Real-Deal Sauerkraut

Every magazine on the newsstand today has at least one article about the health benefits of fermented foods. The custom of fermentation to preserve foods has been practiced for centuries to preserve vegetables and other perishable foods without the use of modern-day refrigerators, freezers or canning machines. The metabolic process known as fermentation requires the presence of a carbohydrate source like vegetables, which contain glucose (sugar) molecules, plus yeast, bacteria or both. The yeast and bacteria microorganisms are responsible for converting sugar into healthy bacteria strains that help regulate many bodily functions.

Gut microbiota (also known as "gut flora") is the microbe population living in human intestines. The good bacteria living in someone’s healthy gut environment have been proven to be crucial for lowering the risk of just about every form of acute or chronic illness there is including brain disorders and mental illness, mood disorders, asthma, various autoimmune diseases and even cancer.

While fermented foods can now be easily found in most grocery stores, commercially-produced products may contain other preservatives that can detract from their probiotic effectiveness. Making your own at home is relatively easy and very inexpensive. The minimum equipment necessary is two quart jars with lids, some form of weights.*

1 (2 lb.) head of cabbage, head thinly shredded
1 tablespoon sea salt
¼ cup whey
2 teaspoons caraway seeds (optional)

Rinse cabbage and remove any damaged outer leaves, reserving one clean leaf for the top of the jar. Cut the head into quarters and remove the core.

Slice the cabbage thinly. We like ours super thin so we use the highest setting of the blade on a mandolin.  As you slice each quarter, place in a large mixing bowl and sprinkle with ½ teaspoon of salt. Do this for the first three layers and add all remaining salt to the top layer. Add the whey and caraway seeds if desired and toss thoroughly. Squeezing the cabbage as you mix helps to bruise the cabbage and get the juices running. Set the cabbage aside to rest as you prepare your jars and do a little clean up.

Pack the cabbage tightly (using a muddler or wooden spoon) in a 2-quart jar. Be sure to pour in all the juices (and whey) extracted from the cabbage. Place the reserved cabbage leaf on the top and place a weight (if using) on the leaf. If needed, add distilled water to cover the kraut by at least one inch. All the cabbage should be submerged completely under the brine.

Allow the kraut to ferment at room temperature (68°F -72°F) for 3-4 days, then refrigerate for a week or longer. Don't open your container during the first two weeks to protect it from bacteria from the air.

If you have the equipment, place an airlock lid on the jar. An airlock system, while recommended, is not necessary. As long as your cabbage is weighted below the brine level, an anaerobic environment is created. You can place a lid loosely on the jar. Tightening the lid may cause the jar to explode as the fermentation process releases CO2. Place the jar in a bowl or plate to protect your furniture by catching any brine that leaks from the jar.

After the initial 2 weeks of the fermentation process, you can open the jar and enjoy your super-healthy sauerkraut loaded with probiotics. The kraut will continue to ferment and the flavors will continue to develop over the next few weeks. Under normal conditions, your sauerkraut will keep for several months in the refrigerator, if you don’t eat it all before then!

The most genius weighting system we have seen is to place a small jelly jar inside a wide-mouth, quart-size jar as seen here.