Like most North Americans, you likely omit sauerkraut from your diet until there’s a hot dog involved. But this sour-tasting cabbage dish, produced through lactic acid fermentation (LAF), offers some pretty astounding nutritional benefits – and you don’t need to eat a lot of it to reap them.
Before refrigeration largely solved the freshness problem, people relied on LAF to preserve food. Under certain conditions, lactic acid-producing bacteria (naturally found in fruits and veggies, especially those that grow close to the ground) will initiate a chemical process where the starches and sugars in the plant are converted to lactic acid. This ups the food’s digestibility and nutrient values big time.
What good does lactic acid do? Well, it inhibits putrefying (i.e., decomposing) bacteria in the intestinal tract and helps balance out stomach-acid levels. Also, food that’s fermented by lactic acid-producing bacteria – like sauerkraut – is loaded with vitamins, minerals and beneficial bacteria that work to strengthen your digestion, increase your ability to absorb vitamins and even improve the health of your skin (Heidi Klum says she has her grandma’s sauerkraut soup to thank for her lasting good looks).
Some people avoid sauerkraut because they “don’t like the taste.” Trust us, it doesn’t take long for even the pickiest eater to become a big fan of the stuff – the more we eat it, the better it seems to get). Plus, as previously mentioned, you don’t need to swallow jarfuls of it to gain the rewards; a couple forkfuls a day should do it. Try a bit before bed – we bet you’ll wake up feeling refreshed and more “regular”!
(Sauerkraut even seems to satisfy sugar cravings; the next time you have a hankering for sweets, eat some sauerkraut and see if it doesn’t do the trick.)
Unfortunately, the sauerkraut you get with street meat likely won’t do you much good. As soon as you put it in a can and/or use vinegar to quicken the fermentation process, all the healthy benefits become compromised. If you’re going to buy sauerkraut, go for the bottled kind from the refrigerated section, making sure the only ingredients are cabbage, salt and filtered water. Fancier krauts with a few extra veggies thrown in for colour are OK, too.
You’ll find, however, that sauerkraut costs can run high (we’re not exactly sure why). That’s where throwing a sauerkraut party can help. All you need are a few friends, several heads of cabbage (either the green or purple kind) and enough glass jars to contain all that kraut. Oh, and don’t forget some small, clean rocks to fit inside each jar – packing the cabbage and weighing it down is a crucial part of the process.
Homemade Sauerkraut Recipe
Many thanks to nutritionist Maria Viall for this simple recipe; read more about sauerkraut (and other good-for-you foods) on her website.
1 head of cabbage
1 tbsp unrefined sea salt
3-4 large mason jars
3-4 heavy rocks (not bigger than the mouth of the jar)
1. Peel the outer leaves of the cabbage, putting four or five whole leaves to the side.
2. Chop the cabbage into thin strips (you can use a food processor for this).
3. Place one-third of the chopped cabbage in a bowl, sprinkling one teaspoon of salt over top.
4. Massage/break down the cabbage forcefully with your hands for about five minutes, until it begins to release water.
5. Add another third of cabbage to the mix and another teaspoon of salt; repeat massaging.
6. Add the remaining cabbage and salt to the bowl and keep massaging. Make sure there’s a good amount of juice at the bottom of the bowl when you’re done.
7. Transfer the mixture into the jars, packing the cabbage into each jar with your hands. You want the juice rise above the level of the cabbage in each jar.
8. Leave an inch or two of space at the top of each jar (the cabbage will expand while fermenting) and fold one cabbage leaf on, pressing down firmly.
9. Place a rock on top of each leaf and cover the jars tightly with lids.
10. Put the jars in a quiet area away from sunlight, heat or draft. A basement or kitchen cupboard (not above the refrigerator) would be ideal.
11. Check your sauerkraut daily to ensure it stays under the juice. If you see any cabbage peeking up over the liquid, add some filtered water and reseal the jar.
12. After at least two weeks open the jars, remove the top leaves and enjoy! From this point forward keep your kraut in the fridge where it will stay good for several months.