27 - 2009

12 Days Of Christmas: Homemade Sauerkraut

This year I’m celebrating the holidays with a “12 Days of Christmas” series on the abundances of our kitchen and garden. Share your experiences, too, and happy holidays!

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me …
2 half-gallons of sauerkraut,
and 1 quart of yogurt, homemade.

(And yes, gentle reader, I know that two half-gallons is one gallon — I’m just keeping with the spirit of the song, OK?)

One of the last gifts of the CSA (community-supported agriculture) share season was several heads of cabbage. Firm, dry and white, it came to us in our last few share boxes. We decided to chop it up and turn it into sauerkraut.

Real sauerkraut is hard to come by. You can buy it in cans, but instructions usually say to rinse and use. Most cookbooks don’t tell you how to make it, although they might have recipes for choucroute alsacienne or other delicious foods.

Beyond deliciousness (which some might say is arguable), there is evidence that sauerkraut, along with other naturally fermented foods, is very, very good for you. Dr. Andrew Weil explains it like this:

The friendly lactobacilli created in the fermenting process by which cabbage is transformed into sauerkraut aid digestion, increase vitamin levels, produce a variety of beneficial enzymes and promote the growth of healthy flora throughout the digestive tract. And in a study published in the October 23, 2002 Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry Finnish researchers reported that fermenting cabbage produces compounds known as isothiocyanates, shown in laboratory studies (in test tubes and animals) to prevent the growth of cancer. … From a nutritional point of view sauerkraut is a great food choice. It is fat free, and one cup amounts to only 44 calories, provides eight grams of fiber and plenty of vitamin C. The downside to sauerkraut is its salt content. To make sauerkraut you shred cabbage, add salt and wait for it to ferment. The salt draws out the cabbage juice, which contains sugar. The juice and sugar ferment forming lactic acid, which creates sauerkraut’s tangy flavor. … Unfortunately, most of today’s commercially available sauerkraut is pasteurized and “dead” – that is, it lacks the beneficial bacterial cultures that make it so good for us. Instead, all you get is a lot of salt. To get the health benefits, look for fresh sauerkraut in the refrigerated sections of natural food stores and in barrels in delicatessens that still make their own. Or, even better, make it yourself – it’s not that difficult.

Weil notes that you should still rinse sauerkraut to eliminate some of the excess sodium.

We made sauerkraut following the instructions given at the wonderful site Wild Fermentation. We have not yet tried ours; it is sitting on the counter in a large glass jar, with a clean double-layered zipper plastic bag full of water on top as an airlock and weight. We have not yet seen a reduction in volume, but we have peeked beneath the bag a couple of times, and it’s starting to smell like sauerkraut in there! We began the process around December 5, and our kitchen is very chilly, so it’s progressing slowly.

If you are interested in learning more about the benefits of fermented and “alive” foods, the Nourished Kitchen blog is a wonderful resource.

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