I recently published a post on gut health and one of the foods recommended to improve your gut microbiome happens to be fermented cabbage. Fermented foods in general are very beneficial for your gut flora and can reduce inflammation along with many other health benefits.
Being of an Eastern European decent (Ukraine specifically) I am very familiar with this dish, which has a salty/sour flavor. For centuries it has been popular in many European countries, including Germany, Russia, Bulgaria, Romania, to name a few. It is popular for it’s health benefits as well as it’s taste. If you like pickles you will like the taste of sauerkraut.
I used to buy sauerkraut in stores until I started reading the ingredients and realized that it includes many unnecessary preservatives that I try to avoid in my foods. So I picked up the phone and called my grandma in Ukraine to get an authentic recipe. To my surprise (and delight) it was super easy to make and requires only 2 ingredients (and a little patience, as it takes about a week to ferment).
By making sauerkraut yourself you avoid any unnecessary food additives, save money and, depending on how long you fermented, produce your desired flavor.
I would also like to mention a few health benefits that come from including sauerkraut in your diet. While cabbage is naturally high in vitamins K, B, and C, the fermentation process increases the concentration of these nutrients. Sauerkraut is also high in calcium, magnesium, fiber, iron, potassium and copper. Yet low in calories. (1)
If unpasteurized and uncooked, sauerkraut also contains live lactobacilli and beneficial microbes and is rich in enzymes. The fiber and supply of probiotics improve digestion and promote the growth of healthy bowel flora, protecting against many diseases of the digestive tract. (2)(3)
Most store-bought sauerkraut is made using heat to increase the shelf life of their products, which can decrease the good, live bacteria & probiotics that are created when using the original “homemade” fermentation method. Raw sauerkraut (like in the recipe below) is fermented for a few days or even weeks at room temperature in clean jars using it’s own juices and a bit of salt. Once fermentation reaches desired taste it cab be refrigerated to preserve beneficial bacteria and the vitamins. The lactic acid creates beneficial intestinal flora, balances stomach pH both directions, and helps break down proteins.
Interesting fact: During the American Civil War, the physician John Jay Terrel (1829–1922) was able to successfully reduce the death rate from disease among prisoners of war; he attributed this to the practice of feeding his patients raw sauerkraut.(4)
Sauerkraut is also high in antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, both associated with preserving eye health.(5)
- 1 large head of organic cabbage (about 3 pounds)
- 1 ½ tablespoons sea salt
- Peel off a few top leaves, save two crisp ones and discard wilted ones. Thinly slice the remaining cabbage.
- In a large bowl, mix cabbage with sea salt. Massage the cabbage for about 7 minutes or until it releases juices. (Make sure you wash your hand before doing that to avoid contamination).
- Pack massaged cabbage into a clean Mason jar, pressing to make sure it is submerged in it's own liquid. Put the reserved leaves on top to hold it down. Close tightly with a lid and put in a shady place away from direct sunlight. Keep at room temperature.
- In about 3 days check on it. If you see bubbles, foam and mold it means that fermentation is working. You can open the lid to release gas buildup and remove any mold.
- You can taste it after 3 days and if you are satisfied with flavor you can remove the top leaves, put it in the fridge and start enjoying it. If not, check it once a week until you are satisfied.
- Once your sauerkraut is in the fridge it can keep for several months. Mine is usually devoured within a week or so
(1) Lipski, Elizabeth (2013). Digestion Connection: The Simple, Natural Plan to Combat Diabetes, Heart Disease, Osteoporosis, Arthritis, Acid Reflux–And More!. Rodale.
(4) Food to Die for: A Book of Funeral Food, Tips and Tales from the Old City Cemetery, Lynchburg, Virginia. Ward, Jessica B. 2004.