How to get started with fermentation (And a super easy sauerkraut recipe)
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I get it - You’ve been reading about the incredible benefits of fermented foods, and you want to jump on board, but…
Isn’t bacteria BAD for me?
Will I get botulism?
Are there a lot of steps involved?
How do I make sure I am doing things safely?
Fermentation is actually pretty fun once you get the hang of it, but in the beginning it can be daunting! You don’t want to do the wrong thing and make yourself sick, but you definitely want the amazing benefits that homemade ferments have to offer.
Well fear not, dear reader! Fermentation isn’t nearly as terrifying as it seems. The great thing about fermenting your own food is that you can tell immediately when something’s not right. It’s not a guessing game like traditional canning. You can totally do this - I promise!
But before we get into the nitty-gritty, allow me to geek out for a hot minute.
Let me share a little secret with you: Fermented foods are, in my humble opinion, one of the BEST ways to obtain probiotics. They have many times the number of strains (different types of healthy bacteria/yeasts) and more than 100 times the cultures (number of organisms) than those expensive probiotic supplements you’re taking each day. This is not to say that you should stop taking your supplements (always chat with your own practitioner before making a change!), it’s more of a comparison to really highlight the healing power of fermented vegetables. Studies have shown that one 4 ounce serving of sauerkraut contains more probiotic cultures than an entire 100-count bottle of probiotic pills!
‘Kraut is often referred to as “the poor man’s dish and the rich man’s medicine,” and for good reason! It can help to regulate the digestive system and boost the immune system, and it’s high in vitamin K2 which is important for bone health, prevention of heart disease and inflammation. There is a LONG list of other reasons you may want to consider introducing fermented veggies into your diet, but I’ll add one word of caution:
If you’re new to fermented foods, start small. Too much can cause bloating, gas and diarrhea (because remember: That’s a LOT of probiotics). Plus, some folks have what is called a “histamine intolerance” which can make sauerkraut a difficult food for them to digest. Start by adding only 1/2 tablespoon or so to a meal and see how you feel. More isn’t always better!
Once you get the hang of how the fermentation process works, you’ll be hooked. Making your own ferments is an art, because no matter what you do, every batch will turn out completely unique from the last. It will have it’s own individual set of strains and cultures of gut-supportive probiotics that can really help you THRIVE.
The only question is: Are you ready to give it a go?
The Basics: Salt + Vegetables + Environment
The role of salt is both protective and purposeful. It protects against harmful strains of bacteria while also stimulating osmosis. In order to make ferments like sauerkraut, salt is needed to draw the liquid out of the cabbage so that it has a brine to make that beautiful magic in.
A common mistake beginners make is to not leave enough liquid above the vegetables to protect them from the elements of the outside world. If I can’t quite get enough, I like to make a separate brine of 1 tsp pink salt to one cup of filtered water and add some on top of my packed down veggies.
Every fermented food relies on the same principles of salt, vegetables and an environment free from oxygen so the healthy bacteria can grow.
Can you believe it’s THAT simple?
Basic Sauerkraut Method
I always recommend a newbie fermentationist start with sauerkraut. It’s a very simple recipe that can be tweaked and adjusted once you feel comfortable with how to do it. Start with just cabbage & salt for your first round, and if you find success (which you totally will!), you can get creative in your next batches by adding spices and herbs, different types of vegetables, garlic, ginger, green onion and more. Go ahead - Let those creative juices flow!
One head of cabbage
3 tbsp pink salt or sea salt
(Optional) Spices, garlic, ginger, or other vegetables
2 one-quart mason jars
Big bowl for mixing
Weight (Either a fermentation weight, a whole cabbage leaf or the butt end of your head of cabbage)
A coffee filter and a rubber band for covering the jar (keeps dust out while allowing airflow)
Wash everything - Your jar, knife, bowl, cutting board, and your hands.
Finely chop your cabbage, either by hand or with a food processor or mandolin.
Liberally coat the cabbage with salt in your bowl, and allow it to sit for 5-10 minutes.
Mix, pound and squeeze the cabbage to get as much water out of it as you can.
Add any other vegetables and spices, you’d like (optional).
Stuff the mixture into your mason jars and push it down as much as you can to get rid of any air bubbles while still allowing the salty brine rise to the surface. You want at least an inch of water above your veggies at all times.
You can use a weight to keep the kraut submerged beneath the liquid. Some people use the actual “butt” end of the cabbage itself, or you can get fancy and buy yourself a proper fermentation weight online.
Check your kraut every few days to ensure that it’s still submerged.
Let it ferment to your liking, away from direct sunlight at room temperature. I usually let mine go for about 10-15 days before popping it in the fridge. It’s also a good idea to have a peek at your creation daily to ensure that the kraut is staying below the surface of the liquid, and pressing it back down using your weight as needed.
That’s it! Store your fermented sauerkraut in the fridge and it will keep for several months (but I promise it won’t last that long!). Enjoy it in wraps, on burgers or salads, and in just about any other savoury dish you can imagine!
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In health (and with a super happy gut),