Before frozen foods, refrigeration, and cheap transport from warmer countries preserving the bounty of summer for winter consumption was essential. Canning, bottling, pickling, fermenting and drying were (and are) skills known to many who wished to preserve their harvest for winter. Of all these preserving methods the one that packs the biggest punch and really adds value to your food is fermenting.
Properly made fermented vegetables contain very high levels of probiotics, much higher than the best probiotic supplements. This makes them ideal for optimizing your gut flora and promoting the colonization and growth of beneficial bacteria. Eating fermented vegetables is one of the simplest strategies for nourishing your gut, which is home to 80 percent of your immune system, and for optimizing your overall health.
All vegetables are covered in the good bacteria lactobacillus, and when you slice up, grate and squeeze them with salt, they release their juice, which mingles with the salt to create brine. Once contained within this briny environment, lactobacillus multiplies and begins to break down the ingredient, digesting the natural sugars and transforming them into lactic acid, which creates the tangy flavour and a sour environment that keeps the growth of bad bacteria at bay.
The most popular ferments are Sauerkraut and Kimchi.
Sauerkraut is fermented cabbage very popular in Northern Europe, especially Germany. (During World War I, due to concerns the American public would reject a product with a German name, American sauerkraut makers relabelled their product as Liberty Cabbage).
Kimchi, a staple in Korean cuisine, is a traditional side dish of salted and fermented vegetables.
How to make Sauerkraut
Whilst making sauerkraut is not too difficult it does require a little equipment, time and confidence. Start small – 1lt pots are very good for making small batches, but once you have the basics covered there should be no stopping you! You will need cabbage, a suitable container, weights and sea salt.
First make sure all equipment is clean and dry.
- Thoroughly clean the cabbage then slice thinly. Layer your sliced cabbage in the fermentation pot. Each layer should have a depth of about 5cms and should be squashed to produce the liquid necessary to make sauerkraut.
- Between each layer of cabbage add some salt. Add layer after layer until all the sliced cabbage is inside the crock.
Make sure that at the top of the pot there is enough room for the stone weights that come with the fermentation crock. If not enough liquid has been released when slicing the cabbage, make a brine of 1 ltr boiled water to 15g salt and fill up your fermentation crock pot with the brine.
- Cover your layers of sliced cabbage with a large cabbage leaf and place the weight on top. Make sure your weights are fully covered by the sauerkraut liquid. Use the weight to press down the layers of cabbage. Place the stoneware lid on top of your fermentation crock pot and fill the water trough with cooled boiled water. This ensures air-tight sealing of the stoneware fermentation crock pot. Since the fermentation crock pot is now sealed air-tight, no mould can form, the cabbage is protected, and the process of lactic acid fermentation can start.
- The fermentation pot should be placed in a cool room.
- Fermentation time can vary depending on the type of vegetables used. It is normally between 4 and 6 weeks. Please note that in the first 3 weeks after placing the cabbage inside the fermentation crock pot, the lid must not be taken off! Also, there should always be sufficient water in the water trough of the fermentation crock pot so that the air-tight sealing of the crock is not interrupted.
- You can decant all the sauerkraut into jars so that there is no danger of spoiling through repeatedly opening the large crock. It will keep for at least two months in a cool place.
For more detailed instructions, please click for our guide to making Sauerkraut. (PDF will open in a new window)
There are many, many recipes and idea for fermenting on the internet. So be brave - give fermentation a go!