Throughout history fermented foods like sauerkraut found their way into almost every cuisine in the world not only because they store well and taste delicious, but also because they also encourage healthy digestion. In the days before we knew about microorganisms, we knew that the results of eating fermented foods made our stomachs feel good.
Today, we know that these foods encourage the development of healthy digestive flora, which make the nutrients in food more readily available for absorption. Home-fermented foods are often superior to those available in stores because, outside of concerns for shelf life and stability, they’re able to posses more bacterial diversity.
Making your own sauerkraut is a very simple endeavor. Indeed, it’s so simple that you might be tempted to try more ambitious fermentations!
You’ll need: Cabbage (you can use any kind), whey (optional) and sea salt (avoid iodized salt; it can prevent the proper organisms, mostly Lactobacilii species, from developing). You will need a jar with a lid, something with which to smash down the cabbage, a cutting board, and a knife.
Cut up cabbage into the sort of chunks you prefer to eat. Anything from a coarse cut to thin strips will work.
Stuff the cut cabbage into jar and smash down with a blunt tool. The idea is to crush the cabbage down, layer by layer, so that it becomes covered in its own juices.
As you go continue to fill the jar and crush, layer by layer, you will want to add sea salt, and perhaps whey. If you use only salt, you will want to use 1 – 2 tablespoons for the whole jar. If you use whey you can decrease the amount of salt you add. Whey assists the development of the Lactobacili and some say it makes for a better flavor. If you want to avoid consuming too much sodium, using whey decreases the need for salt.
As a sidenote: If you want to use whey, you can make your own by taking high quality yogurt (like good Greek yogurt) and putting it into cheese cloth suspended in a jar. Leave at room temperature overnight and the whey will separate from the curd. Once you extract the whey from yogurt, you’re left with what is essentially cream cheese.
Leave a little head space—don’t fill cabbage all the way to the top of the jar. The result doesn’t have to be covered totally in liquid, but it should look very wet when you are done.
Put a lid on loosely and store in a cool, dry place for a few days. Don’t screw the lid on too tightly—the bacteria will emit carbon dioxide and you will want that to escape from the jar so it doesn’t explode. The fermentation process will need a few days. The longer you leave the jar at room temperature, the softer the cabbage will be, and the stronger the flavor.
As long as you follow these basic instructions, very little can go wrong. Wash your hands, the jar, and your tools before assembling ingredients (and, to state the obvious, don’t handle rotten foods or manure). The Lactobacilii that colonize the cabbage are very exclusive and little else can compete. Depending on the amount of salt, your sauerkraut can last up to a year. ✜
Jared R. McKinley is the associate publisher of Edible Baja Arizona.