The German, Dutch and as well as the English sailors know what it is. But do you know what this word means? Sauerkraut is actually a fermented cabbage that can be eaten alone or as a side dish. It is not just delicious but also nutritious. Most people buy sauerkraut in the grocery but making it at home is the best option if you want to get the full health benefits of it. How to make sauerkraut at home?
Sauerkraut means “sour weed”. Its primary ingredient is cabbage which is fermented by lactic acid bacteria. The cabbage has bacteria on its leaves. These bacteria ferment the sugar in the cabbage leaves and produce lactic acid. The lactic acid gives the distinct sour taste of the sauerkraut. This should not be confused with coleslaw which got its sour taste from vinegar.
Sailors are very familiar with sauerkraut because it does not spoil easily and at the same time a good source of vitamin C which is very hard to find on the sea. The sauerkraut has salt in it which prevents the growth of bad microorganisms and at the same time it is fermented thus ideal for long voyages. Fruits and other vegetables high in vitamin C could not last long in the ship because they spoil easily. Vitamin C is important in keeping the immune system strong and so as to prevent scurvy which is very common for sailors. In line with this, sauerkraut was created to meet the high demand of foods rich in vitamin C for sailors. Aside from vitamin C, cabbage is also a good source of manganese, vitamin B6 and folate.
Fermented cabbage has been found to exist for quite a long time already. There are proofs or writings that this kind of food existed in the first century A.D. However, modern methods of making fermented cabbage were made between 16th and 18th centuries. Sauerkraut actually came to Europe via Asia and from Europe, it spread to the United States.
Sauerkraut is like making kimchi, a Korean food. The difference is that in kimchi, rice wine is being used to ferment the vegetable while in sauerkraut, salt is being used for lacto fermentation. The word “lacto” does not refer to milk but to the bacteria “lactobacilli”. These lactobacilli are very good for the intestine. These bacteria aid in proper digestion and prevent gastro intestinal disturbances such as irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, diarrhea and the like. It aids in digestion by helping in breaking down the foods taken and by providing specific digestive enzymes and bacteria in the colon. The fermentation of the cabbage helps produce isothiocyanates which is a compound that prevents cancer.
Making sauerkraut is very easy. It does not need a master chef’s skill. To start, be sure to have the following ingredients and materials:
• Cabbage (as much as you want)
• Sea salt ( 1 tablespoon per 2 pounds of cabbage)
• Chopping board
• Very large bowl
• Glass jar with cover
• Coffee filter
• Rubber band
First, remove the outer covering of the cabbage. Be sure that the leaves are smooth and without black spots. Cut the cabbage thinly. You can cut it with a knife or place it on the food processor for a more diced and fluffy effect. do not worry if you think that you are producing a lot of cabbage because it will shrink when the salt is added on the leaves.
Second, put all the sliced cabbage on a big bowl and sprinkle salt all over it. Place a table spoon of salt for every two pounds of cabbage. The salt helps draw moisture out of the leaves through the process of osmosis and the liquid produced will keep mad bacteria away from the cabbage. You can add about two tablespoon of salt if you think that the salt is not enough to draw out the water from the leaves.
Third, give the cabbage a good massage. You can use a potato masher or simply your hands. This breaks the cell wall and helps the salt draw out water from the cells. As you keep on massaging the leaves, you will observe that it will turn from crisp to limp and the volume of the leaves will decrease. Also, you will observe water pooling in the bowl.
Fourth, place the cabbage on a clean jar. Place a handful of leaves on the jar. Position it at the bottom carefully so that the solid materials will settle and the liquid will float on top. After placing all the cabbage, place a wide cabbage leaves on top of the shredded or cut cabbage leaves. This acts as a hat or a barrier that will prevent the shredded cabbage to go up and mix with the liquid portion. Place a small jar inside so to push the barrier leaves below and prevent it from floating.
Last step is to cover the jar with a breathable cover such as a coffee filter and secure it with a rubber band. This allows the air to go into the solution, which is a significant factor in the fermentation process, while at the same time prevents the dusts or dirt in the air to go inside the sauerkraut. Place the jar in a cool environment and allow it to ferment. Check the jar every day and make sure that the cabbage leaves are always at the bottom of the jar. You can push it down if in case it goes up. The sauerkraut will be ready in 5 days or 5 weeks time. It can lasts for months if handled and stored properly.