Have you have ever tasted sauerkraut before? If you have, you know that the strong sour taste is unlike many other things you can find in the prominent Western diet. A diet full of processed foods, refined sugars, chemicals, dyes, and additives is more common than a diet consisting of fermented foods.
A factory-made ‘nutrition’ approach is relatively new in terms of human history. Now I’m not a dietician, but I imagine that the popular diet of highly processed foods and hydrogenated oils likely will not have positive health benefits for most. In our society today, convenience is a top priority. It’s no accident that health will be put on the back burner.
According to an article from Harvard University,
“Recent research suggests that the type of gut bacteria in the bodies of Americans is changing. One possible reason is that the microbiomes in our bodies are not regularly replenished the way they were in past generations. That’s because of changes in the American diet — particularly the rise in processed foods .”
Certain health issues such as inflammation, leaky gut, and irritable bowel syndrome can all be health consequences of a ‘convenient’ diet. And unfortunately, a lot of people dealing with these issues may never put two and two together.
What if I told you that adding homemade sauerkraut into your daily diet could be beneficial for your health?
If you’re interested in learning about what sauerkraut is, the affects it has on your gut, and how to make your own right at home — you’re in the right place.
What is Sauerkraut?
Sauerkraut is a fancy word for fermented cabbage. It contains a large amount of lactic acid, beneficial probiotics, enzymes; vitamins A, B, C, and K; tyramines and some minerals as well.
Sauerkraut is made by a process called lacto fermentation. Fermentation is one of the oldest methods for food preservation, dating all the way back to the 4th Century, BC.
Fermented foods are produced when microbial growth is controlled, and certain components of the food are changed through an enzymatic process.
In order to make sauerkraut or fermented cabbage, you only need two simple ingredients: A head of cabbage, and some good ole’ salt.
Benefits of Sauerkraut
The benefits of sauerkraut start within your gut. When you consume sauerkraut, you are “seeding” your gut with more beneficial bacteria that are crucial when it comes to breaking down your food. Our digestive tract is made up of trillions of bacteria and little tiny bugs, or microorganisms. You want a diverse population of little bugs in your digestive tract because it lends a helpful hand to your immune system by warding off destructive inflammation inside the body that can lead to other serious health conditions such as diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases and obesity.
When you consume sauerkraut often, our little friends inside may help with:
- Improved digestibility
- Building stronger stomach lining preventing leaky gut
- Possible cancer prevention
- Reducing inflammation
I know, it sounds a little over the top that fermented cabbage can help prevent cancer. So, maybe you’re wondering…
Can Sauerkraut really prevent cancer?
According to a study by H. Szaefer and E. Penas, sauerkraut may prevent DNA damage and the cell mutation rate in cancer patients. Sauerkraut typically has high levels of glucosinolates, ascorbigen, and ascorbic acid; all of which are known for slowing the rate of cancer cell mutations.
However, the level of those components in the sauerkraut very much depend on the conditions during the fermentation.
A study by C. Martinez-Villaluenga states that, “producing cabbage at low-salt concentration improved ascorbigen content, with the highest concentration being observed in low-sodium (0.5% NaCl) sauerkraut produced from cabbage cultivated in winter using natural fermentation. Ascorbic acid content, on the other hand, was found to be higher in cabbage cultivated in summer, with fermentation reducing the content.”
Although there have been studies conducted on this topic, the information and supporting evidence of these claims are rather limited. Nevertheless, I do believe that sauerkraut does have the ability to contribute to positive health benefits overall.
How to make your own sauerkraut at home
When it comes to making your own kraut at home, you really only need 2 ingredients:
You can add additional things in for flavor if you’d like such as garlic, caraway seeds, or carrots.
You will also need the following supplies:
- Large bowl
- Wide mouth 32 ounce (quart) mason jar
- Fermentation lid (Find them on amazon)
- Fermentation weight or a rock with a ziploc bag
- Start by washing your head of cabbage, whatever your preferred method.
- Take off the outer leaves and set aside, we will be using these later.
- Cut out the core of the cabbage and chop it up to your desired size. I like to cut mine up very thin. You may even use a food processor for this step if you would like. I have never tried it with a food processor, but I hear that the texture is better when you give it a little TLC and hand chop it.
- Put chopped cabbage into your large bowl and pour over the salt. Each head of cabbage may need a different amount of salt. The amount of salt you need is determined by weight. (Note: For each pound of cabbage, you will need about 2 teaspoons salt. So for a head of cabbage that is 3 pounds, you will need 2 tablespoons of salt).
- Massage with your hands for a few minutes, or until the cabbage starts to sweat and release its own juice. The cabbage will ferment in its own brine.
- Cover the bowl with a lid or tea towel and let it sit for about 20 minutes. Get your jar ready, make sure it is clean.
- Once the 20 minutes are over, it’s time to put the cabbage in the jar. Push it down with your fist and make sure that all of the cabbage is submerged under the brine. **Get it off of all the sides, use a rubber spatula if needed. If any cabbage is left above the brine, it can cause mold growth.
- Remember those outer leaves you put aside earlier? Fold those up and put them over the shredded cabbage to keep little pieces from floating above the brine.
- If you are using a weight, this is the time to put that on. Using a weight is optional but I highly recommend it. The weight is used to keep the brine volume high, making sure that everything stays really nice and covered.
- Add your fermentation lid.
- Now it’s time to let it sit and ferment! Put it somewhere that is about 65-70 degrees and out of direct sunlight. I recommend leaving it for a minimum of 2 weeks, but you can taste it after about 4-5 days. It will taste salty, but once it’s fermented it will taste sour.
Homemade Sauerkraut for Gut Health
- 32 oz mason jar
- Fermentation weight or rock
- 1 head cabbage
- 2-3 tbsp salt more or less. You need about 2 teaspoons per pound.
- Chop cabbage
- Massage cabbage with salt
- Let soak in its own juices for 20 minutes
- Put in mason jar
- Push everything down
- Add cabbage leaves on top
- Add weight
- Screw on lid finger tight
- Let ferment for 14 days
I do not have enough brine to submerge all the cabbage
If your cabbage did not produce enough brine to cover all the cabbage, you can create a salt+water mixture to finish the job.
Use 1/2 tablespoon of salt and mix with 1 cup non-chlorinated water (preferably spring or filtered water). Put over until all the cabbage is submerged.
My sauerkraut is too salty
If your kraut is still tasting too salty for your liking, you can let it soak in some non-chlorinated cold water, for about 15-20 minutes to draw out some of the salt content.
My sauerkraut smells rotten
There is a definite difference between the smell of rotten sauerkraut and sour sauerkraut. If you think that yours smells rotten or off in any way, it is always best to toss it and try again.
I see mold
If there is green or blue mold present, you can scrape off the top layer and the rest should be fine.
However, if you have mold that is pink, black, or orange, do not eat it and try again.
You might also see some white yeast developing, that is okay. You do not need to be concerned about the yeast presence, it is what is supposed to happen.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much should I eat?
At least 1 tablespoon daily, or 7 g to 10 g. This amount has a very good effect on many people’s gastrointestinal tracts. They report better digestion and less constipation.
How do I eat it?
I like to eat it cold and raw, that way I reap the full benefits. I serve it as a side with many meals, also. Chicken and potatoes, scrambled eggs in the morning, on a sandwich. I love to use it in place of roasted veggies in a meal if I am short on time. You can get creative.
Can I use Iodized salt?
Yes, you can use iodized salt.
Most people will say not to use it because the iodine would inhibit the growth of the culture of beneficial bacteria. However, in a study from 2018, they determined that “the use of iodized salt did not statistically significantly influence microbial populations in the fermentation. Thus, there is no basis for the popular held belief that the use of iodized salt inhibits the growth of the bacteria important for the sauerkraut fermentation.”
What’s the difference between homemade sauerkraut and store bought sauerkraut?
Store bought sauerkraut has been homogenized, meaning that the beneficial bacteria have been killed during processing. They will both taste similar, but you will only be getting the full benefits if you are eating a non-homogenized batch of sauerkraut.
Can I ferment for less than or longer than two weeks?
Yes, you can ferment for less than 2 weeks. I actually recommend longer though, up to 4 weeks. It’s a personal preference. I personally don’t think that it tastes ready until about 14 days. You can test it throughout to see which flavor and texture you prefer.
How do I store it?
Store your sauerkraut in the fridge or a cold cellar to slow down the fermentation and keep it fresh for longer.
Does sauerkraut go bad?
As with most things, yes it can go bad. If it was prepared properly and is stored properly, it will be good for at least 6 months in the fridge. The texture and taste may change as it gets older. Once again, if you ever question it, just toss it.
Can I freeze it?
Yes, you can freeze it. Just be aware that freezing will kill the beneficial bacteria so you will be lacking that when it’s thawed.