Fermenting foods in your kitchen is easy, involving as little as two ingredients, such as in sauerkraut: cabbage and salt. Simply shred the cabbage, mix it with salt, place it in a non-reactive container, and you’re in business. The salt inhibits the growth of undesirable bacteria while allowing Lactobacillus bacteria to grow. These desirable bacteria convert sugars into lactic acid through a process called lacto-fermentation. The lactic acid acts as a food preservative.
Fermentation of food is one of the original forms of food preservation. Cultures all around the world consume fermented foods such as yogurt (fermented milk), tempeh (fermented soy beans), kombucha (fermented tea), sauerkraut and kim chi (fermented vegetables), sourdough bread, beers, wines and meads (fermented honey). The acid or alcohol formed during fermentation prevents the growth of spoilage bacteria, thus extending the shelf life of the food. Fermentation also imparts desirable flavors and textures to foods which makes them cultural favorites.
Another added bonus of fermented foods is that they all contain probiotics, beneficial bacteria necessary for adequate digestion and absorption of nutrients. A healthy gut is full of good bacteria which help to fight off the growth of unhealthy bacteria. A healthy immune system is dependent on having beneficial bacteria in the gut which can be supplied by fermented foods. It’s important to note, however, that fermented foods that have been heat processed, as in shelf stable canned products, no longer contain the live bacterial cultures.
Fermented cabbage (commonly known by its German name, Sauerkraut) is an easy way to start your venture into fermentation. So while you’re at the Saratoga Farmers’ Market pick-up five pounds of cabbage, and get shredding.
Containers for Fermenting Cabbage: A 1-gallon stone crock holds 5 pounds of shredded cabbage, and a 5-gallon crock holds 25 pounds. Do not use copper, iron, or galvanized metal containers or lead-glazed crocks. If you are unsure about the safety of a container, use an alternative such as glass or food-grade plastic containers. Many restaurants receive foods and ingredients in 5-gallon plastic pails, which make ideal fermentation containers. Do not use garbage bags or trash liners. You’ll also need a plate that fits inside the container and a weight to hold down the plate. (See Filling and Packing the Container)
Ingredients: 5 pounds cabbage* (about 2 small or 1 large head)
3 tablespoons canning or pickling salt (Iodine and additive free salt)
Discard outer leaves. Rinse heads with cold water and drain. Cut heads in quarters, remove cores, and trim and discard worm- and disease-damaged tissue. Shred or slice cabbage to a thickness of 1⁄16 to ⅛ inch.
Filling and Packing the Container: Place 5 pounds of shredded cabbage in the fermentation container and thoroughly mix in 3 tablespoons of canning or pickling salt. Pack it with clean hands until the level of natural juices drawn from the cabbage covers its surface. To avoid surface mold growth, keep the cabbage submerged at all times. If the juice does not cover the cabbage, add boiled and cooled brine prepared with 1½ tablespoons of salt in a quart of water. Cover the cabbage with a plate just small enough to fit inside the fermentation container and weigh it down with two or three clean quart jars filled with water. An acceptable alternative is to fill a large, sealed, food-grade plastic bag containing 4½ tablespoons of salt and 3 quarts of water. The filled bag may be inserted into another bag and sealed for added strength. Plastic bags sold specifically for cooking turkeys are the right size for 5-gallon containers. Cover the top of the container with several layers of clean cheesecloth or a clean kitchen towel to reduce exposure to airborne mold spores.
Fermentation Temperature, Time, and Management: Store the container at 70 to 75°F while fermenting. At these temperatures, kraut will be fully fermented in about 3 to 4 weeks; at 60 to 65°F, fermentation may take 6 weeks. Below 60°F, kraut may not ferment. Above 80°F, kraut may become soft and spoil. Fermentation naturally stops because the acids accumulate to such an extent that further growth cannot take place. If you submerge the cabbage with a brine-filled bag, do not disturb the crock until the normal fermentation is complete (when bubbling ceases). If you use jars as weights, you must check the kraut two to three times each week and remove scum if it forms. Kraut should be to desired tartness, with firm texture, have brine that is not cloudy, and be free of any sign of mold or yeast growth. Do not taste if you see mold on the surface, feel a slimy texture, or smell a bad odor. Fully fermented kraut may be kept tightly covered in the refrigerator for several months, or it may be canned and frozen. Fermenting sauerkraut in jars is not recommended because fermentation is less consistent and keeping the fermenting cabbage properly submerged under the liquid in jars is difficult.
Source: http://extension.psu.edu/food/preservation/safe-methods/sauerkraut, 9-5-14.
Ingredients marked with an asterisk (*) are available at the Saratoga Farmers’ Market on High Rock Avenue. For information about food and nutrition contact Diane Whitten at Cornell Cooperative Extension at 885-8995or firstname.lastname@example.org.