What’s the easy way to boost immunity and look after yourself? Make your own sauerkraut! (And eat it!)
I have heard about the immune-boosting properties of sauerkraut and I’ve wanted to try making my own for ages. I thought it would take a long time and be hard, but it wasn’t.
Having said that, I did have a dear friend hold my hand the first time which always helps, right? Thank you Rachael Thornton!
I’m always intrigued at how much anxiety I have around trying a new thing, even though I’m a Yes person and am always trying new things. Sometimes though, a bit of hand-holding is okay and well, nourishing!
So today I’m going to hold your hand and help you make your own sauerkraut at home.
What Is Sauerkraut?
In a nutshell, it’s fermented cabbage. It has a tangy flavour (the name is German and literally means “sour cabbage”) and it’s popular in European countries, but in recent times it has gained popularity all over the world because of its health benefits.
According to The Scientific American:
“Although sauerkraut is a German word, the dish is thought to have originated in China with cabbage fermented in rice wine or brine [ha ha – I just love this]. This spread to Europe by way of Ghengis Khan’s invaders where the cabbage was dry cured with salt. As sauerkraut keeps for long periods, and is a source of vitamin C, it was favoured by the Dutch sailors, who took it with them when they travelled to America. Captain Cook also travelled with it to Australia, as sauerkraut contains a range of vitamins and minerals that are difficult to obtain when travelling for long periods at sea.”
The fermentation process produces friendly bacteria – probiotics – that are absolute gold when it comes to gut health.
And as we know now, the strength of your immune system is strongly correlated with the presence of good bacteria in your gut. By contrast, too much bad bacteria in your gut leads to a weakened immune system, illness and disease.
Why Make Your Own Sauerkraut?
Because sauerkraut is so good for your gut and your immune system. Plus, it’s expensive to buy.
I’m a little bit obsessed now with improving my inner garden and I tend to favour fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi and kefir as well as truckloads of vegetables, as they feed the good bacteria and help them to proliferate.
There are other fermented foods and drinks too like miso and kombucha (which I have on occasion).
How I Came to Love Fermented Foods
I haven’t always been a fan of fermented foods, despite knowing they were good for me. It was another thing to learn how to do and a new flavour that I didn’t easily crave (I’ve always craved sweets). So I just let it lie.
But almost two years ago now I did my first cleanse (I know, you’d think being a Chinese medicine health buff I would have done many – but I haven’t, and that’s another story) and I started eating lots of fermented foods as part of that process.
Would you believe I came to crave them and wanted to add them to my meals most days!
It’s amazing the changes that can happen to you when you start eating vegetables for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It changes your physiology and your cravings.
So I started buying fermented foods – a lot. And like I said, they’re expensive. So that’s why I decided to bite the bullet and make some. My sauerkraut is fermenting away in my kitchen right now, smelling a mixture of sweet, salty and garlic.
How to Make Your Own Sauerkraut At Home
I chose to buy organic produce, even though the expensive sauerkraut I was buying mostly wasn’t organic. Up to you. But I feel in this case especially, you don’t want chemicals fermenting away when you go to all that trouble to make delicious gut-friendly sauerkraut for boosting immunity.
1 half cabbage
1–2tsp good quality salt (you could need more, you’ll need to check the taste).
The rest of the ingredients are optional! You can chop and change things around as you like. You could add carrot, beetroot or caraway seeds – you can be playful with it. This is what we chose to add:
¼ bulb of fennel (chopped)
1 apple (chopped)
4 garlic cloves (chopped or whole, up to you).
You will also need:
1 large or 2 smaller glass jars, cleaned and sterilised
To sterilise your glass jars, first wash in hot soapy water then rinse off. Put the glass jars and lids on a baking tray (only if there’s no plastic on the lid) into an oven pre-heated to 160 degrees Celsius for 5 minutes or until all the water has evaporated and they’re completely dry, then remove.
Take off outer cabbage leaves and keep for later. Cut out the core and leave for later. Thinly slice and chop the cabbage into a thickness you’d be happy to eat. If you have a Thermomix you could chop 4 seconds on speed 4.
Place cabbage into a large bowl a little at a time, sprinkling salt as you go. The salt helps to break the cell walls of the cabbage and releases more water. Massage firmly or hit the cabbage a little with a pestle. If you have a Thermomix you can pop the cabbage in there with the salt on reverse speed 2 for 5 minutes. When that stage is finished you can add the other ingredients and mix well.
Now get your jars and pack them with the ingredients, leaving a gap of about 5 cm at the top.
Add the mixture slowly and pack it down as you go, trying to avoid air pockets. As you do this, more water comes out of the cabbage. The beneficial bacteria is actually already on the cabbage leaves and goes through quite a process as it’s fermented. (See this article if you’re a science head.)
It’s important that the cabbage and other ingredients are always below the salt water and that there are no air pockets. If you find you need more water, then for every 100ml of filtered water you add, make sure you add 1tsp of salt.
Use the cabbage leaves to fold over and make a bit of a lid and push that down under the brine. You can use the cabbage core to help do that.
Place a clean cloth over the top and put an elastic band around it so no bugs can find their way in. (You can also seal the jar with the lid – however, you’ll need to burp it daily as the gas will build up and potentially explode. The gas and bubbles are created by the multiplying beneficial bacteria.)
We also put the jar on a tray in case more water is produced and seeps out over the edge. Leave it out at room temperature.
Check it daily and push it down to ensure there are no air pockets and that the cabbage is in the salty water and able to ferment.
It should be ready to eat in roughly three weeks – that would be an early ferment. You can leave it longer and the flavours will be stronger, it’s up to you.
Once the kraut is completed to your satisfaction, you can store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a year.
How to Tell if Your Sauerkraut is Bad
One of the tricky things about making your own sauerkraut, and any fermented food, is that there’s the potential that it can go off. After all, the process of fermentation is the same as the process of rotting!
So how can you tell if your sauerkraut is bad? It won’t smell good and you won’t want to eat it. If you notice anything funky growing on the top of it, you’ll need to toss that batch. If you can keep the cabbage under the brine though it should be fine.
How to Eat Your Sauerkraut
You can eat sauerkraut with salads, as a side at breakfast, before dinner as an aperitif or on a sandwich. It’s a fabulous, natural way to improve your immunity and gut, and much cheaper than buying it store-bought or purchasing probiotic supplements. 😊
Good luck with yours and tell me how you go in the comments below. Enjoy!