Chances are, the words "fermented foods" don't exactly make you salivate in anticipation of culinary goodness. But the traditional process of preserving food through fermentation is enjoying something of a comeback as more people get interested in canning and other forms of back-to-the-land food movements, because it's easy, it's better for you, and it actually makes your food healthier.
Many traditional, and even modern, diets include fermented food, whether it be yogurt and cheese (forms of fermented dairy) or sourdough bread (made with fermented yeast). For one, fermenting food keeps it edible for many months. A second reason the method has survived is that our ancestors probably realized that they felt better when they ate fermented foods, which are rich in probiotics, beneficial bacteria that aid in digestion and also ward off viral and bacterial illnesses. A recent study even suggests that certain strains of probiotics ward off colds and fevers in children. The fermentation process also boosts nutrient and protein content while lowering the fat content of some foods, and it improves the body's ability to absorb vitamins and minerals from food.
One of the most common fermented foods in Europe and North America is sauerkraut, a.k.a. fermented cabbage. Simple to make and tasty to eat, sauerkraut is a great way to preserve cabbage in the fall and make a good-for-you food taste even better.
Making sauerkraut (or any fermented vegetable) is easy and requires no special tools or supplies, and homemade sauerkraut is much more flavorful than the sorry pasteurized stuff sold in cans on the supermarket shelf, which may be nothing more than cabbage cooked in vinegar, rather than naturally fermented shredded cabbage. And in a San Francisco Chronicle article published last year, a U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist was quoted as saying that fermenting is a great way for inexperienced canners to start preserving vegetables because the process doesn’t require hot-water baths, thus there's less of a chance that they can contaminate their food with botulism.
All you need to get started are two glass jars, one quart-size wide-mouthed jar and one the right size to fit through the neck of the larger one, and your cabbage of choice. In as little as a week you can be eating the fruits of your labors.
1 head green cabbage, about 1½ pounds
1 Tablespoon sea salt (non-iodized)
Wash your jars well. Cut the cabbage (with or without the core, your choice) into bite-size bits. Long, thin strands are traditional, but any size and shape will do. In a bowl, mix the cut cabbage with the salt—it will start to weep water, which will dissolve the salt and make your brine. Pack the mixture firmly into the quart jar (you want to force out any air and push the cabbage down so the brine will cover the top). Fill the smaller jar with water and push it down inside the bigger jar on top of the cabbage as a weight, to prevent the cabbage from floating.
Drape a towel over the jars to keep out dust and flying insects and set it on the back of your counter. A couple of times a day, push down on the inside jar to further pack the cabbage and raise the level of the brine until it is over the surface of the cabbage. If the brine doesn’t cover the cabbage after about 24 hours, dissolve a teaspoon of salt in 1/3 cup of water and pour it on top of the cabbage to raise the brine level. Then you can stop pushing down the weight jar.
Watch this video how-to on making sauerkraut from Organic Gardening magazine!
Published on: December 15, 2010
Updated on: January 18, 2013