Apparently, in 1775 Captain James Cook gained an award for concluding the effectiveness of sauerkraut to prevent scurvy (from the vitamin C content). Long before then, the Romans were eating it and even Hippocrates the legend himself wrote about it. In fact, they were eating many fermented foods as it is a food preservation method for preventing spoilage and dangerous bacterial growth, in the absence of refrigeration.
Sauerkraut is said to have many benefits notably as a probiotic. While this is still being investigated, thousands of research papers and books can be found. Probiotics are beneficial live bacteria that we eat through the diet that have many purported health-promoting benefits like improved digestion. Much of the ongoing research as to the benefits of probiotics from fermented foods is from dairy.7
What food is fermented?
Many foods are fermented including milk, cocoa beans, legumes, grapes, ginger, mustard leaves, broccoli, potatoes, cabbage, rice, barley, hops, meat, fish, and fruit. Fermentation may be a stage in the process like chocolate or directly creating unique food products like yogurt, Kefir, Filmjolk, tempeh, kimchi, sauerkraut, Chinese sauerkraut(pàocài), kombucha, and miso. Not all fermented foods are probiotics though.
What bacteria is present?
White cabbage contains species of lactic acid and probiotic bacteria and when fermented produce carbon dioxide, acetic, and lactic acid. The most common bacteria found are Leuconostoc mesenteroides, Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus brevis, Pediococcus pentosaceus, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactococcus, Pediococcus cerevisiae, and Enterococcus faecalis.(6,8) The ratio of lactic: acetic acid is 4:1 which is considered good quality and where you get the vinegar taste from.4 The pH of the finished product is below 3.6.8
Why you should make your own Sauerkraut
Don’t be fooled into buying room temperature, dry-store sauerkraut. They do have the flavour and textural characteristics similar to live versions but no bacteria. Bacteria do not live due to pasteurization (heat treatment) killing off any benefits.
In saying that the live stuff is over the top expensive in my opinion considering it is just cabbage and salt. Of course, you can buy a very large jar of it and then re-use the jar to make your own. I highly recommend finding an organic cabbage.
Let’s see what some of the research says about fermented foods or if you like to skip straight to the bottom for a delicious, piquant, crunchy, and of course live sauerkraut recipe.
What does science say about sauerkraut?
Probiotics can provide anti-carcinogenic compounds1, beneficial antioxidants2 and anti-inflammatory compounds1 which may help in the reduction of serum cholesterol, lower risk of colon cancer, better function of the gastrointestinal tract (2,3), and better immune system.3
As with many of these foods, it is not yet possible to be completely certain and conclusive about anything. It is well known we need good bacteria, antioxidants, and many other bioactive compounds and that they do give health benefits. Unfortunately, we do not actually know what our guts should specifically look like except to say, a complex, diverse and resilient environment. As with any new food, try a tablespoon with a meal to start off and see how your body responds to make sure you don’t have any symptoms of intolerance.
You only need two or three ingredients plus 30 minutes preparation; 2 hours wait time on the kitchen bench, another 5 mins to put it into the jar. With 2 weeks of observing your batch until it’s ready to put it into the fridge.
- White organic cabbage
- Grated peeled carrot
- Fine white iodized table salt
- Optional vegetables: carrot, red cabbage, a fennel bulb, or kohlrabi
- Optional flavours: turmeric, caraway seeds
For every kilogram of fresh white cabbage, I add around 15-20 grams (1.5-2%) of salt. Some recipes say 30gm (30%) but I find that too salty while too much salt can inhibit the bacteria growing. Too little salt makes the cabbage too soft.
Salt/ cabbage ratio example
If you get 680g of cabbage here’s a quick formula:
680/100 = 6.8 (find 1%)
6.8 x 2 = 13.6 (multiply by 2 to get 2%)
(rounded up to 14g) of salt
1 level tablespoon of fine white salt is 18.3g if you have a proper tablespoon measure.
- Large tub or bowl to mix your ingredients.
- A mandolin, grater, or slicer
- Sharp knife, chopping board
- Large mason jar or a few smaller ones
- Kitchen scales
You are relying on good bacteria in the cabbage, so it is important to work clean. So, well-washed hands, clean utensils, and a very clean glass jar/lid for the final product. If you have sterile gloves to massage in the salt that would be good.
- Cut a round disc from an outer leaf to fit inside the jar, and reserve
- Wash all your vegetables
- Very thinly slice your cabbage and any other vegetables to the same thickness
- Weigh all the vegetables together and calculate your salt
- Gently massage the required amount of (weighed) salt in until moisture starts to appear, and every piece of cabbage has seen some saltiness
- Cover with a lid and leave on the bench for 2 hours (winter could take a lot longer). You are looking for osmotic action of the salt drawing moisture out of the cabbage.
- Thoroughly stir it again squeezing and pressing it gently allowing the juices to soak the cabbage. This juice is important. Save every drop. If you’re adding caraway seeds or turmeric mix through now.
- Into a mason jar preferably, push the cabbage in tightly bit by bit. Press it in firmly taking care of the glass. POUR IN ALL THE JUICES (very important).
- Push the cabbage lid down firmly on top. It should be relatively submerged by liquid with hopefully hardly any space at the top of the jar and minimum air bubbles. It needs to be an anaerobic environment (oxygen-deprived).
- Lightly screw the lid on to allow for pressure. Write the date on the jar or fridge. Set the jar in a cool dark place. Crockery cupboard?
- Every second day gently unscrew the lid to release some gas and replace it immediately. I press the cabbage back down sometimes but I’m not sure if this is good or bad.
- After 14 days it should still be slightly crunchy, but limp compared to raw cabbage. And have a nice aromatic smell.
- Place in the fridge as this will halt the process. It keeps for months!
- Eat with almost any dish as a condiment, or in a sandwich or wrap.
 Şanlier N, Gökcen BB & Sezgin AC. Health benefits of fermented foods. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr [Internet]. 2017 October 20 [2020 September 19];59(3):506-527. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1080/10408398.2017.1383355
 Raak C, Ostermann T, Boehm K, Molsberger F. Regular consumption of sauerkraut and its effect on human health: A bibliometric analysis. Glob Adv Health Med [Internet]. 2014 November 1 [2020 September 19];3(6):12-18. Available from: https://doi.org/10.7453/GAHMJ.2014.038
 Swain MR, Anandharaj M, Ray RC, Rani RP. Fermented fruits and vegetables of Asia: A potential source of probiotics. Biotechnology Research International [Internet]. 2014 May 28 [2020 September 19];2014:19. Article ID 250424. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1155/2014/250424
 Surbhi K. Effects of salt concentration on the physicochemical properties and microbial safety of spontaneously fermented cabbage [Electronic Theses and Dissertations on the internet].[Orono (US)]: University of Maine; 2019. [2020 September 19]. Available from: https://digitalcommons.library.umaine.edu/etd/3013
 Edward R.(Ted) Farnworth. Handbook of Fermented Functional Foods. Taylor and Frances; 2008
 National Research Council (US) Panel on the Applications of Biotechnology to Traditional Fermented Foods. Applications of biotechnology to fermented foods: Report of an ad hoc panel of the Board on Science and Technology for International Development [Internet]. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1992. 5, Lactic Acid Fermentations. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK234703/
 Companys J, Pla-Pagà L, Calderón-Pérez L, Llauradó E, Solà R, Pedret A, Valls RM. Fermented dairy products, probiotic supplementation, and cardiometabolic diseases: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Adv Nutr. 2020 July 1;11(4):834-863. Available from https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmaa030
 Zabat MA, Sano WH, Wurster JI, Cabral DJ, Belenky P. Microbial community analysis of sauerkraut fermentation reveals a stable and rapidly established community [Internet]. Foods. 2018 May 12;7(5):77. Available from: https://doi.org/10.3390/foods7050077
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