Fermenting 101 – Sauerkraut

   

The importance of gut health is finally getting the attention it deserves. Trillions of bacteria and micro-organisms make up the microbiome in our gut. Studies show that these little guys play a critical role in maintaining health by aiding in digestion and strengthening the immune system.  They keep the bad bugs at bay – dangerous bacteria like Campylobacter or Clostridium difficile (C.Diff), which can cause serious illness.

So many of today’s health issues may be traced to what’s going on inside the gut. Poor diet, illness, stress, antibiotics, and environmental toxins disrupt the ecology of the microbiome, which puts it into a  “dysbiotic” state. When the system is out of whack, it shows up in different ways:  obesity, type-2 diabetes, irritable bowel disease, and colon cancer (), periodontal disease and dental decay (), atherosclerosis and endocarditis (), anxiety, and depression (). 

It’s crucial to bring the good bacteria back in to rebalance the microbiome and get it back to work as it should. (Guess why fecal transplants work?) Naturally fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, miso and tempeh do exactly this – they reintroduce good bacteria – the probiotics – to help diversify and “feed” the helpful flora in our gut.

One of the easiest foods to ferment for beginners is cabbage. The end result, sauerkraut, is the perfect introduction of beneficial bacteria into the microbiome. 

Equipment

My family has been making sauerkraut for decades. I inherited a vintage cabbage shredder from my parents, at least 60 years old. It came from Poland, travelling in a trunk on the Stefan Batory in the mid-1950s.   It continues to shred today and will always remain a family heirloom. I recently discovered newer versions, handmade in Poland and distributed by a company out of British Columbia – https://cabbageshredder.com/.  

New shredder has arrived, but I will never part with the vintage one!

Using a regular mandolin works fine for small batches, but these big shredders make short work of cutting a whole head of cabbage in minutes, in the perfect, classic, consistency for the best fermented sauerkraut.  A food processor isn’t ideal. When I tested using a Cuisinart, the shreds were a bit too short and thick for my liking, but if that’s all you have, it will still ferment just fine.

You will also need a large bowl for mixing the cabbage with the salt. I use a giant salad bowl I found at IKEA. A stock pot could work too.

Next is the fermenting vessel. Back in the day, my parents used a wooden barrel, making enough sauerkraut to last the whole winter and then some. Smaller ceramic crocks with weighted plates are wonderful alternatives. They come in different sizes and although a bit pricey, should last a lifetime. Although I pine for one of those, it is completely unnecessary and you can make your sauerkraut in a mason jar. 

A 1 Litre / 1 Quart mason jar is probably the smallest size to use and this is big enough for one medium head of shredded cabbage. A large head will fill at least two jars, or alternatively,  one bigger 2L jar.

I use weighted glass disks to keep my cabbage submerged (to avoid mold), but if you don’t have these, you can use a folded cabbage leaf packed at the top before you screw on the lid. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium to large head of cabbage
  • 1-3 carrots, peeled (depending on size and your own preference) 
  • Non-iodized sea salt or Himalayan pink salt

Sterilize Jars:

Wash and sterilize your jar(s) using one of these options:

  • In your dishwasher on sterilize cycle 
  • In your oven – heat to 275 F for at least 20 minutes
  • In your microwave – place wet jars in the microwave for 60 seconds on high. 
  • Boil lids for 5 minutes or use new ones.

Let jars and lids cool before filling.

Shred:

  • Remove and rinse the outer leaves of the cabbage. Set them aside.
  • Cut the cabbage into quarters for shredding
  • Shred using cabbage shredder or mandolin into a large bowl or stock pot. Be very careful as you get close to the ends. The blades are extremely sharp!

  • Peel and shred the carrots using the large holes in regular box grater. Add to cabbage.

 

Salt:

  • Add approximately 1 measured tablespoon salt for every 1.5 lbs of cabbage. It should taste salty, but not gross. If you don’t add enough salt, you may get mold and soft (not crisp) sauerkraut. Too much salt will inhibit fermentation and will also taste bad.
  • To be more precise, use a digital scale to weigh the shredded vegetables and use the 2% guideline. Multiply the weight in grams by .02 ( 2%) to get the required amount of salt in grams. 900 grams of vegetables would require 18 grams of salt. In my real life example, my very large head of cabbage/3 carrot mixture weighed 2283 g (X .02) = 45.6 g of salt, which, after weighing, I measured as 4 flat tablespoons.

Mix, Squeeze and Pack into Jars:

  • Mix the carrots and cabbage until the carrots are well distributed. Squeeze and toss the mixture with your hands for several minutes. This breaks down the cell walls so the cabbage can release its liquid. The volume will reduce a fair bit as the liquid is released. If it drips when you squeeze it, it is ready to be packed into the clean jar(s). 

Pack the squeezed cabbage mixture into the jar firmly to eliminate any air pockets. Push it down super hard. For the 1L jar, it may be difficult to fit your hand in to pack it down, so you may wish to use the pestle from a mortar & pestle, or the handle of your potato masher or other kitchen tool. Keep filling and packing until you near the top of the jar.

The cabbage must be submerged under the liquid. Top this with one of the large outer cabbage leaves removed earlier, folded to fit into the top of the jar. Alternatively, use a glass weight. This air-lock keeps the oxygen out which helps to keep mold and slime from forming. (Please note if you purchase the weights, they come in two sizes – for both regular or wide-mouth jars.)

Screw the lid onto the jar and place jar out of direct sunlight. I leave mine in a corner on the kitchen counter. Please note that the fermentation process creates carbon dioxide, so for the first few days in particular, make sure to “burp” the jar, loosening the lid briefly to let the gas out. It’s a good idea to keep your jar on a plate or tray, as the liquid sometimes seeps out a bit as it starts fermenting.

Warning

Fermenting cabbage has a natural, gassy smell. Bubbles rising in the jar mean it’s working. A little bit of a white film on top is nothing to worry about. BUT if you see black, green or grey mold or if the smell is unbearably bad, something has gone wrong. To be safe, dispose of it and start a new batch. 

Ferment Time

Fermentation speed depends on temperature. If it’s warm, it will ferment faster or vice-versa. Taste is the next variable as some prefer a light ferment, while others (like me) prefer a more sour, acidic flavour. You can start tasting after a week, but it’s safe to leave it for up to a month or even longer, tasting a little every once in a while. When it tastes good, refrigerate to slow any additional fermentation. The last batch I made was perfect after exactly one month on the counter.

Recipes and suggestions on how to use sauerkraut to follow soon! 

Enjoy!  

 

Juicing 101

I didn’t really understand the benefits of drinking fresh-pressed juice until I watched Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. In this documentary, Australian Joe Cross chronicles his journey to regain health with a drastic 60-day juice fast. As he juices his way across America drinking his signature “Mean Green” (recipe below) Joe loses nearly a hundred pounds and clears up a chronic, debilitating skin condition.  

Inspired, I wanted to try this. I could certainly benefit from some weight loss and re-setting my taste buds away from junk food and towards healthier whole foods seemed like a win-win.  First, I  loaded up my shopping cart with veggies – heaps of greens, mostly organic. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) puts out a list every year of the best and worst foods in terms of pesticide residue. When you’re ingesting huge quantities of produce for juicing, organic is preferable if only for the most contaminated dirty dozen. In 2018, these are strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, potatoes and bell peppers. The clean 15  are the least contaminated, so if you have to skip organic due to cost or lack of availability, start with these.

 On my first try, it took me over an hour to wash, peel, and chop enough veggies to make a day’s worth of fresh juice.  Another 15 minutes was spent juicing, then 10 more minutes scrubbing the juicer Once the pulp dries in the machine, it can become very difficult to remove. So yes, time is involved – but if you’re not cooking, you may have a bit of time to spare. Some find the taste of freshly-pressed green juice refreshing; others liken it to drinking freshly-mown grass and gag and sputter as they choke it down.  I prefer it immediately out of the juicer, when the nutrients and enzymes are optimal. Fresh is not always possible if you’re juicing ahead or taking it to work, in which case it’s completely fine to store it in glass containers in the fridge for up to 72 hours. Some people freeze it – I never have.   

Types of Juicers

Centrifugal JuicersUsing centrifugal force, these juicers spin the pulp at high speeds to extract the juice. They can be loud and are not great at juicing leafy vegetables, such as spinach or kale, sprouts or wheatgrass.

  • Most common, least expensive juicers found on shelves
  • Fast prep and easy to use
  • May be more difficult to clean
  • Yield less juice
  • Reduced juice quality as fast-spinning blades produce heat that destroys beneficial enzymes and oxidizes nutrients

 

Masticating JuicersThese are known as the “cold-press” juicers. Produce goes down a tube where it is squeezed and crushed at a slower speed with the juice exiting the bottom of the tube.

  • Well-suited to juicing leafy greens, grasses, sprouts and herbs
  • Higher juice yield
  • Lower speeds means less heat is generated, preserving more nutrients and enzymes ; juice stays fresher longer
  • Less noisy / Higher initial cost

I started with a Breville centrifugal juicer. As I got more serious about juicing, especially greens, I purchased an Omega masticating juicer (the Omega 8006 pictured here) which I continue to use daily. 

Benefits of Juicing vs Smoothies

Juicing extracts the liquid and nutrients from produce leaving behind the indigestible fibre. The digestive system doesn’t have to work as hard to break down the food and nutrients become more readily available in much larger quantities than eating the produce whole.  Many healing/detox programs offer fresh green juices for just that reason – they are extremely nourishing and help to restore the body at a cellular level.

Smoothies use the whole fruit or vegetable, with all of their natural fibre. Made in a blender or NutriBullet, the process breaks the fibres down to make them easier to digest allowing for a slow, even release of nutrients into the blood stream and avoiding blood-sugar spikes.  More filling and faster to make, smoothies generally have a thicker, creamier texture than juices. Ounce-per-ounce, they contain fewer servings of fruit and/or vegetables than fresh-pressed juice.

The first three days of juicing were hell. I felt feverish, as if I was getting the flu. My head was pounding. My muscles hurt. This is what detoxing feels like when you abruptly cut off sugar and caffeine . By Day 4, however, I felt somewhat better and then WHAM, I felt amazing! I would get crazy surges of energy — I caught myself bouncing up and down by the photocopier at work one day. I constantly felt like moving and walking and going outside! It was remarkable.

I discovered that I liked to have a “shot” to start things off every morning and I continue to do these now. Wheatgrass, while beneficial, makes me feel queasy so my preference is lemon and ginger. Ginger shots (my Lemon Zingers), are a great eye-opener with a slow warming burn not unlike a shot of whisky.  

Sometimes during the fast, I did feel bloated from all of the juice, but never did I feel as if I was starving. I stuck to the juicing schedule that Joe Cross suggests which is about 16-20 ounces of juice, 4 to 6 times per day, supplemented with herbal tea and pure coconut water. It’s also suggested that the ratio of produce in the juice should be 80% vegetables to 20% fruits — to keep the sugar down. 

At the end of 30 days, my stomach was making extremely loud gurgling sounds, reminding me that it wanted something with a little more substance to digest.  I was ready to eat again.  People had noticed my weight loss – it amounted to 28 pounds in a month. My blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels had all dropped. My doctor told me that whatever I was doing was working terrifically well. Plus I had more energy than ever. I lost my taste for sweets and junk – at least for a while – and the first solid food I wanted to eat was a raw green spring roll.

Although some can and do fast on juice for long periods with excellent results, I would never advocate exclusively juicing for a very long term. A 30 or 60-day juice fast is a pretty drastic measure and probably long enough for even the most hard-core juicer. It does reset your mind and body as one would reboot a glitchy computer. The sense of well-being is invigorating and will carry you towards a healthier path for some time. If you do start to slip back into old patterns, a short juice fast of a few days serves as quick reboot to get back on track.  Ultimately, however, you don’t need to “fast” at all – just include fresh-pressed juice as part of your lifestyle. The super-boost of easily-absorbed nutrition always feels fantastic. I now try to include one a day on most days. Nature’s multi-vitamin.

Juicing Tip

In order to get the widest variety of nutrients, it’s important to drink the rainbow. Green juices. Red juices. Orange juices. Purple. My tip for better flavours when making up recipes is to stick with the same colour families for each batch of juice. Do not mix green produce with orange produce. It will turn brown. It will not be appetizing, no matter the taste.

Juice On!