There are many reasons to incorporate sauerkraut into your diet. However, most store bought 'krauts have been heat treated and many of the benefits are lost. There are exceptions, but they can be expensive and, in some areas, difficult to find. Where we are in Hawaii, costs are about $13 for a pint jar (16 oz) of sauerkraut. I can appreciate the work that went in to making the sauerkraut, but when local cabbage goes on sale here for $0.89 a pound, I am ready to make my own. I love the taste of sauerkraut and, frankly, I have been known to eat up to a pint in one sitting so paying $13 a jar, just won't do when you can make it yourself.
Here are a few:
- An excellent source of Vitamin C. Fermentation increases the bioavailability of vitamins in cabbage making it more nutritious than plain old cabbage.
- Dietary Fiber. Yep, we could all use more of that.
- Probiotics! Lots of live lactobacilli and other gut healthy microbes.
- Possible breast cancer fighter. A study in Poland found higher rates of breast cancer in women who emigrated to the US compared to those that stayed in Poland. Women in Poland tend to eat 30 pounds of sauerkraut annually compared to 10 pounds per year consumed by Polish women in the US. Is there a connection? Maybe.
So, give it a try and see if you like this sour, crunchy food. If you like pickles and other fermented foods, you just might and it's damn good for you.
This morning we put up a fresh batch for fermentation. It looks us less than 30 minutes of actual work time, but allow yourself an hour or so until you get used to the process. Once it is in the crock, it can take anywhere from two to six weeks to ferment. Keep sampling it until you like the flavor. On the mainland, it took anywhere from four to six weeks. In Hawaii, the last batch took about two weeks and we had to keep it in a cooler with a little ice just to keep the temperature of the cabbage in the 70's. The weather's cooler now, so we are hoping just a cool, dark corner will be sufficient this time around. In my old kitchen, I just put it on the counter. You want access to it to check on it daily.
- A large, sharp knife. This is similar to the one I use.
- Cutting board
- 2 gallon ceramic crock. You can also use mason jars, but the crock is easier to use.
- Ceramic weights to fit your crock. If you don't have them, you can use a plate and a weight, like a large can of food
- Coarse salt. I use hawaiian salt, but kosher salt would be fine as well.
- Cloth cover for your crock or a kitchen towel with a fine weave. I got my cover from Kirby and Kraut.
- Patience. Waiting for the kraut to do it's thing can take awhile.
Get yourself some cabbage
We used three medium to large cabbage heads. Try to get organic, if you can. Quarter them and cut out the cores. Be sure to remove the outside layer of leaves and cut out any areas of the cabbage that are less than perfect. Then slice the cabbage quarters a scant 1/4" thick. Try to be as consistent as possible. You aren't a machine, however, so don't sweat this too much. Just try not to have any big pieces that won't ferment at the same rate as the rest of your cabbage.
Here's an example:
I put about 3/4 of a head of sliced cabbage into a very large bowl and add a rounded tablespoon of coarse sea salt.
See that big piece in the middle of the bowl? Yeah, I took it out. Even size matters. When you mix the salt in, feel free to toss any big pieces into your compost bin. Once mixed well, put it into your crock and continue processing the remainder of the cabbage in the same fashion.
Press down on the cabbage firmly with your fists to get as tight a mat of cabbage as possible. Let it sit on your counter for 30 to 60 minutes. You want the cabbage to wilt and start to give off liquid. The goal is to have enough liquid to cover all of the cabbage. If you don't have enough. You can add filtered water to cover. If you have to add a lot of water (like a quart), be sure to add a rounded teaspoon of coarse salt to the water -- you don't want to dilute the amount of salt you have in the cabbage.
Waiting for cabbage to wilt. The crock is under the blue cover. The other bowl in the photo is the compost bowl.
After waiting about an hour, the cabbage will have shrunk quite a bit and start to give off liquid. Press it down further with your fists.
Here's an up close photo of the cabbage
I let it sit another 30 minutes and added about 8 ounces of water, just to make sure everything was covered. I added the weights and now it's ready to be covered and set aside.
I will check it daily and, should anything start to grow on the surface (has only happened once for me), I will scoop it out.
Here's a photo of the finished product (from my last batch). I use the ball jar lids. They work great.
If you don't have a crock, you can mix all of your cabbage and salt in a very large bowl (or make smaller batches) and let it sit there. Press it down until there is liquid along with the cabbage in the bowl. Press as much cabbage as you can fit into a mason jar (pint, quart, half gallon, whatever you have). Leave about two inches of headspace. Add some of the liquid to the top of the jar to submerge the cabbage. You can use a zip lock type bag with some water sealed into it as a weight to keep the cabbage submerged. Cover with a cloth and rubber band. You don't want to seal the jar as gasses form during the fermenting process and your jar could crack. You can buy specialty lids that will allow gasses to escape without anything getting into the jar like these, but try it the old fashioned way first and see if this is something you want to repeat.
Let me know if you try it and how you like it!