I’ve been somewhat MIA lately – not just on the blog, but also at my office, at home and in life. All thanks to some annoyingly unpredictable wads of old post-surgery scar tissue in my abdomen and some (more) mind-boggling hospital short-falls (but I’ll save that for another post, when I’m feeling rant-y).Instead, today, I want to *finally* share my growing fetish with you: fermentation. A topic that also happens to be very fitting with my recent bowel setbacks. I apologize in advance for the length of this post. If you just want to make sauerkraut, scroll down 😉 … but please come back and read this later. It’s important stuff.
Probiotics. Prebiotics. Microbiome. Gut microflora. “Good bacteria”. These terms and topics have become increasingly popular in recent years and for good reason. The latest research suggests links between gut bacteria and numerous human health effects – and not just the more obvious links to digestive health, but also links to neurological disorders like multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, alzheimer’s disease and autism, as well as metabolic disorders like obesity and type 2 diabetes. It is bananas. And *so* exciting. New discoveries are happening all the time!!
I actually did a post on this topic last year (Food for Thought), which includes some great links to articles and videos on microflora-human health relationships, so I won’t yammer on too much here. But, I will add a few additional links to organizations and ongoing projects, which focus on these same correlations:
- National Institutes of Health Human Microbiome Project
- Canadian Microbiome Initiative
- International Human Microbiome Consortium
In conclusion, gut bacteria is important – very important.
Our bodies are composed of more living bacterial cells than human cells — 9 x more bacteria than human cells!! So when these bacteria are compromised, it can have drastic health effects. For years I have taken probiotic supplements, capsules and powders — usually pricey, sometimes with questionable efficacy or added ingredients, and always with wasteful packaging. Occasionally, I still purchase these for emergencies — just say, for example, if I were admitted to hospital with a *mechanical* blockage and the medical staff chose not to read my history or refer me to a gastroenterologist and instead decided to experiment with unjustified intravenous antibiotics… seriously. That is just a small sample of the ineptitude that went down.
Oops, sorry, started drifting towards rant-y Jackie there 😉
BUT — did you know you can make your own probiotics (‘good’ bacteria), that also naturally include prebiotics (indigestible-to-human fibre that feeds the ‘good’ guys) with zero packaging, very little effort and on the cheeeeap?! No joke.
Introducing: sauerkraut!!!And when I say sauerkraut, I’m talking about traditionally fermented cabbage (just 2 ingredients: cabbage and salt, perhaps water or extra veg, if desired) — not the wine/sugar/vinegar-soaked, preservative-containing, heated/pasteurized cabbage found on the shelves of most large supermarkets. There is a difference.
My sauerkraut love began during pregnancy.
My pregnancies were pretty uneventful – in a good way. Growing another human is an amazing feat to be sure. And my body adapted well to pregnancy, to the point where I actually felt better than ever while pregnant. My midwife was always thoroughly impressed (as was I) by my thriving health (though the OBGyn still liked to consider me “high risk”?! wtf?!).
I never for a moment experienced morning sickness, insomnia, skin issues, constipation (ha! I wish!) or back pain. Many new moms may read this and want to punch me in the ovaries, but pregnancy isn’t shitty for everyone. Just like high school, team sports and camping, there are some people who love it and others who loathe it. I was a lover. And I truly miss the days of increased pregnancy hormones and spontaneous kicks to my ribs (sigh).Anyway, while I didn’t have midnight peanut butter and bacon cravings, I did have a preference for salty foods like Greek salad and sauerkraut. Maybe my body was craving the probiotics (naturally present in traditionally fermented foods)? Who knows, but ever since, my family has enjoyed a good fermented cabbage side dish multiple times a week… My kids often request it in their school lunch and sometimes even ask to drink the leftover sauerkraut brine.
After spending quite a bit of money purchasing quality fermented sauerkraut, either from the local farmers’ market or Bubbies Old Fashioned sauerkraut, I finally decided it was time to learn to make my own. So, over a year ago, I attended a fermentation workshop by Radical Homestead in Ottawa. This inspiring duo are not only bee-keepers, but avid fermented foodies… I highly recommend taking their workshop – it has changed my life and helped my guts!There is also a great food series called Cooked, on Netflix, created by Michael Pollan (author of Food Rules). There are only a few episodes and each one features different food histories and traditions, such as fermentation. Check out the ‘Air’ episode to learn more about the benefits and origins of fermentation. In general, soaking, sprouting and fermenting increase digestibility of many things, from certain veggies to beans and grains. Really cool stuff.Anyway, the point is, my sauerkraut cravings started during pregnancy and haven’t stopped since. It’s simple and fun to make – with or without little helpers. And with virtually no limitations on what you can ferment, it can be different every time! You need to be patient and diligent with fermented foods, but it pays off big time – you’ll save loads of money and waste (reusing random jars instead paying and tossing more) and your guts will thank you for the beneficial bacteria and deliciousness.
- 8 cups (approximately 1 medium-sized head) green or purple cabbage, shredded or thinly sliced
- 2 Tbsp quality sea salt (non-iodized)
- Water, if necessary (if you use a fresh cabbage, the salt will usually pull out enough liquid to completely submerge everything, but if your cabbage has been in the back of the fridge a while, you may need to top up with some water) **it's important to use filtered, non-chlorinated water as chlorine can be detrimental to probiotic growth!
- Other add-in veggies, like carrots, onions, garlic (optional -- to your preference)
- Prepare jars (or ceramic fermentation crock, etc.) -- Wash and rinse thoroughly with hot water. It's best to use wide-mouth jars (rather than jars with narrowed openings) -- this just makes it easier to submerge everything evenly and extract any floating bits as needed. Use glass or ceramic fermentation vessels -- avoid plastic or metal for fermenting.
- Remove the outer leaves of your cabbage and set aside -- try to keep them in tact so you can use them to cover your 'kraut.
- Slice or shred cabbage and place into a large bowl. For whatever reason, I like my sauerkraut cabbage sliced long and thin, but I prefer my Kimchi (a spicy Korean version using Nappa cabbage) in larger chunks -- it absolutely doesn't matter, so whatever you like, do it! (maybe just avoid chopping into *really* bits as those tend to be the ones that float to the top easily)
- Add optional veggies or spices here, if desired. I like this recipe best absolutely plain: just cabbage and salt. But sometimes we mix it up for variety.
- Sprinkle sea salt over your cabbage and mix thoroughly. The salt will start to pull liquid from the cabbage and soften it. Really work the salt into the cabbage, either by squeezing with your hands or smashing with a large spoon or potato masher (fun for kids and therapeutic for everyone!)
- Once the cabbage seems fairly soft and you have a decent amount of liquid, start packing the cabbage into your jars. Push it down firmly with a clean spoon or fist until the liquid covers the cabbage. If the liquid doesn't quite cover everything, simply add a small amount of water so that everything is submerged. Try to keep about an inch or more of space at the top of the jar to avoid overflow from additional liquid.
- Tear or fold your outer cabbage leaf to the approximate diameter of your jar and place it over your sauerkraut.
- Place a weight on top of the leaf to hold everything beneath the brine (I like to use a small clean jar, filled with rocks or a heavy pestle or diamonds and gold -- whatever holds it down). If you see any floating bits, scoop them out to eat or add to your compost. Floating bits that are exposed to air may get moldy, so try to keep it all submerged.
- Cover the jar, either with a loose bag, cloth or lid -- not air-tight (depending on the size of your weight, often a lid won't fit; though, if you've got a big fermentation jar, sometimes you can fit a loose lid on top).
- Place your jar(s) in a quiet location, on a plate or dish (to catch possible liquid overflow). Check your 'kraut every few days (taste if you wish!). You may notice bubbles rising to the top. Scoop out any floating bits.
- For a good amount of probiotic benefit, allow to ferment for 3 weeks.You can add more salt or water to adjust to your taste, or leave as is and enjoy!
- Store your 'kraut in the fridge for up to a few months.
- Enjoy as a side dish, salad or burger topping, on top of avocado toast, or straight up with a fork!
No fancy equipment needed – just jars and a knife. No complicated or expensive ingredients – just cabbage and salt.You can add all sorts of vegetables, herbs or spices to the basic sauerkraut recipe. Or (my favourite) – just plain green cabbage. C’est tout!Mixing with hands is best because you can really feel the liquid squeezing out, plus you can feel the texture change as the rigid cabbage cell walls break down and soften.Liquid will be clear or slightly cloudy if using green cabbage, and deeper purple if using purple cabbage. It’s trickier to spot floating bits in the purple liquid. Whatever you choose to use as a weight (jar, plate, etc.), just be sure it’s thoroughly cleaned so you don’t introduce any dodginess into your pristine kraut.In 3 weeks, it’s done! Or you can let it ferment longer if you prefer a stronger taste. The kraut will also continue to ferment when refrigerated (just at a slower rate).Enjoy!!
Do you have a fermentation obsession? What do you like to ferment? Next up…. sourdough bread!