I hated fermented foods my whole life. So much. Anyone with me?
The only things I would touch were kosher dill pickles because, let’s face it, there’s something crazy addictive about those sour, crunchy cucumbers.
In the last year or so, I’ve begun a bit of a love affair with fermentation, though. Not only did I find two kinds of olives I like (OK, they taste the same, but there are two varieties), I started fermenting at home. And sauerkraut was my first, and still favourite, foray into fermentation.
It’s crazy, because I used to think sauerkraut was one of the more disgusting things out there, probably because I had tried the quick-pickled stuff you get at the hot dog stand. And here’s the thing about most store-bought sauerkraut: it’s missing the piece that makes it so nutritious—the probiotics. Because most sauerkraut you buy at the store is pasteurized, it’s been heated, which kills the gut-healthy bacteria that thrive in fermented foods and nourish your body. It also often contains sugar and unnatural preservatives, which are completely unnecessary in the real thing because fermentation is a form of preservation!
There are definitely some versions you can get in the refrigerated section that are full of that good bacteria, but it’s just so cheap to make it at home. All you need is a cabbage, salt and a jar… and a little patience.
A few things to note:
- Make sure you have washed you cabbage well. In addition, clean all of your tools thoroughly (jar, knife, cutting board, and don’t forget your hands). Otherwise, you might let in some bacteria that won’t ferment so nicely.
- DO NOT FORGET to burp the jar. This just means unscrewing the cap once a day to release the gas buildup. See the last point on the recipe. We don’t want any (stinky) explosions happening on the kitchen counter.
- On that note, don’t make this if you’re about to head out of town for a week. You’ll need to be home once a day for the first week to do the burping. It only takes a few seconds, but, as mentioned, it’s very important.
- If you see some mold appearing on the surface and it’s not a scary colour (you should be able to catch it early if you’re burping the jar every day) scrape it off and ensure everything is submerged.
- You can taste the sauerkraut as often as you like during the fermenting process. It should ferment for at least 4 weeks, but beyond that, it’s up to your taste buds to decide when to refrigerate it.
- It will last in the fridge for a good six months (if you let it.)
- PLEASE DON’T HEAT YOUR SAUERKRAUT. The happy, healthy bacteria will die, it will lose its crunch, and then you will be stuck with a warm limp pile of sour cabbage.
For those of you who have not hopped onboard the probiotics train and are still thinking to yourselves, “Ick, eating bacteria is gross and unsanitary,” hop on. There are so many different types of healthy bacteria all around us; growing up, most of us learned that we should constantly sanitize, but the phobia of germs we’ve developed is actually making most of us sicker! Guess what? Good gut bacteria actually protects us from the bad stuff and heals many of the issues in our guts. (I won’t get into the gut-brain connection just now, but many people are now calling our gut “the second brain” because of its impact on our entire body.) Want more? This article gives you 10 reasons why probiotics could make your life better.
I often have a jar sitting out on the counter so it’s ready to go when I finish my latest batch. It lasts for months in the fridge and is a great topper for pretty much anything: salads, stir fry, sausages, tacos, to name a few. As with anything fermented, don’t heat the sauerkraut, or you’ll kill the probiotics; just sprinkle it on at the end.
- 1 head of cabbage
- 2 ½ Tb salt
- 1 tsp caraway seeds optional
- Wash the cabbage and peel off a couple outer leaves of the cabbage to reserve for later. Cut the cabbage into quarters, slice out the core, and slice it as thin as possible. I use the slicing blade on my food processor on one of the thinner settings (but not the absolute thinnest).*
- Get a really big bowl for the cabbage and toss it with the salt. You may need to add in some of the cabbage and salt halfway through, once it shrinks down, unless you have the biggest bowl ever.
- Let it sit for 10 minutes.
- Use your hands to massage the cabbage and salt together really well. Squeeze it a lot. It will take several minutes. Do it until the cabbage is fairly limp and you’ve released a lot of liquid.
- Mix in the caraway seeds.
- Pack it in to a jar or two; you’ll need about 2 litres’ worth of space. Really pack it in. There should be liquid covering the cabbage, too.
- Take one of the reserved leaves and cover the cabbage with it. This will prevent the shreds from floating to the surface and getting moldy; if they aren’t submerged, they won’t stay preserved. If it seems necessary (depending on how tightly everything is packed), you can put a small jar or a stone on top of the leaf to keep it in place.
- Cover the jar and let it sit on the counter for 4 to 6 weeks. If you have a warmer home, it will ferment closer to the 4 week mark. Less than that, and it may not develop all the different types of healthy bacteria, because different strains develop at different points in the fermentation process. You can open it to smell or taste as often as you like and decide when it’s reached the level of sourness you want.
- IMPORTANT: You will need to “burp” the jar each day for the first week or so, meaning opening the lid to release the bubbles. There is a lot of gas buildup when the fermenting process starts, and the jar could explode otherwise. You will see it bubble each time you open it. Once it stops doing this every day, you can stop burping it.