Sauerkraut is finely cut cabbage that has been fermented by various lactic acid bacteria, including Leuconostoc, Lactobacillus, and Pediococcus (Wikipedia).
That’s a pretty fair description of good old sauerkraut.
About the name
Sauerkraut is a German word – sauer “sour” + Kraut “vegetable, cabbage,” and although that name is used for sour cabbage in the (at least) western world, fermented cabbage and other fermented vegetables have been made in many cultures and cuisines. There are old variations such as Chinese cabbage traditionally fermented in rice wine and the Korean kim chi – nappa cabbage and other veggies fermented with garlic and ginger.
What are the benefits of sauerkraut?
Sauerkraut is a perfect addition to your fall, winter and early spring diet; it is rich in vitamins C and B, enzymes, minerals and probiotics (read more about prebiotics and probiotics in 3 Ways to Make Friends with Your Gut Flora).
One of the byproducts of cabbage fermentation process is lactic acid which creates the sour taste and properties.
“The proliferation of lactobacilli in fermented vegetables enhances their digestibility and increases vitamin levels. These beneficial organisms produce numerous helpful enzymes as well as antibiotic and anticarcinogenic substances. Their main by-product, lactic acid, not only keeps vegetables and fruits in a state of perfect preservation but also promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout the intestine.”
– Sally Fallon, Nourishing Traditions
Why make it at home?
Sure, you can buy sauerkraut at supermarkets and health food stores; if you do, choose the unpasteurized kind. Pasteurization process will destroy most of the health promoting bacteria, probiotics and vitamins that are present in a fresh product. Health food stores carry unpasteurized sauerkraut and other lacto-fermented vegetables. It is not cheap though; making your own is much more economical and fun.
Although I love kim chi in all its variations, for all practical purposes of home made sauerkraut, I prefer a simple recipe that my mom (and her mom) have used for years. Are you ready? It’s simple as 1, 2, 3.
Simple sauerkraut recipe
You will need:
- 1 medium cabbage (white, red or nappa)
- 2 tablespoons of fine sea salt
- large bowl for massaging the salt into the cabbage
Shred, chop, slice the cabbage – the shape doesn’t really matter as long as it’s quite fine. This helps the salt penetrate the cabbage to let out the juices. In the large bowl mix the salt with shredded cabbage. Massage the salt into the cabbage for a few minutes – this is the very important part. It is not enough to just sprinkle the salt – you HAVE TO massage it in (thanks again to my friend Emma who reminded me of that). Then press the cabbage into the bowl, cover and let it sit for an hour or two. This should allow enough time for the juice to come out.
Now you can transfer the cabbage into a large mason jar or any large jar, press it in really hard. The cabbage must be covered with its juice. If there is not enough you can add a bit of water but be careful not to dilute the saltiness. you can put a smaller jar filled with water as a weight or a clean rock on top of the cabbage to keep it submerged.
Let it sit in a dark warm place in your kitchen for 3-5 days. Try it. Some people like it nice and crunchy, just slightly fermented. Others like to let it ferment until it’s soft and sour. Try it both ways and see what you like. Once it reached the satisfying taste store it in the fridge. Enjoy with your lunch, dinner etc.
For variations you may add thinly sliced kale leaves or beet greens as I did for this beauty: