I’m not one for the traditional holidays; however, that doesn’t stop me from enjoying seasonal foods and holiday inspired healthy recipes!
Amongst the healthiest foods in the world, there is sauerkraut. Sauerkraut is a fermented vegetable from cabbage that has been around long before electricity. Fermenting was a way of preserving the vegetables through the winter but also a way of enhancing the digestibility of these these. They are often revered as health tonics.
This is done through the process of lacto-fermentation. Lactic acid — which is naturally occurring byproduct of fermentation — is a natural preservative that inhibits putrefying bacteria. Starches and sugars in vegetables and fruits are converted into lactic acid by the many species of lactic-acid-producing bacteria. These lactobacilli are ubiquitous, present on the surface of all living things and especially numerous on leaves and roots of plants growing in or near the ground.
Fermentation is just a technique for controlling and encouraging their proliferation — culturing — to put bring out greater qualities. Like the fermentation of dairy products, preservation of vegetables by the process of lacto-fermentation has numerous advantages beyond those of simple preservation.
The Benefits of Probiotic Vegetables
As you cultured raw vegetables, the natural occurring lactobacilli on the vegetables proliferate and enhance the digestibility of the vegetable as well as increases the nutritional content. Additionally, these live organisms produce numerous helpful enzymes as well as antibiotic and anti-carcinogenic substances.
Scientists and doctors today are ‘mystified’ by the growing number of new viruses—not only the AIDS virus but the whole gamut of human viruses that seem to be associated with everything from chronic fatigue to cancer and arthritis. They are equally confused by recent increases in the incidence of intestinal parasites and pathogenic yeasts like Candida, even among those whose sanitary practices are faultless.
The real problem is ironically in the overly sanitary practices that have not only killed harmful bacteria, but the healthy bacteria that keep the dance of living organisms in harmony. Consuming cultured vegetables is probably one of the most effective short-term solutions to rebuilding the micro-biome, digestive and immune systems, which will result in a decrease in all of these pathogenic problems.
Probiotic Foods Vs. Supplements
This is one of the main reasons probiotic and cultured foods are so much healthier and effective than supplements. The main by-product of fermentation is lactic acid promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout the intestine in a far greater number than any patented proprietary blend of probiotics.
There are hundreds of trillion of cells of bacteria in the human body, this is far greater than we will find in any pill. Cultured foods on the other hand come much closer, because they grow in the dynamic soils of nature, exposed to a vast variety of micro-organisms. Unlike the lab grown bacteria we find in most supplements.
If you’re consuming any probiotic pills, it’s likely that they are ineffective, or at the least, far less effective than a real cultured food will be. Even the best probiotic supplements on the market miss the mark in effectiveness compared to a cultured food like kefir water, milk kefir, real yogurt and cultured vegetables.
Tips on Culturing Vegetables
I recommend adding a small amount of homemade whey, starter culture or prebiotic to each jar of vegetables to ensure consistently satisfactory growth of healthy bacteria. Whey supplies lactobacilli and acts as an inoculant. Do not use commercial concentrated whey or dried whey, get the real stuff from a local farmer or from making your own raw yogurt or kefir.
The prebiotic will feed the probiotics, which will ensure a large diversity of healthy bacteria. This will bring the number of healthy bacteria closer to what we need for the human gut.
Packing: bout one inch of space should be left between the top of your vegetables with their liquid and the top of the jar, as the vegetables and their juices expand slightly during fermentation. Be sure to close the jars very tightly. Lacto-fermentation is an anaerobic process and the presence of oxygen, once fermentation has begun, will ruin the final product.
Temperatures: In general, a room temperature of about 72 degrees will be sufficient to ensure a lactic-acid fermentation in about two to four days. More time will be needed if your kitchen is colder and less if it is very warm. After two to four days at room temperature, the jars should be placed in a dark, cool spot, ideally one with a temperature of about 40 degrees. In days gone by, crocks of lacto-fermented vegetables were stored in root cellars or caves. A wine cellar or small refrigerator kept on a “warm” setting is ideal; failing that, the top shelf of your refrigerator will do.
Storage: If using a traditional sauerkraut crock, it will need at least six months to fully mature. You can however, use smaller mason jars for a quicker version. Keep in mind that Lacto-fermented vegetables increase in flavor with time — the longer it goes, the stronger it will be. But be careful to not over ferment it; otherwise, it can be very bitter and almost taste like pure sulfur/alcohol!
Trouble-shooting: The occasional batch that goes bad presents no danger—the smell will be so awful that nothing could persuade you to eat it. The sign of successful lactofermentation is that it is pleasant tasting, bubbling and the vegetables remained preserved over several weeks or months of cold storage.
Eating them: They go beautifully with meats and fish of all sorts, as well as with pulses and grains. They are easy to prepare, and they confer health benefits that cannot be underestimated.
So you’ve learned a great deal about the importance of sauerkraut and probiotic foods as medicine, now it’s time to put all this knowledge into action.
In spirit of the seasons, I decided to make a sauerkraut featuring cranberry. Now, I’ve never used cranberry in a sauerkraut before. I have used them in kefir recipes though and other ferments, like raw dairy kefir blended with cranberry (makes a wonderful ice cream base!). So I am sure they will turn out amazingly in this recipe as well.
Cranberry, if you didn’t know, are a true superfood. I could write up an entire blog post on the medicinal qualities of this super tart, super fruit. However, this article is already getting long. So I will hit you with one little benefit that is quite uncommon…
Cranberries are actually a good source of iodine! Which is such an essential and commonly deficient mineral in most people. Iodine essentially detoxifies the body, and in this toxic modern world, it’s never been more necessary. In combination with this raw kraut recipe, you will have a power house for detoxification!
Here’s how what you’ll need:
- 3 quart sized mason jars
- 1 crock or large bowl
- 1 large head of organic, green cabbage (preferably local grown!)
- 1 cup of organic cranberries
- 1 cup of spring water
- 1 starter culture or 1 tbsp. of whey
- 1 scoop of EcoBloom
- 1 strip of kombu, cut into small pieces
- 1 tbsp caraway
- 3 tbsp real sea salt
Here’s how you make it:
- Start by making the brine: You’ll want to take your starter culture and Ecobloom and add them to warm spring water with your caraway, kombu and sea salt. Let it sit while you chop.
- Before you chop your cabbage, save the first 2-4 outer leaves for the end packing. Chop to your desired consistency or run through food processor. Then add to a crock or large bowl with cranberries.
- Remove 1 cup of this mixture and put into a blender with the brine and blend.
- Add brine back into crock mixture and using your hands, work the cabbage and cranberries until they start to get soft.
- Let this sit for 10-20 minutes so the brine can do some magic and soften up the cabbage and cranberries. This will make it easier to pack and more consistent.
- Pack mixture down into a quart glass mason jar. Use your fist, a wooden dowel, or a potato masher to pack veggies tightly. You do not want any air in the veggie mixture. You’ll want the brine to rise above the mixture.
- Fill container almost full, but leave about 2 inches of room at the top for veggies to expand.
- Roll up several cabbage leaves into a tight “log” and place them on top to fill the remaining 2 inch space. Put the lid on the jar.
- Let veggies sit at about a 70 degree room temperature for at least three days. A week is even better. Refrigerate to slow down fermentation. Enjoy!