Home made probiotic-rich food and drink will almost always contain more beneficial bacteria (to keep our gut healthy) than their commercially made counterparts. Sauerkraut is a prime example. Most shop bought kraut has been pasteurised, which is a process that involves heating the food/drink in order to preserve it for longer. Which means, unless you are buying raw, organic kraut (at around £5 for a tiny container), much of the probiotic goodness will have been killed off in production. Learning how to make sauerkraut was one of the first things I did when I started taking my own gut health seriously in 2014.
What is sauerkraut and why is it so good for us?
Although the word sauerkraut is German, meaning sour cabbage, the dish didn’t originate in Germany. True origins are a little tricky to uncover, with some claiming it was brought to Europe by Genghis Khan, and others claiming it came from Asia.
Sauerkraut ferments naturally due to the airborne bacterial culture lactobacilli, which can be found where cabbage leaves are growing. Lactobacilli is responsible for converting sugar to lactic acid and fermentation happens in three phases – known as population dynamics. Phase one is where the cabbage starts producing an acidic environment. In phase two, the acid levels become high enough to ensure other bacteria do not take over. Various bacteria from the lactobacilli family ferment any remaining sugars in phase three.
Once fermented, sauerkraut has a long shelf life, and only needs to be stored in the refrigerator once it’s been opened. Providing the kraut is unpasteurised, it contains a wealth of health benefits. As well as the live beneficial bacteria, which aids digestion, it is a great source of vitamins C and K, calcium, magnesium, dietary fibre, potassium, copper, folate, iron and manganese. Kraut is also an anti-inflammatory food, which will help if you are suffering from inflammation.
What you’ll need to make sauerkraut
I’m a huge fan of farmers markets for buying local, organic veg and it is where I mostly buy my cabbages. Supermarket organic cabbage does also work just fine, but can be more expensive. It also comes wrapped in single use plastic, which I try to avoid as much as I can. A large cabbage should be enough to fill two or three 500ml jars with your home made sauerkraut.
Before starting you will need:
- a large organic cabbage
- good quality salt
- clean jars (you can sterilise them if you wish)
- a very sharp knife
- a large bowl
- tea towel
How to make sauerkraut with just cabbage and salt
- finely slice (shred) your cabbage and place it into your bowl
- sprinkle over a tablespoon of salt per 500g of cabbage
- using your hands, massage the salt into the cabbage, squeezing out as much cabbage juice as you can (the fresher the cabbage, the more juice). This juice is packed full of probiotics
- start packing the cabbage tightly into your jars, pressing it down very firmly and extracting even more juice as you go
- the cabbage should be completely submerged in its own juice inside the jar
- repeat until all jars are full
- if you find you do not have enough natural juice to submerge the cabbage, top it up with a bit of filtered water
- it is imperative that you don’t leave any space for air to get into the jars, otherwise mould will start growing
- put the jar lids on loosely and leave to ferment on your kitchen side for around a week (ensure you have a drip tray underneath the jars)
- check daily to ensure there is still no air getting into the jars, and there is no pressure building up. If you see that there is, press the cabbage back down firmly and top back up with cabbage juice (collected in the drip tray)
- once it’s ready store somewhere cool, move to the fridge once opened
Other krauty ideas
Garlic. Add a few cloves of garlic for a prebiotic boost, crush or slice and add to the cabbage when you’re adding the salt. Prebiotics are compounds found in certain food that encourages the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. Dietary prebiotics are not digestible, they are fibres which pass (undigested) through the upper part of the gastrointestinal tract. Essentially, prebiotics provide food for probiotics. Raw garlic is one of the best prebiotic foods we have available.
Carrots. Although not as potently prebiotic as raw garlic, carrots are still on the prebiotic food list. Grate one per jar, and add to the cabbage when you’re adding the salt.
Apple and cumin. Adding half a grated apple and half a teaspoon of cumin seeds per jar will add immense flavour to your sauerkraut.
Lemon. Slice a lemon, and add a few slices to your jars as you are packing the cabbage in. Lemon-kraut is very refreshing and will add a bit of extra vitamin C to your life.
Courgette/Zuccini. Many people talk about the courgette glut they end up with in autumn, so why not make kraut with it in place of cabbage? Spiralise or grate your courgettes and follow the basic recipe above.