Sauerkraut is a simple dish of fermented cabbage that has some major health benefits.
Sauerkraut has a history of over 2,000 years and was likely the product of trial and error. Back then before fridges were invented fermentation was just one method discovered to keep foods from spoiling.
When cabbage is fermented it is elevated to something very tasty and unique. And when stored in a dark, cool place, it can keep for anywhere between 4 and 18 months.
Because of this, fermented foods have been an integral part of communities across the globe, with every culture having a remarkably similar but individually specialised dish.
For example, there’s spicy ginger and chilli Kimchi in Korea, zingy lime and jalapeno Curtido in El Salvador, Sauer Reuben made from turnip in Poland, aromatically herbed Torshi in Morocco and of course the well-known traditional Sauerkraut in Germany.
Traditionally food has always been important, not just as sustenance, but as healing medicine, and it was observed that fermented foods play an important role in gut health.
However, until relatively recently, it was not known why.
Now we know that fermented foods beneficially impact the bowel flora helping conditions such as IBS, diarrhoea and constipation.
The live healthy bacteria in fermented foods also reduces anti-nutrient compounds that inhibit the absorption of certain vitamins and minerals….
….making foods more nutritious!
Sadly, the tradition of fermented foods in the UK had largely died out.
Fermented sourdough bread used to be a staple but got replaced by bakers’ yeast and in more recent years – the Chorleywood process – which uses a cocktail of chemical enzymes to bake light fluffy bread in around 3 hours.
This means that modern bread in the UK lacks any real health benefit.
But now that the importance of gut bacteria and its vital role in our immune system has become apparent, fermented foods have become fashionable once again.
Restaurants specialising in these simple delicacies (like Little Duck – The Picklery and Pickled Fred) are springing up, and even standard restaurants are catching on by offering starters of beautifully colourful pickled vegetables alongside traditionally sourdough bread. Yum.
However, there’s really no need to go to a fancy restaurant to witness the taste sensation and health benefits of fermented foods.
Fermentation is quick, cheap and easy – though after the initial preparation, you’ll need to wait for the live bacteria to do its work before you can eat it.
Here’s a simple recipe I regularly make. I find it goes well with smoked fish and potato salad. But you could simply slather it on sourdough bread or your favourite hotdog!
- Grate one cabbage into a large bowl. Add 2 teaspoons of salt. Massage together for 10 minutes until the cabbage has reduced in size and the water has been released.
- Now add 1 grated fresh beetroot and / or a couple of carrots for some colour. I also like to pop in a clove of garlic and some fresh ginger if I have some in the fridge. Massage for a few minutes more.
- You’ll need a large sterilized jar to store your Sauerkraut. I use an old mayonnaise jar, that I’ve immersed in boiling water and air dried.
- Put all the cabbage and water into the jar. Press it down firmly making sure the water line is above the cabbage. You can top up with a little water if necessary. Before putting the lid on make sure there’s room for your sauerkraut to grow. The fermentation process makes it expand.
Now sit your jar in a warm place, like the larder cupboard or kitchen worktop, being careful about direct sunlight which will make it too warm. The idea temperature is 18C. Fermentation can take anywhere between 1 to 14 days. Personally, the sour taste is good after about a week -10 days, but you may like it to ferment longer.
You’ll have to take the lid off once a day to release the air pressure that builds up. If it starts expanding above the water line and turns a little brown don’t worry, just push it back down again.
You’ll be able to gauge that the fermentation is happening by the way it begins to smell. When taste testing remember not to double dip your folk or you’ll contaminate the amazing cultures.
Once you’re reached the desired fermentation, you can store it in the fridge for up to three months. ENJOY!