A little ode to sauerkraut (and why you should make it yourself)

Sauerkraut is super. And making it at home means zero waste. 


Did you catch this food diary slash interview with Moonjuice founder and actual (not really) space cadet?

You really ought to. Go, I’ll wait.

Now let’s think about how, for most of human history, and still for many humans today, having any food at all was pretty super. Nutritious food, prepared in an accessible way and within financial reach for the masses is worth celebrating.

One of the way humans could store and preserve precious food before refrigeration was through fermentation. Cheese is just fermented milk, bread is fermented wheat, and so on. It’s used everywhere, we just mostly don’t take notice.

More than just a way to preserve food

Fermentation also helps by adding good strains of bacteria back into western digestive tracts. Gut bacteria is being studied to find out more about its affect on mood and weight. One day maybe we’ll be able to map the human microbiome the way we’ve mapped the genome.

Consider that you might not actually be you, but almost a giant SCOBY, or a host. Your intestines hold a weird and wonderful mix of helpful microbes that assist in processing the food we eat. In fact everyone’s microbiome is different. It’s a symbiotic arrangement where ecosystem rules apply – disrupt things too much by destroying habitat and things might get a bit crazy. Case in point, if you ever been prescribed antibiotics, you’ve probably also been told to pair the dose with plain yogurt, which has some of the same strains of bacteria that help keep your downstairs vestibule healthy. Food can indeed be thy medicine.

If you’re interested in this stuff, the book Gut by medical doctor Julia Enders is an entertaining and very down to earth read, replete with funny illustrations by her sister, on the whole digestive system

Why you ought to try making your own sauerkraut

It’s soooo much cheaper that store bought:  Last I checked, store bought sauerkraut will set you back $15 – $18 a litre here in Sydney. By comparison, one head of cabbage costs $4 and made about 3 litres in my last batch, pictured here.

It’s actually easy: It’s only two to three ingredients: cabbage, unrefined salt and optional whole spices (I like coriander or fennel). It uses a low tech method – shred the cabbage, sprinkle salt on top, pound until juicy, pack in a jar, leave on the bench and wait 2 – 3 weeks. Takes a bit longer in winter, goes a bit faster in summer.

No new packaging: Whether it’s plastic or glass, we all use way too much, even if it actually does get recycled. Why get a new glass jar when you can reuse what you have?

The no-whey sauerkraut method I use

Sauerkraut recipes are literally everywhere because they are pretty much the same, except that some call for whey and some only use salt. After experimenting with both methods over the years, I definitely prefer the results from with salt only – crispy and brightly flavoured. Whey ferments have tended to go mushy on me.

I started with and still use a method based on fermentation legend Sandor Kratz’s instruction. He recommends about 3 tablespoons unrefined salt for every 5 lbs (about 2.5 kilos) of veg. Here’s a link if you need more detail. Side note, I highly recommend his amazing book, the Art of Fermentation.

The salt acts to encourage the growth of lactic acid bacteria strains – the good guys – that are already present on the cabbage. You’ll know if things are going well if the mixture starts to bubble after a few days. The aroma should be fairly innocuous.

Tips

  • I prefer red cabbage since it’s pretty when added to dishes, and has more vitamin c.
  • A fermenting crock with stones for weight is great, but a basic glass jar with shoulders works too.
  • Remember to keep one of the outer leaves of the cabbage to cover the mix and make it easier to push down and submerge into the liquid. The main rule for fermenting is that whatever is under the liquid line is in a safely acidic environment and stays food safe.
  • A fine whitish mould on top is fine, but colourful blues and reds in moulds are no bueno and a sign that something’s gone wrong.
  • Some recipes say to leave on the bench for a few days, but I allow my batches to go for closer to 3 weeks to let the good bacteria and complex flavours develop. Test as you go to see what you prefer.
  • A kitchen scale is extremely helpful when dealing with brines and weight based measures. I got mine at the op shop.
  • Unrefined salt means sea salt or another non-iodine variety.
  • Once you have the basic recipe, have fun and experiment with different spices or chilis and add ins.

Good sense bubbling to the surface

Sauerkraut is good for you, simple and cheap to make and is a perfect way to add an extra umami kick to food. One giant batch every six months is more than enough for me, and I put it on everything. I add a tablespoon to grain bowls, salads, avocado toast, you name it.

 

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