Sauerkraut is one of my favourite ways to eat cabbage – not the bought bottled or canned sauerkraut that’s been pasturised and lost it’s living probiotics, but the homemade kind.
Sauerkraut uses a natural lactic fermentation process that not only helps store cabbage for longer, it enhances it’s nutrient value including vitamin C and K, aids the assimilation of B vitamins, and makes cabbage easier to digest by breaking down complex proteins. The cabbage leaves naturally contain all the required yeasts and bacteria for lactic fermentation. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut and Kimchee are probiotic living cultures teeming with more lactobacillus bacteria than yoghurt, which increases healthy flora populations in the digestive tract.
I love the traditional sauerkraut made in Bavaria with caraway and mustard seeds and juniper berries, which not only enhance the flavour but bring their own unique health and digestive properties into this delicious nutritious food.
How to make traditional German Sauerkraut
- 8-10 cups finely shredded cabbage, loosely packed (approx 1kg), about 1 medium-sized cabbage
- 8 juniper berries
- 1 tsp. caraway seeds
- 1 tsp. yellow mustard seeds
- 2 tsp. Celtic sea salt (or un-iodized or pickling salt)
- 1 cup filtered water mixed with 1 tsp. salt
Making the Sauerkraut
- Cut off and save one or more (one per jar) of the nicer looking outer leaves and put it to one side. After you’ve made and packed all the sauerkraut in the jar, you’ll fold up this leaf and put it on top to help press down the cabbage to keep it under the brine.
- Slice the cabbage as finely as you can or use a mandoline or a food processor to slice the cabbage as thin as possible. This maximises the surface area which aids fermentation.
- Place the sliced cabbage to a large mixing bowl and sprinkle the salt over it. Massage the salt into the cabbage by grabbing handfuls of the cabbage and squeezing it (like you’d squeeze out a large sponge) then drop it back into the bowl and grab some more and do the same. Repeat this until the cabbage starts to get soft. Be sure to wear gloves if you’re using red cabbage, otherwise it will stain your hands.
- As the cabbage softens you’ll notice liquids accumulating in the bottom of the bowl. These juices help dissolve the salt, which in turn draws more juice out of the cabbage. That is precisely what we want. Don’t drain off the juice, it’s the brine of salt and ‘cabbage juice’ that will ferment the cabbage by activating the lactobacillus bacteria. The volume of cabbage will reduce as you work it and it softens.
- Pack the cabbage into sterilised wide-mouthed jars, and pack down firmly with a wooden spoon or pestle. If the liquid is lower than the top of the cabbage, top up with brine (1 tsp salt dissolved in 1 cup filtered water) to cover the cabbage with liquid. Fold the reserved leaf and put on top to push the shredded cabbage down into the liquid, then cap loosely with a sterilised lid for the initial fermentation period. Do not screw the lid down tight until fermentation is complete
- Place the jar on a tray or in a bowl to collect overflowing juices during fermentation, which can take up to 2-3 weeks at 18-23 deg C (it ferments faster in warmer temperatures). When bubbling stops, remove any white spots from the top, close the lid tightly and store in the fridge or a very cool place.
Sauerkraut is best eaten raw for maximum nutritional benefit. Sometimes I’ll warm it slightly in a double boiler or steam it lightly, but don’t cook or overheat it or you will pasturise it and destroy the probiotic ‘life’ benefits of your living sauerkraut.