Since prehistory, humans have been involved in symbiotic relationships with a variety of species, from cattle to canine. However, the longest standing and, perhaps, the most misunderstood of these relationships has always been our relationship with the bacterial cultures that populate our own bodies.
For Sandor Katz, renowned fermentation specialist, it is no coincidence that we use the same word, “culture”, to describe the cornerstones of human achievement as we do to identify a gathering of bacteria. As a result of Katz’ tireless touting of bacterial benefits, the domestic culturing of healthy bacteria through the fermentation of vegetables is emerging as a powerful trend.
The most basic, simple and ancient of the fermented vegetables is sauerkraut. In recent years, sauerkraut has risen to the fabled status of superfood because of its immense probiotic potential, but it’s worth giving it a shot based on the fact that it is simply delicious and incredibly easy to make at home.
Home fermenting requires a certain level of demystification. Despite the endless debate regarding equipment, process and safety, it is important to remember that making sauerkraut is an ancient and time tested ritual that will allow the safe fermentation of a head of cabbage in any part of the world.
To ensure proper fermentation, the cabbage must be shredded, salted and packed into a sterilized fermenting vessel (a simple mason jar is my personal preference). Once the cabbage is submerged in its own brine, it becomes impossible for harmful bacterial to populate.
The dominant lactic acid bacterial strains will immediately have an advantage in the salty brine and will push out any other strains that threaten fermentation. Mold may form on the top of the brine but it poses no threat and can simply be skimmed off. According to the USDA, there has never been a recorded instance of food poisoning resulting from the ingestion of fermented foods.
Before getting started you’ll need to round up a few supplies, including a large bowl, a sharp knife, two pint-sized mason jars and 2 sterilized weights to keep pressure on the kraut (a boiled rock or small glasses)
Makes 2 Pint Mason Jars
A small head of cabbage (Around 2 pounds)
30g of course sea salt
1. Resting the cabbage on its base, peel the outer leaves off of the cabbage and cut it into quarters. Cut the entire stalk from the bottom of each quarter and begin slicing the cabbage. I prefer a thin cut but you can really cut it any way you like.
2. Begin to lightly salt the cabbage as you transfer it into the large bow. Ensure that the salt is evenly introduced as it will be responsible for drawing the moisture out of the cabbage.
3. With clean hands, begin to squeeze and press the cabbage. After a few minutes you will notice the moisture beginning to build up. Continue until a large amount of liquid is released
4. Once the cabbage is sufficiently moist, begin packing it in to the mason jars. Pack as much as you can into each jar and make sure that the brine covers the cabbage. You may need to add a touch of filtered water to top it off.
5. Place the sterilized weight on top (I just use a thin glass) to keep the cabbage submerged in the brine.
Unfortunately, I can’t tell you how long to wait. Fermentation is dependent upon many factors including temperature and available surface area of the cut cabbage and each individual has a distinct preference for how tangy they like their kraut. Just don’t worry; you can taste the kraut at any point and decide if a desirable flavor has been achieved
I leave it for about a week, checking it each day to ensure that the cabbage is still submerged in its brine and to scrape off any forming mold spores. Once it’s done, just cap the jar and put it in the fridge. It will last up to 6 months.