Cancer Foundation since 2000. She has a Graduate Diploma in Clinical Nutrition as well as formal qualifications in plant-based nutrition, counselling and psychotherapy. Maia uses her various skills and the experience gained from her own healing to inspire and support others on their path to wholeness and has a particular interest in helping people to access their own inner wisdom.