In our quest to rid Lynn of her constant stomach problems (dyspepsia, GERD, indigestion, etc) and me of my autoimmune thyroid condition (Hashimotos), I have ended up turning the house into a den of cultures and fermentation. I have burping jars of cabbage, strange mushroom like growths sitting atop jars of cold tea and assorted milk ferments swaddled in towels.
We now have a constant supply of sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir and yoghurt providing us with the highly prized lactic acid bacteria that many pay a fortune for in the form of probiotic pills. The joy of home ferments is that not only are they cheaper but they also contain a much wider variety of “friendly” bacteria than the mass produced pills.
Improving your gut flora has been associated with improvements in many autoimmune disorders and is generally considered to be beneficial for health. Lynn’s stomach problems cleared up remarkably quickly when we started adding ferments to our daily diet (thanks to a tip off from Chris Kresser) and she has successfully ridded herself of the proton pump inhibitors prescribed by the GP.
Sauerkraut is by far my favourite of the many cultured products that you can nurture at home, you’ve probably got everything you need already stashed in a cupboard, it’s easy and it tastes really pretty good. We can easily find room for it on our dinner plates every other day or so.
How do you make Sauerkraut
The basic principles are:
- Sterilise a jar
- Chop cabbage finely
- Mix roughly with crushed salt and bash a bit with a wooden implement
- Cram into jar and ensure the juices cover the cabbage
- Seal jar and wait
Of course the devil is in the detail
- What sort of jar do you need for making sauerkraut?
- How finely do you chop the cabbage?
- What happens if my cabbage doesn’t produce much liquid?
- Do I use a lid on my sauerkraut or do I need an air lock?
- How long does it take to make sauerkraut?
I’ve tried numerous different methods and always found the trickiest challenge was ensuring that my cabbage stayed below the level of the water. Sometimes my chopped and bashed cabbage doesn’t produce enough liquid to ensure that it is fully submerged, you can sort that by topping up with brine (salty water) but even then the cabbage has a tendency to float to the surface where it risks going mouldy.
I’ve tried fermenting sauerkraut in
- flower vases with “cut to size” cabbage leaves weighted down with smaller heavy tumblers
- imported crock pots with ceramic stones that weigh down the fermenting cabbage
- mason jars crammed to the brim and topped with water to the seal
I’ve discarded the crock pot method as the stones didn’t seem up to the job of holding my cabbage under the level of the brine and then they went mouldy. Having gone mouldy is was the devil’s own job to get them clear of the mould. I wasted many batches with seemingly clean stones that turned mouldy within days.
The trick of ridding crockpot stones of mould, is to boil in vinegar for about an hour and then pop into a cooling oven for an age to ensure they are thoroughly dried out.
My current method which I can’t see any reason to change, is the simple mason or kilner jar sauerkraut method. It is so easy and I can conveniently transfer the finished product from shelf to fridge without having to decant the sauerkraut first.
The only adjustment I’ve made recently is to try out an ingenious cabbage stalk technique for submerging the cabbage.
- Cabbage (red or white or go mad and have a combo sauerkraut)
- Salt (about a tablespoon per head of cabbage)
- This is optional. Sit the stalk end on top of your kilner jar and score the cabbage around the rim. Now you can chop the base of the cabbage off, and when you flip this over you'll have a stalk lid that will fit nicely in the top of your jar.
- Finely chopped cabbage retains a nice crunch in the finished product, the grated version is softer. Grating does result in more fluid so it is easier to submerge the cabbage but ultimately its your choice. I mix and match so my white cabbage sauerkraut is finely chopped and the red cabbage is grated.
- Sprinkle the cabbage with crushed salt and roughly manhandle to ensure coverage. You can bash the cabbage with a wooden mallet or rolling pin to bruise the leaves and encourage them to release juices.
- Don't be gentle with this process, cram it in and squeeze the cabbage into every nook and cranny. Fill near to the brim.
- This is optional but I find it quite a neat trick. Push the upturned stalk into your jar. You may need to adjust the amount of cabbage to ensure that the stalk is just proud of the top of the jar. That way, when you screw on the lid it will push the stalk down and ensure the sauerkraut is submerged.
- I leave mine on the dining room table for about two weeks, sometimes longer if i forget about it, and then transfer the jar to the fridge to stop the fermentation process. It will store there for months so you can enjoy at your leisure.
- Bashing and general manhandling encourages the cabbage to release juices but if the cabbage is still not submerged after a night in its jar, simply top up with salty water (brine)
- Some people suggest that you need to fit a brewing style airlock to your kilner jars to avoid catastrophic explosions of the cabbage kind. I think its a bit overkill myself and I've never had a problem. If you are concerned you could unscrew the jars from time to time to release the pressure. While ever your cabbage stays submerged you'll be fine.