What is a superfood anyway? It seems to be a sexy word used by marketers to intrigue our imagination of faraway lands dripping with exotic fruits that…for a nominal fee….give us unbound energy and disease free health. I have to admit the sound of Himalayan Goji berries and Maca root’s “Power of the Inca warriors” has a draw to it. I think these foods are full of healthy antioxidants and vitamins, especially for the people who live near them. But for the distance they have to travel and the amount of energy it takes to get to our health food store….there are better options. A “superfood” at our house is one we can grow in our garden or buy organically for very little money. With few tools and supplies, simple cabbage can be turned into Sauerkraut. Sauerkraut and its list of health benefits are long and historical. It boosts the immune systems, aids digestion, is a potent flu fighter with high amounts of vitamin A & C, and actually tastes great. For thousands of years, in all cultures around the world, fermenting has been used to preserve and transform seasonal foods. Sauerkraut is believed to have been brought to Europe by nomadic people who encountered fermented cabbage in China. Captain Cook, the English explorer extended the British empire by sailing with many large barrels of Sauerkraut which kept his crew from developing scurvy (a vitamin C deficiency).
I know what you are thinking…Sauerkraut… I’ll top my banger with it, but that’s about it. Well if you can open your mind to its many uses, the superpower of fermented foods will greatly reward you. With my love of fermentation and the digestive system, this post could quickly grow to novel length, so I will try and keep things simple and to the point.
Fermentation is all around us, in every breath we take and every bite we eat, No matter how we try to live in an antibiotic (against life) world these microscopic creatures are essential to life as we know it. Without these single-celled life forms in our intestines humans would not exist. In fact the hundreds of trillions of enzymes, fungi, and bacteria in our guts (weighing 3-4 pounds) out number the cells in our body. Makes you wonder who’s running the show.
In our house we eat sauerkraut daily, a few tablespoons a day will help keep your little beasties in healthy balance. I like it on salad, over mashed potatoes, eating it along with meats will help improve digestion. Bit of a warning if you’re new to eating fermented foods…start slow. 1-2 teaspoons a day and work your way up. Sometimes as the good bacteria start to take over the bad bacteria, some gas can form, or at least you can blame it on your bacteria.
You can buy Sauerkraut in the store but you want to make sure it is raw and not pasteurized. Heating of the kraut during pasteurization kills all the good guys. I highly recommend making it at home, it is so easy, fun and you can customize it to your tastes.
The first thing you need is a vessel to hold the kraut. This can be a fancy German crock (Harsch) with cool weights like mine. You can also use a wide mouth glass jar, with a smaller jar inside. The company “Pickle-it” has a inexpensive set-up using a half gallon mason jar and a air lock. I have even seen it done in food grade plastic buckets (not my first choice).
The next thing is the salt which pulls the water from the cabbage. I like to use sea salt, you could also use pickling salt, but don’t use regular table salt with aded iodine and anti-caking agents.
5 lbs cabbage green, purple or a blend
3 Tablspoons sea salt (this is not exact, I just sprikle as I go)
1. Chop or shred the cabbage, you can do it by hand or use the slicer attachment on your food processor
2. Layer the salt as you pack the cabbage into your fermentation vessel
The salt pulls the water out through osmosis, which creates the brine for the cabbage to ferment in, without rotting or getting soggy.
You can also add in any vegetables you like with the cabbage….carrots, onions, turnips, beets. Spices are also nice, caraway seeds, dill seeds or juniper berries are classic flavors. The hubby prefers straight up salt and cabbage.
3. Pack her down….you want to really give it a go here, you can use your hand the end of a rolling pin or wood dowel.
4. Place your plate or other weight in the vessel, and put a jug of water or large boiled rock on the top to push it down.
5 Cover the whole thing with a cloth to keep the dust out, and set it out of the way. Press down on the weight over the next 24 hours to push out that brine until it’s over the cabbage.
If the brine doesn’t rise over the cabbage you can make some by dissolving 1 Tablespoon salt in 1 cup water and add it to the crock.
Then wait for it to bubble and burp, that means it is working. In a few days you can check it with a taste, the taste and the power of the probiotics grows as it sits. I usually let it go 3-4 weeks. Then move it to jars and put in the fridge to slow down the fermentation. It will last here for a really long time.
By using food as medicine we can take some power back, you don’t need a cabinet full of vitamins to live a healthy life. Look to the ancient ways of being well, before mass produced seductive convenience foods. People just ate real food, without plastic wrap, bar codes, preservatives, flavors, colors and fancy health claims. Cabbage doesn’t need a bar code or a health promise by the American whatever association …..it’s just healthy.