in it for the culture

After the LONGEST month of the year do you need a pick me up?
Do you miss fresh foods?
Lots of friends?
TONS of Vitamin C?
Is your diet lacking in fiber (both kinds) and greens?
Sulfur, Iron, and Vitamin K?
What would you say if I told you there’s a recipe you can make with things you already have in your kitchen, that packs all this goodness into one tasty dish? Would you be shocked if I told you it has only TWO ingredients?
It’s Sauerkraut!

Once you know about the benefits of this dish, AND how to make it fresh and season it to your personal taste, you’ll never relegate it to the category of hot dog condiment again (hot dogs, really?).
Read on for some fun facts and a recipe!

“But you’re an herbalist, why are we talking about food?”

The best medicine is food that your body can readily digest, and there aren’t any herbs that will make lasting improvement if we don’t also address the root cause of an illness. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, was the first to say “all disease begins in the gut” and if there is a problem with digestion underlying a current condition of yours then digestive health will be one of the first things we focus on improving. Fermented foods made to traditional recipes, including sauerkraut, are part of the whole foods nutritional approach I use as a foundation of my practice. If you want some answers about digestion or any other issue, or if you’re ready to try a new approach to your health, make an appointment!

Here’s why sauerkraut is awesome for nearly everyone:

  • Friends you eat! Sauerkraut, raw, unpasteurized and homemade, contains lactic acid and a living culture of probiotics, which if you’ve never heard the term means beneficial bacteria. Humans have evolved to live with 100 trillion bacteria in the intestines alone– that’s ten times the number of cells in the human body. By taking up the real estate, your gut flora keep unwelcome pathogens from moving into the neighborhood. These friends do a lot for us, producing vitamin B12, Vitamin K and butyric acid, which is so important it is used by our intestinal lining as a main form of energy for absorption! These beneficial bacteria keep you from getting sick and help you absorb food. Eat your friends!
  • Sauerkraut contains a lot of Vitamin C—a third of your daily C in a single cup of sauerkraut. Sailors would bring barrels of sauerkraut with them on long sea voyages to avoid getting scurvy. You can do the same! Winter can seem like a long sea voyage, monotonous and stormy by turns while you wait for fresh greens and fruit to become available in season again and give the questionable produce from Bolivia the shifty eye in the grocery store.  Good thing that Lactobacillus bacteria digest cabbage in a way that makes Vitamin C available for humans to absorb! You need Vitamin C for things like making collagen, making neurotransmitters, turning cholesterol into bile, supporting immune function, so, just a few things.
  • Sulfur, an important trace element for collagen synthesis, is found in the brassica family of vegetables, including cabbage. Collagen makes up the structure of your body, in bones, muscles, tendons, cartilage, organs, skin and hair. Fermenting cabbage makes the sulfur more bioavailable, breaking down glucosinolates into a form the body can absorb. These compounds are antioxidants as well, fighting cancer and aging at the cellular level. So young looking skin is the least important reason to include sulfur in your diet in the form of sauerkraut!
  • Vitamin K is a factor responsible for blood clotting, and vitamin K2, the form found in cabbage and sauerkraut, has many other jobs including distributing calcium to the bones, preventing heart disease, forming strong bones, healthy skin and supporting growth, development and brain function. I have nothing funny to say about Vitamin K.
  • Fiber is not created equal! Cabbage is high in insoluble fiber, the rough and indigestible substance that acts like a pipe cleaner: scraping your intestines and speeding up transit time.  Fermenting cabbage into sauerkraut increases the amount of soluble fiber present, which acts more like a gel, coating the intestines, delaying digestion and allowing more absorption to occur along the way. Soluble fiber is the preferred food of our beneficial bacteria and is called “prebiotic” because without their favorite food, all the probiotics in the world won’t restore flourishing gut bacteria for long. Instead of buying expensive supplements whose results are short-lived, ferment your own raw sauerkraut and keep your existing work crew happy!

Not every body is alike, and some people have an intolerance even to the fibers present in sauerkraut (FODMAP intolerance). If this is you, don’t worry! Look forward to an upcoming post on bitters, and request an appointment. We’ll discuss other dietary and herbal strategies for getting your digestion back on track.

I used to love keeping “pets” or “science projects” growing in the fridge, nameless jars of goo that my mother would eventually throw out. (Not all of them were supposed to be alive.) Get in touch with your inner mad scientist by brewing up a jar of fermented food. It’s wacky fun, and will make you want to practice your evil laugh.
Sauerkraut Recipe:

Start with: 1 head of organic cabbage and 2 Tbsp unrefined sea salt, a cutting board, knife, bowl, two wide-mouth mason jars, two smaller jars that fit inside the wide mouths.  Fill them with heavy weights like change.

1. Clean everything. You want only beneficial bacteria to grow in your culture, so give your ferment a head start by cleaning every surface and utensil well with hot water, and rinsing all soap residue completely off.

2. Remove and discard the two outermost cabbage leaves, saving a piece of one to cover your finished kraut. Chop your cabbage finely, in the thinnest slices you can to maximize surface area. Discard the core of the cabbage.

3. Add the salt to your cabbage and mix evenly, squeezing or massaging the vegetable matter for 5 to 10 minutes. It will squeak or crunch as you break it down further, releasing moisture.

4. (optional) You may mix in other shredded or sliced vegetables, fruits, herbs, or spices at this point. I added shredded carrot and ginger with dulse seaweed flakes.

5. Begin packing your sauerkraut tightly into each mason jar, taking care to press evenly to squeeze out all air pockets and press more liquids out of the mixture. Add kraut slowly, packing it tightly until the level is no less than 3 inches from the top of the jar and packing releases enough liquid to cover the top of the jar.

6. Cover the packed kraut with a small piece of discarded cabbage leaf as a lid, and press down on top of this with the smaller jar weighted with change or pebbles. The liquid level should rise above the cabbage leaf lid. As long as the liquid covers the sauerkraut your beneficial bacteria will outgrow their competitors, but if the vegetable matter is exposed to air unwanted bacteria will grow.

7. Cover your jar with a towel to keep out unwanted particles and let stand in a cool dry place for 5 to 10 days. Every day, press down on the jar and push out any air bubbles that form.

8. Start tasting your sauerkraut on Day 3, and keep tasting it until you like the flavor and consistency. Remove the weighted jar and discard the cabbage leaf on top, then seal the lid and keep your finished jar of sauerkraut in the fridge for up to two weeks.

9. Experiment with adding ingredients to see what flavors you like best. I like caraway seeds and juniper berries. Try mixing red and white cabbage, or adding shredded beet for a bright pink color. Pear slices with rosehips and elderberries, radish or turnip, can all be excellent additions. You can add dried nettles for even more protein and mineral content. Kimchi flavorings include spicy pepper, garlic, ginger, and anchovies ground into a paste and thoroughly blended.