Updated February 28, 2022
Fermenting vegetables is an excellent way to preserve them, improve their flavor, and increase their health benefits. Fermented foods are digested easier, which makes their nutrients more available to your body. Consuming them regularly helps to maintain the overall health of your digestive system.
In his book, The Art of Fermentation, Sandor Katz, says, “Fermented foods are to varying degrees pre-digested, resulting in improved overall availability of nutrients. In live-culture foods, we ingest bacteria that help digest food and produce a multiplicity of protective compounds as they pass through our intestines. They and their various products enrich the microbial ecology of our intestines, enabling us to get more from our food and discouraging pathogenic bacteria by their presence” (Katz 30).
He goes on to say, “Many people find that their digestion improves by incorporating live-culture foods into their diet. […] It appears that, as a group, foods with live lactic acid bacteria can help improve almost anyone’s digestion, without any safety risk or huge expense. In some cases, these foods might, just might, be able to help improve or even resolve many varied health problems, acute or chronic. That said, invidual responses will vary; and it’s always good to introduce new foods, especially those containing live cultures, gradually and in small doses” (Katz 30).
Sauerkraut is one of the more well known live culture foods. It’s become quite popular because of its delightful tangy flavor and health benefits. Thankfully it is quite easy to make and the ingredients are inexpensive.
Traditional sauerkraut is made with cabbage, but there are many veggies that ferment wonderfully. You might like to experiment with different ones to see what you like best. Some of my other favorites are carrots and beets. Adding herbs and spices will make your creations even more delicious. I’ll be sharing a recipe for my favorite version of a cabbage kraut below.
The only other ingredient you will need to make sauerkraut is salt. There is some debate over which type of salt is best. Some folks say to avoid iodized salt. Katz says, “having had the opportunity to ferment vegetables with every possible salt handed to me by workshop organizers, I have observed that lactic acid bacteria seem tolerant of a wide variety of salts, including iodized table salt, and are not particularly picky,” (Katz 45).
However, Katz prefers to use unrefined sea salt when he can. He says, “Because one of the important nutritional benefits of fermentation is making minerals bioavailable, I have come to the conclusion that it makes sense to ferment with salts containing a broad spectrum of minerals, rather than sodium chloride alone,” (Katz 45).
I have made many of variations of sauerkraut over the years. The one I’m about to share is an addictive combination I keep coming back to. Even my one and half year old loves it!
The addition of herbs and spices boosts the flavor and health benefits of this kraut.
Turmeric is anti-inflammatory and promotes healthy circulation. It is beneficial to liver function and aids in the regulation of hormones. It promotes healthy digestion (Tierra 200). It also has been shown to lower cholesterol (Chevallier 92).
Garlic is a potent tonic herb. Consuming raw garlic regularly helps to boost immunity, reduce cholesterol, and aids in regulating blood pressure (Chevallier 59).
Black pepper has constituents that help improve the body’s ability to absorb the curcumin in turmeric. It is also helpful for stimulating digestion and circulation (Chevallier 250).
To make turmeric-garlic sauerkraut you will need:
- About 7 cups cabbage, or approximately 1 large cabbage — sliced finely or grated
- 2 tablespoons of turmeric powder
- 10 cloves (approximately 1 head) of garlic
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Put cabbage into a large bowl and sprinkle salt over it.
Scrunch the salt and the cabbage together with your hands until the salt is worked through the cabbage. This step helps break down the cell walls of the cabbage so that it will begin to release its juices. Let the bruised cabbage sit for about 5 minutes or so.
Next, taste the cabbage. If it tastes pretty salty, then you’ve added enough salt. If not, add a bit more salt and work it into the cabbage until it is salty to the taste.
Add the garlic, pepper, and turmeric and mix in well until everything is combined.
Pack this mixture tightly into a jar. Press the cabbage down firmly so that it is fully submerged in the salty water (the water will naturally come out of the cabbage during this process, but if there isn’t enough water so that everything is submerged you can add some). You can put a fermentation weight or clean rock on top to ensure that nothing floats to the top.
Keeping everything under the brine will help prevent growth of molds on the surface of the ferment. If the top layer of cabbage dries out or becomes discolored, scrape it off and compost it before enjoying your sauerkraut. You may need to add to add more water if it evaporates (especially in dry climates or a heated home) leaving the cabbage exposed.
Discoloration on the surface of the sauerkraut can be caused by oxidation, mold, or yeast. Any growth or discoloration should be removed. To do so, remove the weight from the top of the ferment and gently scoop under the growth with a stainless steel spoon to remove as much as you can. Sandor Katz states, “As long as the mold is white it is not harmful. If other color molds start to grow, do not eat them. Bright colors often indicate sporulation, the mold’s reproductive stage. To prevent spreading the spores, gently lift the entire mold mass from your ferment” (104).
You should remove any surface growths as soon as you notice them, as the longer a mold grows on the surface, the deeper it will penetrate. Molds can digest lactic acid, which will lower the acidity of the ferment and alter it’s ability to be preserved. They can also digest pectin, which will leave the cabbage mushy. After the mold is removed from your kraut, check the veggies underneath it and compost any that appear to have been affected.
Store your sauerkraut in a cool, dark place. Warmer temperatures will increase the rate of fermentation. There is no set time frame for when it will be “ready.” You will have to decide for yourself when you would like to enjoy it. Try it at 2 weeks and then continue tasting it regularly. You can enjoy your kraut as it continues to ferment. Katz says, “I believe it makes sense to eat fermenting vegetables at intervals throughout their process, as a way of diversifying our bacterial exposure” (Katz 103).
Whenever you feel that your sauerkraut has reached the flavor you desire, move it to the refrigerator to slow fermentation significantly.
For more great information about all things fermented, check out Sandor Katz’s book, The Art of Fermentation.
Chevallier, Andrew. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. 59, 92, 250.
Katz, Sandor. The Art of Fermentation. 30, 45, 96-99, 102-105, 110.
Tierra, Michael. The Way of Herbs. 37, 77, 200-201.