Our ancestors have been using fermentation techniques to preserve foods for centuries, and by traveling the world, we can see each country’s take on the age-old tradition. In Mexico, salt-brine is commonly used to culture carrots and jalapenos (also known as escabeche), in Korea it’s kimchi, in Japan there is miso, and in Indonesia it’s tempeh. Moving west, India incorporates lassi to deliver good bacteria to the body, and Ukrainians make yogurt, sauerkraut, and buttermilk.
Fast forward to today, and crafting krauts in the kitchen is becoming more and more common. Laco-fermentation, a traditional method of preserving vegetables, produces enzymes that increase the digestibility of foods. Similarly, it creates a host of healthy flora throughout the intestines for slowing and reversing a variety of illnesses, improving digestion, strengthening immunity, clearing skin issues, and increasing energy. In preserving our food in this manner, it becomes our ally.
If you are new to fermented foods, start with one tablespoon of kraut or fermented vegetables with each meal, and work your way up from there. The good news is, you don’t only have to eat them the way you’re used to hearing about kraut (read: alongside your bratwurst). Try enjoying kraut in a scramble, mixed into a salad, on a reuben or over avocado toast.
1/2 gallon fermentation crock with ceramic weights (I love Sarah’s Kersten’s crocks) or
1 quart Mason jar with an airlock seal
2+ pounds of red or green cabbage (medium head)
Shredded beets, carrots, fennel, ginger or seaweed (optional)
1 tbsp. sea salt (add 1 tbsp. per 2 lbs. of cabbage)
1/2 tsp. each of caraway, celery, and dill seeds
1. You’ll want to have your equipment and your ingredients ready. Make sure you wash either your fermentation crock or your mason jar with warm water. If you are using the mason jar method, make sure you fill the airlock up with water to the maximum fill line. Airlocks are a fool-proof way to prevent mold or scum from happening, and allow carbon dioxide to release during fermentation while also preventing air from entering and oxidizing the kraut.
2. Use fresh, organic (preferred) cabbage, and wash it thoroughly.
3. Wash your hands before beginning. Cut the cabbage into quarters, removing the base of it. Slice the cabbage as thin as possible using a knife, or if you are comfortable, using a vegetable mandolin. Slice other vegetables if you are using them.
4. Place your sliced vegetables in a large bowl and add salt, and other optional spices. Using your hands, massage the cabbage until it starts to feel very wet. This could take anywhere from 10-15 minutes.
5. Now it’s time to pack the cabbage into your crock or mason jar. If you are using a crock, fill it up 75-85%. Next, pack the cabbage down with your fist, the bottom of a bottle, or any creative flat surface that is clean.
6. Place the fermentation crock lid or the airlock lid over the kraut vessel, and store it in a cool, dark place or pantry. You can start to start to taste the kraut by day five (it should taste tart and tangy). If you wish to intensify the flavor, you can continue fermenting it for longer.
ITEMS TO NOTE
1. Don’t be afraid to start tasting your kraut on the fifth day.
2. Don’t be afraid if you see mold or scum growing on the surface. Simply skim off as much as you can. There is significantly more good bacteria than bad, and the good bacteria will win this battle.
3. To slow down the fermentation process, store your kraut in the refrigerator with a standard lid.
Lyssandra Guerra is a certified Holistic Nutritionist based out of Oakland, California. Using a thoughtful path of whole foods, herbs, and daily rituals, she guides her clients in healing from the inside out. Her aim is to inspire others to eat smart, simple, and nutritious foods so that they can reclaim their health, vitality and glow.
Melanie Riccardi is a product and commercial photographer in San Francisco. Her desire for simplicity has influenced her minimalistic style.