Make Your Own Probiotic-Rich Sauerkraut
When it comes to probiotic-rich foods, yogurt gets all the fanfare, but sauerkraut with live cultures contains a wider variety of probiotic strains and arguably more health benefits (Check out my blog “9 Reasons to Love Sauerkraut“). Sadly the art of making homemade sauerkraut has dwindled over the years. Most people wrongly assume it takes a lot of work and is difficult to make, but it actually requires minimal effort and is quite simple once you get used to it.
The following recipe is a plain sauerkraut without the many possible flavor additions. It is delicious on its own but feel free to add a handful of flavor additions, including: caraway seeds, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, juniper berries, fresh basil, fresh or dried rosemary, mustard seeds or others. Use your imagination if you want to try different flavors of sauerkraut but feel free to also enjoy this simple sauerkraut recipe ďas isĒ because it has a great flavor all on its own.
The technique description below may seem intensive, but once you get used to the basic process, itís actually simple. The technique to make probiotic-rich vegetable dishes usually involves brining. Brining is a process in which vegetables are fermented in a saltwater solution. Brine is simply the saltwater solution. The salt draws water out of the cabbage and helps protect the vegetables from microorganisms that decompose food. Many probiotic bacteria still grow in the salt solution, however, if excessive amounts of salt is used then no microorganisms can survive and fermentation wonít take place.
You can use a variety of fermentation vessels, ranging from small to large stoneware crocks, ceramic or glass bowls to wide-mouthed mason jars. Avoid using metal or plastic containers as the level of acidity will increase which can cause a chemical reaction with the metal or plastic. Additionally, most beneficial microbes do not grow well in a metal container. Glass, ceramic or stoneware are best.
Whatever type you use, youíll need a plate, jar or cover that fits inside the crock, bowl or jar. The reason for this is simple: it helps submerge the vegetables that would otherwise float to the top and potentially spoil. For the cover, I use a plate as large as I can find. Flea markets and antique shops are great places to find both crocks and plates of different sizes to fit. Then, youíll need a weight. I sometimes use a bowl filled with extra salt water to sit on top of the plate, but you can also use a rock that has been scrubbed and boiled for at least 15 minutes. A one gallon glass jug tends to be a great weight for larger crocks and mason jars filled with water make good weights for smaller crocks or bowls.
2 small to medium heads green cabbage, shredded
3 Tablespoons of unrefined fine sea salt or 6 Tablespoons unrefined coarse sea salt (do not use iodized salt as the iodine interferes with the fermentation process)
1 quart (1 Liter) of filtered water (Itís best not to use chlorinated water since the chlorine can interfere with the natural fermentation process). Using a wooden spoon or your clean fist, punch down the cabbage mixture to make it more compact and to release the juices.
In a large, clean crock or large bowl place the green cabbage, pushing down with your fist or a wooden spoon to release the juices as you go. In a pitcher or large measuring cup, dissolve the sea salt in the water, stirring if necessary to encourage the salt to dissolve. Pour over the cabbage in the crock until the ingredients are submerged, leaving a couple of inches of room at the top for the ingredients to expand.
Place a plate that fits inside the crock over the cabbage-water mixture and then weigh it down with food-safe weights or a bowl or jar of water until the vegetables are submerged under the water-salt brine. Cover with a lid or cloth. Allow it to ferment for at least two weeks, checking periodically to ensure that the cabbage mixture is still submerged below the salt-water brine. After two weeks the sauerkraut is still fairly crunchy. If you like a more traditional sauerkraut, allow it to ferment longer.
If any mold forms on the surface, simply scoop it out. It will not spoil the sauerkraut unless it gets deeper inside the crock. It may form where the mixture meets the air but not usually deeper inside the crock.
After one week, or longer if preferred, dish out the sauerkraut into jars or a bowl and place in the fridge, where it will last for at least a few months to a year.
Dr. Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM is a registered nutritionist and international best-selling and 19-time published book author whose works include: The Probiotic Promise: Simple Steps to Heal Your Body from the Inside Out.