Fermentation 101 & Easy Homemade Sauerkraut Recipe
SEPTEMBER 26, 2018 by OLIVIA NEELY, RDN, LD
What is Lactic Acid Fermentation?
The process of lactic acid fermentation transforms salt and complex or simple sugars from whole foods (in this case carbohydrates from cabbage) into ferments. When submerged in a brine, the bacteria begin to convert sugars in the cabbage into lactic acid; this is a natural preservative that inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria and creates helpful bacteria like Lactobacillus, which is the same bacteria found in yogurt and many other cultured products.
While fermented food like yogurt, sauerkraut and kefir are well-known many other lesser-known foods also benefit from the lactic acid fermentation including radish, carrots, Brussel sprouts, garlic, onions, rhubarb, asparagus, green beans, and more!
What Does it Do for My Health?
This process increases food enzymes and vitamins, particularly B vitamins as well as C and A, extends shelf life and promotes alkalinity in the body. Homemade sauerkraut is also extraordinarily rich in beneficial bacteria – friendly microorganisms which help to colonize the gut, train the immune system and manufacture vitamins in the digestive tract.
Naturally fermented foods pack a potent dose of probiotics, those friendly bugs that help restore balance in the digestive tract. Additionally, the enzymatic activity in the raw foods drastically increases during the fermentation process. These active enzymes support pancreatic health and improve digestion. Low-fat, sugar-laden yogurts may claim “a rich source of probiotics” but don’t buy into this marketing hype. These highly-processed options pale in comparison to slowly fermented dairy and vegetables.
Why You Should Make Sauerkraut at Home
Homemade sauerkraut saves money.
You can adjust the flavor of the sauerkraut you make at home to suit your preferences, whether that’s more sour or less, or including additions like garlic, dill, caraway, etc…
What if I Can’t Make it at Home?
Look for naturally fermented sauerkraut and pickles, in the refrigerated section. Grass-fed, full-fat yogurt and kefir also provide nutrient-dense options. My personal favorites include…
- Fermented vegetables from Farmhouse Culture, Bubbie’s, Ozuke, and Rejuvenative Foods are great brands found at health food stores. Make sure the item is found in the refrigerated section and has terms like “live cultures” “raw” and “un-pasteurized” on the jar and NO vinegar.
- Fermented water kefir like Kevita is a good brand. Alternatively, buy grains and make your own! See ‘Resources’ section below for sites.
Fermented coconut yogurt like CoYo Coconut Milk Yogurt and So Delicious Dairy Free also offer probiotic benefit.
The Process… Keep it Simple!
Salt and cabbage. Two ingredients are all you need but it’s important to do them right. So, pick a fresh, organic cabbage and Himalayan Pink Sea Salt.
The right amount of salt encourages the right bacteria – lactic-acid bacteria – to thrive and grow, giving them a competitive advantage over the hostile bacteria.
Too little salt favors harmful bacteria that can not only turn your sauerkraut to mush but may cause mold or yeast to grow.
Too much salt and the lactic-acid bacteria will not multiply. You end up with cabbage pickled in salt, not fermented sauerkraut.
For sauerkraut, the goal is to create a salinity ratio of 1.5% to 2.5% to ensure safe and flavorful fermentation. When calculating salinity by weight, you set a digital scale to grams and first weigh your cabbage mixture, calculate 1.5-2.5% grams of salt for that weight.
Calculating Salt by Weight When Making Sauerkraut
How to calculate how much salt to use by weighing both your cabbage mixture and your salt:
- Set scale to grams.
- Place bowl on scale and note tare or zero out scale.
- Add your shredded cabbage and prepped vegetables and note weight.
- If necessary, subtract tare.
- Multiply actual weight (without tare) of cabbage mixture by 2% (.02), the recommended salinity for sauerkraut. For example, the weight of your shredded cabbage and vegetables is 900 grams. Your equation would look like: 900 x .02 = 18.00. Add 18 grams of salt.
- Sprinkle salt into bowl until scale reads 918 grams.
Putting it all Together: The Recipe for Original Sauerkraut
Sauerkraut is one of the easiest veggie ferment to make, taking about 10 minutes and a little bit of waiting time…
- Cut stem off cabbage, cut in half and then cut into quarters
- De-stem each quarter by slicing off the hard core
- Turn quarters to face flat and slice into thin strips, cut strips in half and then run through one more time to thin out strips
- Layer cabbage and salt together in a large mixing bowl and let it rest about five minutes, or until the cabbage begins to soften and release a little liquid, then squeeze the cabbage with your hands to further break up those thin shreds of vegetable and release more juice. *Can add grated carrots, chopped apples, or other flavor options here. Keep fruit to no more than 10% of mixture.
- Continue to mix cabbage with salt to bring out more juice, about 4-5 more minutes. This brine is what creates the anaerobic environment that makes lacto-fermentation possible.
- Begin to fill cabbage into your vessel, tamper down to get all the air out that you can keeping an inch and a half at the top of the jar
- Put lid on (avoid metal)
- Keep on counter for 2-4 weeks, begin taste testing at 1 week …
- At this point it may be sour enough for you especially if you are new to ferments (the longer it ferments, the more sour and softer it will be)
This is one of the most important aspects of fermentation. Different cultures need different temperatures and when they’re outside of their comfort zone, things start to happen. Too cool, and fermentation halts. Too warm and you can throw off the balance of yeast and bacteria which will produce a mushy product.
Chloramine = chlorine + ammonia and this is in Philly water. You can’t boil it out. Use filtered water only, preferably through a charcoal filter (like Berkey).
Aren’t canned vegetables fermented?
Nope. Quite the opposite. Canning kills nutritional value and any bacteria present while fermentation increases bioavailability of minerals and relies on bacteria to work.
The Art of Fermentation and Wild Fermentation both by Sandor Katz – This is a great all-around resource on fermentation in general, fermentation problem-solving, and fermentation health benefits.
Ferment Your Vegetables – Written by Philly’s own Amanda Feifer
Cultures for Health – This is an online resource for fermentation cultures and equipment, but I also turn to them for a lot of information on fermenting. They just released a free e-book on lacto-fermentation that is available if you sign up for their newsletter.