Saturday, July 30, 2011

Radically Natural Recipe: Sublime Sauerkraut...Probiotic Superfood

Cabbage could be in medical science what bread is in nutrition; cabbage is the physician of the poor. -- Dr. Blanc, Parisian physician, 1881
Long before adopting a "nourishing traditions" lifestyle, and prior to beginning GAPS, I loved sauerkraut. I remember the biannual meals featuring sauerkraut in my family home...I longed for more, never suspecting a future regimen of fermenting awaited me.  My love for sauerkraut has only grown since I began eating the genuine more canned, processed kraut for me.  Home-fermented kraut is culinary and wellness ambrosia.

So for anyone attempting GAPS, or newly exploring the WAPF life, or even just desiring to increase delicious nutritional healing in your daily diet, adding sauerkraut to your repertoire is a real boon.

Before sharing my simple recipe for sauerkraut, let's look at some fast facts about this fantastic superfood.  In our discussion, we are assuming a traditionally fermented (also termed "cultured") raw food that is literally alive.  Inferior versions won't supply the vast health benefits.
  • Traditionally fermented raw foods like sauerkraut are teeming with friendly bacteria (hence the term "probiotic food") and live enzymes that significantly aid your body in food digestion and nutrient absorption, especially foods that are typically harder for your body to break down.
  • Beneficial bacteria (such as Lactobacillus plantarum) boost your immune system by increasing antibody production.  Lactobacillus also creates omega-3 fatty acids (a nutrient crucial to cell/brain/immune function).
  • Fermenting food can reduce toxins present in the food, as well as neutralize phytic acid (a compound found in grains that blocks absorption of minerals...which is why soaking grains before consumption is a good practice).
  • Historically, fermentation was used as a food preservation method, and ancient cultures (such as the Chinese in 200 BC) have records of sauerkraut juice being prescribed for various ailments.
  • Lactic acid is a metabolic byproduct produced by bacteria as they consume sugars.
  • Lactic acid prevents decay not only in foods, but in your gut as well.  Lactic acid fermented foods increase bowel blood circulation, promote pancreatic function, help to maintain proper acid/alkaline balance and harmonize stomach acids.
  • Sauerkraut is especially high in vitamin C; turning cabbage into kraut increases its B vitamin content.
To learn more about lactic acid fermentation and sauerkraut, check out the following sites:
Sauerkraut, original probiotic superfood

Now let's get down to business.  The following is my simple sauerkraut-making method.  I'm going to share my cabbage kraut recipe, but you really can ferment a plethora of vegetables; you can combine them, too.  I enjoy adding radishes, onions and carrots to my cabbage.  (In the photo below you may notice sliced radishes with the cabbage.)  The world of fermentation is vast and varied.  Check out the resources I've listed here and use your imagination.

  • Gallon glass jar with lid
  • Large bowl
  • Two to four heads organic cabbage (green and/or red)
  • Sea salt, dill seeds/weed, caraway seeds 
  • Raw whey (from raw grass-fed milk made into kefir or yogurt)
  • Wooden dowel for tamping (I use my tapered dowel-style rolling pin), at least 2 inches in diameter
  • Gallon ziploc bag

  • Chop one head of cabbage, place in bowl and sprinkle with about 1 Tb. sea salt.
  • Let sit for 10-20 minutes as cabbage releases liquid.
  • Scoop/pour cabbage and liquid into glass jar.
  • Sprinkle in some dill and caraway (caraway assists in the fermentation process and both herbs just taste so good in the kraut); about 1 tsp. each.
  • Draining whey from kefir
  • Add 1 Tb. whey.  
  • Pound (not too quickly or firmly...I did once break a jar using too much vigor) the cabbage into the jar with your dowel; you are breaking down the cabbage further and getting it to release more juices.  
  • Repeat process with the rest of your cabbages (I find that four small cabbages fit into the gallon jar...just do as much or as little as you desire).
  • Tamping down cabbage
  • You will need to leave a couple inches of head room at the top of your jar; gasses will be released during the fermentation process and head room helps to avoid leaks from built-up pressure.
  • Submerged cabbage and head room
  • As you are pounding with your tamper, you will begin to feel a "sucking" pressure on the upstroke as the liquids release and begin to fill the jar.  You want the cabbage to be submerged in liquid.
  • If your cabbage is on the dry side, it could be difficult to get it to release enough liquid to cover itself in the jar.  In this case, just add enough pure water so all the cabbage is covered.
  • When your jar is full (but with three to four inches of headroom), put the ziploc bag inside the jar on top of the cabbage/liquid.  Fill the bag slowly with water until the bag is weighting down the cabbage.  Close bag.  You want to leave just enough room at top of jar to fit the bag inside and put on the jar's lid.  This bag of water is acting as a weight to keep the cabbage submerged below its liquid, and also as an air seal.
  • Insert empty bag...
    ...fill it with water, close it, and seal jar with lid
  • Keeping the cabbage submerged and air out of the jar prevents any molding during the process.
  • Put the jar in a place where it is relatively dark but not cold (room temperature is desired).  You may want to place a kitchen towel under the jar in case it leaks...I check my jar in the first couple days to "burp" it if necessary.
  • Let the cabbage ferment for up to three weeks (time frames vary by recipe/author...I've read anywhere from three days to a month or more).
  • When you are satisfied with the amount of time the kraut has fermented, open the jar, remove the water bag, make sure there is no mold inside the jar (I have never experienced mold but have read that mold or scum can sometimes form on the top of the cabbage/liquid...if this is the case, just scoop it out...the kraut underneath is supposed to be fine).  If the cabbage stayed below the juice level and your water bag acted as an air barrier and the jar lid remained on during the fermenting process, you should not experience mold.
  • Put the lid back on the jar and place the jar in the fridge (this "stops" the fermenting process...or at least significantly slows it).  
  • Keep the kraut refrigerated now that you've stopped fermenting and begun eating.
  • Enjoy!!!

Recommendations from my bookshelf: