Fermentation - Sauerkraut!

For the last few months I've been really excited by the process of making fermented foods, and how I can introduce what I've been working on into our diets.

For those of you not yet in the know, fermented foods such as kefir milk, sauerkraut, and kombucha tea have a whole gang of great bacteria in them which aid digestion and offer a huge range of other health benefits to boot.

In the past the guts in our family have been in a sorry state. We have three with gluten intolerance, one with a wheat/egg allergy, two with lactose intolerance, and one who has behaviour issues after eating some foods. We've all had numerous doses of antibiotics, and unfortunately the first two years of our wee boy's life were spent dosing him up with various different things in order to keep him functioning.

I'm convinced that we could all benefit from sorting out the bacteria in our guts. There are loads of different (some quite extreme) diets out there addressing the link between the gut and psychological/physiological symptoms but with our already restricted diet I'm not prepared to dive into anything like that without some proper testing first. What we are doing, is having a go at making and eating some fermented probiotic rich foods.

Today I thought I'd write a few words about sauerkraut.

What is it?
Sauerkraut is basically fermented cabbage. It has a pickled, slightly sour taste that goes great with cold meats, sausage, corned beef and cheeses. If you like pickled onions or gherkins you're going to love sauerkraut!

How do you make it?
It's made by grating cabbage finely, rubbing salt into it, then letting it sit under a weight until it bubbles and ferments.

How does cabbage turn into sauerkraut?
The magic happens by a process called lacto-fermentation. The cabbage has a natural amount of beneficial bacteria on its surface and when you submerge it in brine (salty water) the bacteria converts the natural sugars in the cabbage into lactic acid, which naturally preserves the vegetable content.

How long does it take?
You need a minimum of three days to make one jar, longer for a big crock of it.

Why should I eat it?
Sauerkraut contains many of the same probiotics as a bowl full of yoghurt, but without the dairy - which is great for the lactose intolerant amongst us. It's great for your tummy and it's really yummy too!

Can't I just buy it?
Sure! There are some great brands of sauerkraut on the market. I like Eden Organic Sauerkraut because it uses organic cabbage and only contains cabbage, salt and water - just like it should. It has a yummy tangy taste that's not too strong. It's also $7 a jar from my local co-op - which is why I'm interested in making my own.

With home made sauerkraut you can control the flavour by testing pieces and taking bottling it when it suits your taste buds. You can add spices to it, use red cabbage... there are lots and lots of options when you do it yourself.

What do I need to be aware of?
As with all fermented food,  you need to be aware of hygiene. Keep your work surface, hands and jars super clean. 

When your sauerkraut is fermenting you may see some bubbles or white foam come to the top - that's normal. It may even bubble over - so it's important to use a big jar and put a plate underneath to catch any spills.

If you get any mould on the top it may be because you've put your jar in a place that's too hot. You can scrape the top layer off and keep going - the lactic acid is a powerful preservative. If anything looks very dodgy, smells bad, or if there is any fur growing in it use your best judgement. It may be best to start again.

For more info on recipes and the process of making sauerkraut check out:

Wild Fermentation
The Kitchn

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