Get Cultured: Sauerkraut 101

If you've been following the latest health and foodie trends, or if you have an affinity for German food, you've likely heard about sauerkraut. It's raw, sour cabbage and is made through the process of lacto-fermentation. Sauerkraut is known as a live-culture food because the fermentation creates an inviting environment for health-supportive microscopic bacteria to live and thrive.  

The name sauerkraut is German, but there is strong evidence that the practice of fermenting cabbage originated in China and ultimately landed in Europe thanks to nomadic people from Asia.  These days, eating and making sauerkraut is growing in popularity here in North America. As a result, it's now widely available and can be found at health food stores, grocery stores, farmers' markets and even on the menu at some restaurants. 

My first jar of sauerkraut, circa Spring 2012.  Sometimes you need to get creative!

My first jar of sauerkraut, circa Spring 2012.  Sometimes you need to get creative!

Even before undergoing the fermentation process, cabbage is a true super food. It's high in fibre, vitamins, and minerals. It's also antioxidant rich and anti-inflammatory. Simply put, eating cabbage can improve digestion, support the immune systems, contribute to heart health, and help fight cancer growth. 

Turning cabbage into sauerkraut is fairly simple. All you need is cabbage, salt and a glass jar or ceramic crock. Firstly, the cabbage is finely sliced or shredded with a knife or in a food processor, then salt is added. This causes the cabbage to release water (known as brine). In a jar or crock, the cabbage should be submerged by its brine (creating an anaerobic environment), weighted down using a rock, bottle, jar or a bag filled with water, and fermented for several days or months. This style of fermentation creates the ideal condition for beneficial micro-organisms to proliferate.  Once eaten, sauerkraut provides our digestive tract with colonies of bacteria that are essential in breaking down and absorbing nutrients from food. Scientists are starting to investigate this bacteria and the important role it plays in supporting our immune system.  

Fermentation also gives us the ability to preserve food. As we know, vegetables spoil easily and because of this our ancestors devised ways to improve shelf life. With that in mind, the fall is a great time to start planning ahead.  By starting a few batches of sauerkraut now you'll have raw, living food to consume during the winter months when fresh produce is scant. 

Another major benefit of sauerkraut is that it's an incredibly versatile food that can be easily incorporated into your diet.  It's delicious and tangy and pairs nicely with potato or rice dishes. It can be topped on stew, stir fry, or chili. It may also be added to sandwiches or salads, eaten alone or as a side dish. Eating sauerkraut is also an easy way to increase your vegetables intake. 

If you'd like to lean more about sauerkraut or other cultured foods and drinks, pick up a copy of Sandor Ellix Katz's book, Wild Fermentation. It's a fascinating and informative read, which includes recipes and tutorials on a variety of ferments ranging from sauerkraut, to sourdough, to hooch and beyond! 

This article was written for The Millstone, a community newspaper for Mississippi Mills. To view the original article, click HERE