Sauerkraut is one of the most popular fermented dishes, especially in Wisconsin. It’s easy to make and is as rich with vitamins as it is history. It’s been around for 4,000+ years and was the only vegetable that supplemented the rice fed to workers building the Great Wall of China. It was used as an ancient Roman pharmaceutical. The antioxidant and vitamin c levels in cabbage increase exponentially when fermented. It takes cabbage from an already decent amount of vitamin c, 30 mg per cup, to up to 700 mg per cup. That finding had a huge effect on preventing/curing scurvy, a disorder that caused over 2 million deaths.
The health benefits from eating sauerkraut (and fermented foods in general) are seemingly endless and so crucial with the obsession of antibacterial everything. Some of the advantages of fermentation:
Nutrients are broken down, allowing us to digest them easier. Not only that but the nutrient levels of the food increases due to the microbes living on it. Eating fermented foods also lowers your intestinal pH, further assisting your body absorb vitamins and minerals.
Breaks down plaque, which is the main suspect as to what causes Alzheimer’s disease
The term probiotic translates from the Greek word meaning “for life”. 2 oz of sauerkraut contains more probiotics than 100 capsules of over the counter probiotic supplements. 85% of your immune system is in your gut and having balanced gut flora is an important part of staying healthy and fending off infections and disease. Good bacteria acts as a barrier, killing off any potentially dangerous organisms you come across. Every bite of sauerkraut flushes out pathogens and restores the beneficial bacteria.
Key in today’s society, fermented foods are one of the strongest detoxifiers. They are rich with lactic acid which degrades pesticides. Without fermentation, we’d never have bubble tea (what a sad world that would be). Cassava roots, from which tapioca pearls are made, contain levels of cyanide high enough to kill you if eaten raw. After they’re fermented for 3 days, the cyanide levels drop by 95-100% and now are safe to consume.
Sauerkraut is high in compounds which show anti-cancer properties in lab tests.
There isn’t a single part of your body that isn’t benefited by eating sauerkraut. Your joints are more lubricated, your muscles heal quicker, you experience less heartburn/indigestion. The mind and the gut are more connected than you might think and the tens of trillions of microorganisms in our gut have an effect on our brain chemistry, hormones and nervous system. It’s thought that unbalanced gut flora can cause anxiety and depression (interesting read on this subject by a John’s Hopkins expert here).
It’s amazing, isn’t it? How such a simple thing (the combination of salt, cabbage and time) effects such wildly complex processes. From rot and decay we are given the ability to endure.
It also happens to be really, really tasty. My favorite way to eat it is piled on top of hashbrowns and covered in cashew sour cream (which, like its dairy counterpart, is also fermented. post on this coming soon ^_^)
My boyfriend is the kraut king. He eats cups of it everyday with so much excitement. He has an array of jars littered around the kitchen with unique combinations (Leeks, beets and fennel. Red cabbage, shallots and star anise. Some have ~15 ingredients) and little logs to record the date, ingredients and weight (to determine the amount of salt to use, generally 1.5% of the total weight).
Ways you shouldn’t be like my boyfriend when making kraut:
don’t let it sit out endlessly. once it’s fermented to your liking, put it in the fridge.
don’t push too hard against the glass jar when packing the kraut down. if you don’t follow that advice, follow this at least: after the jar breaks, don’t just scoop up the kraut, put it in a new jar and subsequently eat glass..”oh that’s what those hard bits were”
Ways you should be like my boyfriend when making kraut:
trust your instincts (people have been doing this for millennia), be cautious but not scared.
keep a good ledger so you know what to adjust next time.
eat a lot of it.
1 small head of cabbage (under 2 pounds)
2 tsp salt
2 tsp caraway seeds (optional. use any spices you’d like or none at all)
Slice the bottom off the cabbage and then quarter it. Cut the cabbage into thin ribbons. In a large bowl, massage together the cabbage and the salt. Squeeze and rub together, the salt pulls the water out of the cabbage thus making a brine. Once it’s adequately sweated, put it into a clean jar. Find a jar/bottle that will fit into the neck of your fermentation vessel. This will be used as a weight. See in my pictures how there is a pint sized mason jar filled with water in the kraut? I use this to push down the kraut as it ferments to make sure it is always covered in brine. If it isn’t always covered, the cabbage above the brine may grow mold (the brine is too salty of an environment for it). After the first 24 hours, if there isn’t enough brine to completely cover the cabbage, dissolve 1 tsp of salt in 1 cup of water and pour over until covered.
Let sit in a dark, warm place (like on top of your fridge) for at least 5 days.