Fermenting foods is one of the oldest ways known to preserve foods. And one of the first to be fermented was cabbage. Sauerkraut, or “sour cabbage” in German, “choucroute” in French.
Genghis Khan and Tartars are said to have brought it to Europe when they carried it in their saddlebags. It has lasted though the centuries for because of its amazing health benefits, and that it was easy to transport.
The famous British explorer, Captain James Cook carried sauerkraut with him on his many breathtaking voyages. He served it to his crew to sustain their health, as they were confined to eating hardtack, briny lima beans, and salted pork on their long stays away form land.
Captain Cook is noted for his mapping expedition of the St. Lawrence River, and his three incredible Pacific Ocean voyages mapping the then unknown worlds of Australia, and New Zealand. It is not known if the Hawaiians who subsequently ate him also enjoyed his sauerkraut with their roasted meal.
Sauerkraut is Abundant in Folate, Iron, Potassium
From Roman times to the present, the process of fermenting cabbage has been remarkably the same. The pickling of cabbage, through a “lacto-fermentation” process (not unlike for pickles), is finely cut cabbage leaves, layered with salt, and left to ferment, usually in ceramic jars.
My father, an immigrant from Germany, was so fond of it, the first planting at our home farm each Spring was of cabbage. Then all through the Fall and Winter, my dad would dip a big spoon into the huge earthen pot he fermented it in, and take a mouthful upon arriving home from work every day. He lived to be 90. And it was sauerkraut (or the stout German beer he drank) that he said kept him out of the hospital and doctor’s office his entire life.
Sauerkraut is often eaten with meats, or in Russia it is combined with sautéed onions and potatoes, and made into soup as well.
This very old way of eating contained its own version of ancient wisdom, as we now know these particular food combinations with Sauerkraut are the best way to digest these foods, and to get the best out of them, while minimizing their less beneficial properties.
Sauerkraut benefits come with abundance of many vitamins and micronutrients. In fact, it is very high in Vitamin C, high in calcium and magnesium (two important electrolytes needed for energy), and a great dietary source of fiber, folate, iron, potassium, copper and manganese. It is high in the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, both good for the eyes. Some recent research seems to indicate that it is anti-carcinogenic.
Fermented Cabbage Benefits
Rich in enzymes, and probiotics, there are few foods better for restoring the body, and keeping it healthy. For weight losers, it is also low in calories.
Because of how it is fermented, some versions are high in sodium, which can lead to water retention and may elevate blood pressure, if too much is eaten.
There are excellent commercial versions of Sauerkraut available. Or you can make it yourself. It’s remarkably easy to do, and not much to go wrong. Take a look here:
I snack on Sauerkraut (a heaping tablespoon full or two), add it to a meal, or put in on a wheat cracker, just like my Father did his entire, health-filled, “no-doctor-visits,” 90 year life.
I am not sure I will live that long. But I am sure that Sauerkraut helps me, with its live active probiotics, to keep my weight off. I forgot to eat it when I was losing weight, but these years since I have worked to keep my excess weight from reappearing, it is part of my regular weight maintenance arsenal.
Fermented Cabbage Recipe
- 1 medium head green cabbage (about 3 pounds)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 tablespoons caraway seeds
- Clean everything: When fermenting anything, it's best to give the good, beneficial bacteria every chance of succeeding by starting off with as clean an environment as possible. Make sure your mason jars are washed and rinsed of all soap residue. You'll be using your hands to massage the salt into the cabbage, so give those a good wash, too.
- Slice cabbage wedges crosswise into very thin ribbons.
- Combine the cabbage and salt: Transfer the cabbage to a big mixing bowl and sprinkle the salt over top. Begin working the salt into the cabbage by massaging and squeezing the cabbage with your hands. At first it might not seem like enough salt, but gradually the cabbage will become watery and limp — more like coleslaw than raw cabbage. This will take 5 to 10 minutes. If you'd like to flavor your sauerkraut with caraway seeds, mix them in now.
- Pack the cabbage into the jar: Grab handfuls of the cabbage and pack them into the canning jar. If you have a canning funnel, this will make the job easier. Every so often, tamp down the cabbage in the jar with your fist. Pour any liquid released by the cabbage while you were massaging it into the jar.
- Place one of the larger outer leaves of the cabbage over the surface of the sliced cabbage. This will help keep the cabbage submerged in its liquid.
- Weigh the cabbage down: Once all the cabbage is packed into the mason jar, slip the smaller jelly jar into the mouth of the jar and weigh it down with clean stones or marbles. This will help keep the cabbage weighed down, and eventually, submerged beneath its liquid.
- Cover the jar: Cover the mouth of the mason jar with a cloth and secure it with a rubber band or twine. This allows air to flow in and out of the jar, but prevents dust or insects from getting into the jar.
- Add extra liquid, if needed: If after 24 hours, the liquid has not risen above the cabbage, dissolve 1 teaspoon of salt in 1 cup of water and add enough to submerge the cabbage.
- Ferment the cabbage for 3 to 10 days: As it's fermenting, keep the sauerkraut away from direct sunlight and at a cool room temperature — ideally 65°F to 75°F. Check it daily and press it down if the cabbage is floating above the liquid.
- Store sauerkraut for several months: This sauerkraut is a fermented product so it will keep for at least two months and often longer if kept refrigerated. As long as it still tastes and smells good to eat, it will be. If you like, you can transfer the sauerkraut to a smaller container for longer storage.
Red cabbage, Napa cabbage, and other cabbages all make great sauerkraut. Make individual batches or mix them up for a multi-colored sauerkraut!
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This content has been contributed by Boyd Jentzsch.