Years ago at Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco I got seriously addicted to this artisanal sauerkraut they carried by a company called Cultured. I jokingly referred to it as crack as it made it's way on top of my toast, tossed into my salads and stirred into my stews. When I introduced my friends to this amazing sauerkraut they would also promptly get addicted. I then moved to Brooklyn and sadly found that this sauerkraut was unavailable on the East Coast. Soon after, I ended up reading Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix-Katz which had a recipe for sauerkraut. I figured I'd give it a go and I was rewarded by deliciously complex kraut that was laughably easy to make and equally affordable. How did it take me this long to make homemade sauerkraut and eat it regularly? And why isn't artisanal sauerkraut popular? Is it because no one knows how truly amazing it is?
A Note On ProbioticsSince it was so affordable to make this sauerkraut I began to eat it every day and that's when I experienced one of its most powerful nutritional benefits. I've always had digestion problems and after seeing numerous doctors that could not provide a solution, I finally discovered that daily use of probiotics resolved 90% of my digestive woes. Probiotics consist of friendly intestinal flora such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus casei, etc. These little guys reside in your lower intestine and help you break down food, access more nutrients in your food and inhibit bad bacteria from gaining a foothold. Your lower intestinal tract already has beneficial flora but taking probiotics enhances the party with more of them so their benefits are increased. Beneficial intestinal flora is poorly understood as of this writing but a theory is that we have less of them than we used to due to modern diets and there may be health benefits associated with increasing their numbers via probiotic supplements. Did you know that the majority of cells in our bodies consist of these intestinal flora? Isn't it ironic that we understand so little about the majority of cells in our bodies?
Nutritional Benefits of SauerkrautWhy am I telling you about probiotics? Because sauerkraut is chock full of them! Since making homemade sauerkraut became so much more affordable than buying it, I began to eat it every day. It was then that I noticed that sauerkraut gave me the same digestive benefits as taking probiotic supplements and I was able to stop taking the supplements.
If that wasn't the only benefit of eating sauerkraut, there's more. Since sauerkraut is raw, there may be more nutrient density in it than if you were to eat an equivalent amount of the same cooked vegetables. Fermenting vegetables is a great way to increase the taste-factor without destroying certain nutrients and phytochemicals as you would in cooking. Since the vegetables are already broken down without the use of heat and they're crawling with friendly flora, the nutrients also become more bioavailable and are more easily absorbed. Eating kraut every day is a great way to sneak in another daily serving of vegetables as well. Did you know that Captain Cook sailed the seas with barrels of sauerkraut because it was rich in vitamin C that was essential to ward off scurvy? Back then they didn't know why. Vitamin C, and fermentation for that matter, hadn't even been discovered yet so they just knew that eating soured vegetables prevented scurvy.
What is Sauerkraut?Sauerkraut is made by taking shredded vegetables, placing them in salt water and allowing specific airborne bacteria to populate it and ferment it. The salt does three things:
Salt acts as a mild preservative, making it so that only our preferred bacteria can gain a foothold, not harmful bacteria. This is the same reason why meats are salted before curing.
Salt dehydrates the vegetables, allowing the bacteria to gain access to them more easily.
Salt enhances the flavor of the sauerkraut.
During fermentation, the bacteria eat the vegetables and secrete acids which gives sauerkraut it's acidic flavor. You can control your sauerkraut's flavor and crispness according to how much you allow it to ferment. Shorter fermentations will make for crispier, less acidic kraut. Longer fermentations will result in kraut that's softer in texture, more acidic and complex. After a couple batches you'll find what you prefer; I prefer mine on the acidic side.
This sauerkraut is best made using 3 different types of the most random vegetables you can find. Different vegetables create different flavors as they ferment so using a few different types really enhances the flavor depth. For example, recently I made sauerkraut using black radishes, sunchokes and sweet potatoes. For the images accompanying this recipe I used leeks, red cabbage and carrots. If you get really into eating sauerkraut you will find that it's almost worth buying a food processor for and shredding your vegetables with it using the shredder and chopper attachments even if that's the only thing you use it for. Using a food processor is the difference between easy and hassle with sauerkraut. I would absolutely dread finely chopping several pounds of vegetables!
I also found that adding spices to sauerkraut gives it another flavor dimension. Be sure to swap out any of the 2 teaspoons of spices in this recipe with dill, paprika, chili powder, mustard seeds, curry powder, garam masala, thyme, tarragon, rosemary, oregano or any other spice combinatins you choose. Enjoy this sauerkraut on top of toasted bread slathered with almond butter, in salads, stir frys, in sandwiches or as a side to almost any dish.
Learn how to make kimchi
Sauerkraut Recipe3 ½ pounds (1.6 kg or about 15 cups shredded) vegetables of your choice
2 Tablespoons (30 g) salt
2 teaspoons (8 g) garlic powder or 4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons (4 g) cumin seeds
2 teaspoons (2 g) dried basil
2 teaspoons (4 g) crushed red pepper
2 teaspoons (8 g) cayenne powder (if you want the kraut somewhat spicy)
4 cups (946 ml) water
1) Shred your vegetablesShred three sets of three vegetables of your choice in a food processor using the disc chopping attachment. As you're shredding batches of the vegetables, transfer them to a very large mixing bowl. If you don't have a one, use the largest salad bowl you can find.
2) Add the salt, spices and mixAdd the salt and spices to the vegetables, followed by the water. Toss the mixture thoroughly like a salad until everything is well incorporated.
3) Transfer the vegetables to a clean bucket or crock and prepare a suitable weightWash a two gallon bucket, or similar container, and transfer the vegetables into it. It's important that all of the things that are going to be in contact with your sauerkraut, including your hands, is washed and as clean as possible. This is to ensure that foreign bacteria doesn't gain a foothold in your vegetables before our preferred airborne bacteria does. Find a jar that is slightly smaller than the opening of your two gallon bucket, wash the part of it that's going to be in contact with the vegetables and place it over the vegetables. Press it down slightly; the vegetables should be submerged under a few millimeters of water to ensure they aren't exposed to the air and hence, undesirable bacteria. Cover the top of the jar and bucket with a cheese cloth secured by a rubber band to keep flies out. Place the bucket in a cool, dark place and wait.
4) Ferment the sauerkraut to perfectionAfter roughly 5 days the vegetables will have excreted a bit of water during fermentation. It's a good idea to remove this water with a turkey baster so your sauerkraut doesn't have excess water in it when it's done. This krautwater is extremely flavorful and full of nutrients. I like to save it in an airtight container in my refrigerator and pour it on salads or use it as a de-glasing liquid in stir frys.
Check your sauerkraut every three to five days and suck off any excess water if necessary with the turkey baster. Occasionally you may see mildew on the surface of the water or sauerkraut that is not covered by any water. This is normal and should be no cause for alarm but if you do see it, discard the excess water instead of saving it for later use and discard any sauerkraut that's touching the mildew. Your sauerkraut should take 1 to 3 weeks from the time it's placed into the bucket to the time it's done. This depends on several factors including temperature and desired final acidity. Feel free to taste your sauerkraut as it's fermenting to see how it's coming along and to know when it's done.
When your sauerkraut has fermented to your preferred level, remove any that has mildew on it and discard. Transfer the sauerkraut it to a clean airtight container and store it in your refrigerator. Why does this recipe make such a large quantity? Because once sauerkraut is kept in an airtight container in your refrigerator it will last for a long time; the salt and acidic environment will keep it edible for at least six months. Perfect for your next sailing voyage. Makes about 5 pounds (2.25 kg) sauerkraut.