For those new to the wonderful world of fermentation and wanting to give it a go, sauerkraut is definitely the place to start! Sauerkraut is essentially fermented cabbage, which sounds pretty bloody horrible I know, but stick with me while I convert you: kraut is high in dietary fiber (it helps you poop!), vitamins A, C, K and certain B vitamins, is a decent source of iron, copper, manganese, magnesium, sodium and calcium. It’s brimming with beneficial bacteria which makes it amazing for gut health, immunity and clear skin. It helps to reduce cholesterol, improve heart health, strengthen bones and protect against some forms of cancer!
Ok so now you’re sold on eating fermented cabbage, let me convince you that you want to start making your own! Firstly, it’s a piece of cake to make and is so cheap! A jar of proper fermented kraut at the health food store will set you back upwards of $13, but you can make your own for the price of a cabbage. Plus if you make your own you get to decide how long you’ll leave it to ferment. A study showed the highest amount of beneficial strains of bacteria present in kraut at 28 days fermentation, so that’s the optimal time to let yours ferment although you can start eating from 10 days and will still benefit from a good number of probiotics. And the best reason I’ve found to make it myself is that my 4 year old can help – which means she’s a lot more likely to eat the finished product, plus we get to spend time together in the kitchen.
I try to eat a few spoonfuls of sauerkraut every day and feed it to my daughters daily as well – it’s wonderful for their gut health and immunity and contributes to their daily veg intake. I have introduced it to both of them from six months old when they started solids and both have loved it. I just offer it on the side of most meals and usually they eat at least a spoonful.
Kraut is traditionally made from salt and cabbage, sealed in a jar and left to ferment for anywhere from a week to a month (depending on how patient you are). But you can get as inventive as you like, adding other veggies, herbs and spices to make your own unique flavours!
To make a basic kraut you will need:
- 1 organic cabbage – any kind will do
- Good quality salt – I use Himalayan
- A large bowl or plastic container for mixing
- A jar to seal your kraut in – a Fido jar is handy but any regular jar with a metal lid will work.
*optional- A fresh bay leaf at the bottom of your jar helps to keep the cabbage crunchy rather than soggy, it’s up to you but I prefer my kraut crunchy (it’s the tannins in the bay leaf that does the trick!)
- Take off the outer leaves of your cabbage and set aside.
- Chop the cabbage finely and place in a large bowl and salt to taste – you want it to be quite salty as the salt activates the fermenting process, around one to two teaspoons of salt per cabbage is a good rule of thumb.
- Now you need to get down and dirty with your cabbage. Using thoroughly washed hands, massage your cabbage mixture, picking up handfuls and squeezing them over and over until the juices start to release from the cabbage. Once your cabbage has had a nice massage, start to stuff it into your jar adding a handful at a time and squashing it down with a wooden spoon to release any trapped air- you really need to pack it in firmly as air bubbles could turn your kraut bad.
- When you reach the top of the jar take one of the leaves from the cabbage that you set aside and roll it up into a little package and place it on top of your kraut mix as a weight to keep the kraut under the liquid, then put on the lid. Your kraut should be completely covered by the juices released from the cabbage.
- Put your jar in a cupboard on top of some paper towel (as it ferments some juice will escape out of the lid) and forget about it for anywhere from 10-28 days (it might be kind of difficult to forget about it because it’ll probably be a bit stinky as the fermentation process starts. I often put it in the garage). Once it’s done remove the rolled up cabbage leaf and store your jar in the fridge.
See, I told you it was easy! Once you’ve mastered a basic kraut, you can really play around with flavours. I love adding a clove of garlic and some ginger for a nice kick. Happy fermenting!
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