Probiotic Fun: Simple Sauerkraut

Making Your Own Fermented Foods: It’s like Gardening

According to Dr. Weston Price in his book Nutrition and Physical Degradation, our health is enhanced when we include fermented foods in our diet. He states that all healthy traditional cultures ate foods such as poi, yogurt, sauerkraut and tsukemono, kim chee, kefir, kombucha, salsas, chutneys, natto, miso and fermented fish. The bacteria and yeasts in these foods helped maintain a healthy immune system and kept disease-causing bacteria and other organisms from overgrowing the digestive system then, and are needed by us today. Fermented foods are eaten raw, which meant the enzymes in those foods are not denatured as they would be by cooking.

Fermented foods such as sauerkraut are slightly sour, or can be eaten more or less sour, like poi. A number of my students said that eating sour foods helped them with craving sweets, and I’ve found that to be true also. This sauerkraut is tasty in salads and by itself. I have tried fermenting cabbage in my high school chemistry classes without whey to focus on the effects of the salt alone. In this case you need to add more salt than this recipe contains. The fermentation with the whey results on a more predictable product. It’s fun to watch the bubbles appear and the color changes, and to anticipate eating the experiment. If you are not sure what naturally-fermented sauerkraut should taste like, or don’t have the time or facilities to try making your own, Bubbies makes a wonderful one.

This recipe is adapted from similar ones in Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon.

Pink Sauerkraut

This sauerkraut is pink because it is made with some purple cabbage, which shares its color with the whole batch. In Step 1, whey is obtained from unsweetened yogurt. You may have seen the whey accumulating in a container of yogurt that has been open for a day or two. Now you know something great to do with it! In Step 2, the whey is used as a starter culture of lactic acid bacteria in transforming the cabbage into sauerkraut.

Step 1: Set a clean piece of unbleached muslin into a colander that can drain into a clean bowl; this is at room temperature.  Pour about 1 cupful of plain, whole milk fresh organic yogurt (Straus and Brown Cow work well) into the muslin.

  • Allow the liquid whey to drain into the lower bowl.
  • This will take about 2-3 hours depending on the temperature of the room.
  • Yield: about 1/4 cup whey.
  • The more solidified yogurt that stays in the muslin liner is now similar in texture to Greek yogurt, and can be used like cream cheese or sour cream, as on beet soup (see photo at bottom).
  • Step 2: Combine in a clean, 1-quart glass canning jar:
    • 3 1/2 cups shredded green cabbage, preferably organically grown
    • 1/2 cup shredded purple cabbage, preferably organically grown
    • 1/4 to 1/2 cup shredded carrots, preferably organically grown
    • 2 tsp Real Salt or Himalayan salt
    • 1/4 cup fresh whey
    • Filtered water

    Using a wooden pounder or the thick end of a wooden spoon (some of the bamboo spoons on the market today have handles that are about an inch wide, as in the photo), push the vegetables firmly down into the jar. Dissolve the salt in about 1 cup of the water and pour over the shredded vegetables. Pour the whey in. Add more water until the liquid is 1 inch below the top of the jar. Cover the vegetables with a section of cabbage leaf to protect them from the air. Cover with the lid, leaving it slightly loose. Set the jar on a surface that will not be damaged if some liquid escapes.

    Allow to ferment at room temperature, ideally between 70-75 degrees F**, until bubbles are appearing in the jar, the color of the green cabbage changes to off-white or pale green, and the purple color turns pink* and dissolves throughout the jar. The sauerkraut takes 2-3 days to ferment and should taste slightly sour* but still retain some crunch. Once fermentation is complete, refrigerate at 38 degrees F.

    *Chemistry notes:

    Color changes: The color of the purple cabbage comes from the pigment anthocyanin. The pigment is purple in the fresh cabbage, and becomes more pink as the lactic acid bacteria in the whey convert the sugars from the cabbage to lactic acid and CO2. The longer they continue their fermentation process, the more the pH drops. The lactic acid is what gives organisms like “Lactobacillus” their name and lacto-fermented foods their sour taste. The increasing acidity prevents other microorganisms from growing in, and contaminating, your sauerkraut.

    Why salt? The salt in the solution does two things: it causes some water to be drawn out of the cabbage cells by osmosis, resulting in the crisp texture; and prevents salt-intolerant bacteria and other organisms other than the lactic acid bacteria from being able to grow. The result: a tasty, crunchy condiment full of healthy probiotics.

    ** Temperature note for fermenting in the tropics: In Honolulu my kitchen air temperature routinely measures about 85 F in the afternoon, but I have found that as long as I keep checking the flavor and color of the fermented food, I don’t need to create a cooler place for it. Expect to shorten the fermenting time by anywhere from 12-24 hours.

    Borscht with “Yogurt Cheese”