(I’m really excited to be sharing article with you! It’s easy to read and simple to do! My kind of recipe 😀 So give it a go! And let us know how you did. Play n’ have Fun! Thank You for sharing Michael 🙂
One of the most awesome things that I’ve learned over the past few years is how to make my own naturally fermented sauerkraut! Today, I’m going to share it with you!
There are several reasons WHY you want to make and consume your own naturally fermented foods rather than buying them from the store. Let me tell you a few really quickly:
A) They’re full of naturally occurring beneficial bacteria. (Probiotics) Each one of us depends on an army of good bacteria to keep our intestinal track cleaned out and bad bacteria killed off. If we don’t have enough of these good bacteria in our system then toxins or infections accumulate—which puts extra stress on our immune system. (Immune system ‘overwork’ is one of the main causes of disease today.)
B) A lot of the foods that we consume today are loaded with preservatives and antibiotics that actually kill the good bacteria in our gut and opens us to sickness and infections.
C) Pasteurization kills all of a food’s bacteria (bad and good) which means that the vast majority of commercially prepared fermented foods like buttermilk, yogurt and sauerkraut have little or no probiotic value. Sometimes companies try to add in lab grown cultures to replace what’s missed but the results are an inferior product both tastewise and healthwise.
D) Probiotic supplements are made from cultures that are mass produced in conditions that emphasize quantity over quality. The result is inferior bacteria that dies off quickly or is not strong enough to survive the gastric juices in order to make it to the intestinal tract where it can be used. A few higher-end (ie expensive) probiotic supplements have a special time-delayed shell but even then the bacteria does not reproduce adequately and thus have to be constantly replenished. Of course companies consider this a plus because this translates into more sales. (The probiotics in home fermented foods are as strong as Abrams tanks and as prolific as bunnies on Viagra.)
E) Its fun! For crying out loud there’s nothing more therapeutic than doing something this dad-gum good for you! (And tasty too!)
Let’s go step by step through the routine and you’ll see how easy it is.
1) Start with 6-7 lbs of cabbage. Color doesn’t matter. (mixing green and purple make a pretty pink LOL!) Wash thoroughly and pull off all the outer leaves down to the good light colored head. (As shown) The idea is to have around 5lbs of cut/shredded cabbage. Close counts.
6 or 7 lbs of cabbage to start with.
2) Begin slicing your cabbage into ribbons. Personally, I like mine in pretty thin pieces as shown but you can go as thick as you want—you can even tear it to ribbons if you want. But since I use mine as a relish for salads, on reubens and the occasional hot-dog (yeah, I know, bad for you…but its sooo good tasting!) then I prefer it in a consistency that’s just a little more than slaw.
Slice into ribbons w/ sharp knife
3) Place your shreds into a VERY clean plastic, glass or earthenware bowl. In 5lbs of shreds you want to equally distribute 3 tbsp of Sea Salt. As you can see from the picture I layer it in at first and later will mix by hand.
The salt is going to serve two primary functions: First it’s going to help pull the natural juices out of the cabbage. (As we’ll see in a minute this is a good thing.) Secondly, the eventual salted BRINE is going to form a protective barrier around our shreds that will allow the fermentation process to happen.
Sea Salt to wilt down and make the brine
4) Traditionally you would add a sprinkle of caraway seed. This simply gives it a ‘seasoned’ background flavor. (Similar to what it does for rye bread.) I’ve done batches with and without the caraway and to be honest the ones with turn out better tasting. After you’ve done a few batches feel free to try with different spices and herbs or even veggies. (Old fashioned deli pickles are the same process except you use cucumbers and some dill rather than caraway.)
Caraway seeds for ‘seasoned’ flavor
5) After the caraway is ‘peppered’ on you’re ready to do some mixing. Using your hands, mix. Being rough/tough enough to bruise the cabbage. Massage salt in. The reason is that you want to damage the cabbage enough that it will expel its liquid. Now, put a cloth over the bowl and let it sit for a while and wilt down. (I have been known to let mine sit over night.)
Depending on how much moisture your cabbage had in it when it was picked you should have very wet and (if you’re lucky) almost water logged shreds. (If not don’t worry. Your cabbage was probably picked in the late afternoon when moisture wasn’t high. We have an ‘app’ (solution) for that! (More in a minute.)
The ‘peppered’ look
6) Now you need something by which to PRESS your shreds into in order to ferment them. I purchased a brand-new round plastic trash can. I chose it because it gradually tapers from the top and gets narrower the deeper you go. (We’ll see why next.) I only use this can for fermenting and keep it cleaned with bleach and sealed when not in use.
Into the fermentation apparatus
[UPDATE NOTE: Since publishing this article I’ve received inquiries about the trash-can not being food grade and leeching chemicals. I think in fairness I should say that #1: I am upgrading to a quality professional ceramic crock BECAUSE I’ve ‘perfected’ my sauerkraut recipe, I enjoy it and will continue making sauerkraut on an ongoing basis. #2 Food grade plastic buckets will work fine and so will large pickle jars IF you keep it in a dark place or wrap it up so light can’t get in. Alton Brown (of Food Network Fame) uses a Tupperware bread box. IMO when you start making sauerkraut it’s better to experiment with inexpensive materials for the first few batches than to invest $150 on a ceramic crock just for an experiment. The last fast food joint we ate at leeched more chemicals into our system than 3-4 batches of sauerkraut will.]
7) The Most Important Part: Lacto-fermentation takes place when the salted, shredded cabbage is tightly packed and separated from the air by a layer of brine. The brine creates a unique biological shield that keeps all of the bad bacteria from the open air from reaching the shreds. Conversely, it supplies the ultimate breeding ground for those beneficial probiotic bacteria that we’re looking for and doesn’t allow them to escape.
After you add your wilted shreds to the container, physically pack them as tightly against the bottom as possible by hand. Ideally, you will press a good deal of the liquid out of the shreds during this process. This juice will make up some of the ‘separation brine’.
8) Next use a plastic plate (or other round object) to place on top of the packed shreds. If they are packed tight enough then there will be almost no give when you press the plate down. Now we’re going to add a bit of DISTILLED water (never tap water) to finish making our separation brine. To keep the shreds packed tightly during this process add a clean quart mason jar full of water to the top of the plate. Slowly pour in distilled water until the plate (not the jar) is covered by about ¾ inch of water. This will not be enough to change the saltiness of the brine enough to impair the fermentation process.
Plate & Jar – Prepared to put in distilled water
9) Now it all over but the wait. As you can see from the picture I put a clean cloth or cheesecloth over the opening and then secure it with the trashcan’s lid. The brine keeps the bacteria out but the cloth keeps larger critters from sampling our sauerkraut before the time.
Let it rest in a cool dry place for 3-6 weeks. I personally have had my best results with 6-8 weeks BUT if you leave it in for an extended period then check the water level once a week after week 4. (I’ve learned this the hard-way.) All and all 4 weeks should be a great median. I’m just an extremist by nature.
Ready to ‘lay-low’ for a few weeks while lacto-fermentation does its magic!
10) No picture here. And for GOOD REASON. You need to READ this part. Over the time that your kraut is fermenting there will be a layer of mold that forms on the OUTSIDE of the brine. This is the one, single little distasteful thing that we have to put up with for making EXCELLENT sauerkraut. Here’s the thing: IF we did our prep correctly and covered the plate with enough brine AND our shreds are packed tightly enough—then it won’t be any problem to skim the mold off the top.
The brine has kept the mold (and any other ‘no-taste-good’ stuff) from getting to the shreds. In fact this mold has helped solidify the natural seal that has made the sauerkraut possible. Remove it with a spoon and some paper towels disturbing the water as little as possible. (I won’t tell anyone if you use plastic gloves.)
But that’s it! Once you’ve got clean brine then gently remove the plate and stuff the finished kraut into a couple of quart jars. Again, pack the kraut in tightly then pour the brine over it until it is submerged under the brine.
Refrigerate. As long as you keep this refrigerated or in a root cellar and the kraut is packed under the brine you’re fine for weeks or even months.
11) WARNING! DO NOT USE HEAT CANNING! I know you’re shocked, right? Here’s the thing: Heat destroys all of the bacteria that you just took all of that time to grow. Sure, the kraut still tastes great on a hotdog but it loses its benefit. This brings us to the next part…
The JOY of ‘Krauting’
Ideally, its best to always have a batch of lacto-fermented veggies going at all times. Do it on an on-going year round basis. For the greatest health benefit, eat some lacto-fermented veggies everyday or at the least several times a week. By keeping a batch of kraut, fermented pickles, kim-chi or fermented relish going at all times you can ensure that you’ll always have enough to keep your immune system in full swing. In fact, you’ll notice in just a few weeks of eating fermented foods every day that your skin will become brighter and clearer. You stomach will “saw through” foods extracting more nutrients and processing them more efficiently. You’ll become regular and productive when you visit your (ahem!) outhouse. The reason for this is that the probiotics are scouring the insides of your colon and making them super clean.
I encourage you to try fermenting all kinds of veggies….mix and match them. Cucumbers, green tomatoes, onions, squash, peppers—almost anything can be fermented and stored in the same way. (For instance, for dill pickles submerge small to medium sized cucumbers into the brine with Dill rather than the caraway. Everything else is the same.) My Dad raves about fermented corn that he grew up eating that was basically processed this way.
Write in and let me know how it goes. 🙂