As more is learnt about gut health and the microbiome (the mystical population of bacteria hiding out in your colon), the more scientists are beginning to understand just how important it is to human health. And it really is. So it’s a good idea to take steps to look after our friendly bacteria, as they will look after us in return.
There are a number of ways to do this. Eating a diet high in different types of fibre is one of the best ways – and of course to me that means a whole-food plant-based way of eating. There is no fibre in animal products. At all. And most refined and processed foods have had the majority of the fibre, or elements of it, removed (even if it claims to be high fibre on the packet). Whole plant foods are packed full of fabulous fibre in the balance that nature intended. And the helpful bacteria love it!
Another way is to introduce friendly bacteria to your microbiome by eating fermented foods. Natural fermentation starts when a food source is exposed to beneficial bacteria that hang around in the air and environment. It’s not about eating mouldy food (although there are plenty of products which specifically include types of mould – blue cheese for example!) but food that has established a colony of beneficial bacteria, such as different strains of lactobacillus. This is the main bacteria found in most probiotic supplements and is a key player in the microbiome community.
Traditionally, sauerkraut was made as a way of preserving vegetables – mainly cabbage with some carrot – for use over winter. It’s a key staple in many Eastern European countries. It is readily available in supermarkets, but the key problem is that unless sauerkraut is found in a fridge, it will be pasteurised for longevity. And the high heats of pasteurisation kill off the friendly bacteria, so you get the flavour without the benefit.
Fresh sauerkraut can be found in some health stores in the fridge, but can be expensive. So if you want to boost your bacteria, making some at home is the easiest way to do it. And as your home made version will be using the bacteria found in your home, it’s tailor-made for you.
All you need to make your own sauerkraut is:
- Seeds like caraway, cumin or fennel (optional)
- Large jar
- Rolling pin or something to squash the veg into the jar
- Muslin cloth, cheesecloth or thin tea towel
Here’s the video from my Facebook Live last Friday showing you how to make your own sauerkraut. The full recipe with additional updates are posted below.
There are lots of combinations you can make to fit the veggies you enjoy. Apart from this simple version, other combos I like are:
- Red cabbage, carrot and garlic
- Carrot, beetroot and ginger
- Cabbage, carrot and fresh turmeric (wear gloves!)
I do hope you give this a go. Let me know how you get on and enjoy your own, specialised gut-loving side dish.
- Large jar
- Rolling pin
- Muslin cloth or tea towel
- 1 kg cabbage white, green or red
- 1 1/4 tbsp Himalayan salt
- 2 large carrots peeled and grated
- 1 teaspoon caraway, fennel or cumin seeds optional
- 3 cloves garlic, sliced optional
- filtered water to top up if needed
- Peel off 2 strong outer leaves of the cabbage and put to one side. Wash and shred the remaining cabbage and place in a large bowl. Sprinkle the salt over the top and leave for a couple of minutes.
- Using your hands, gently massage the salt into the shredded cabbage for 10 minutes. This starts to draw out the water and is the start of your brine. (NB - if you are using red cabbage, wear rubber gloves for this otherwise you will have pink fingers!)
- Once you have some liquid, stir in the carrots, seeds and garlic if using
- Transfer the veggies to the large jar. It should be very full.
- Using the rolling pin (or similar implement) gently squash the cabbage mix into the jar, pressing it down so it gets compacted. More water will be drawn out as you do this.
- Continue squashing the veggies until enough water has been released to cover them. If you don't feel you have enough, top up with filtered water. It's important that the vegetables are covered - not too much but anything unprotected by the brine it will go mouldy.
- The jar will now be half or three quarters full. Wash the retained outer leaves and place them in the jar on top of the cabbage mix as a cover. If needed, place a small weight on top of these leaves to ensure the mix is below the water mark - I used a lemon.
- Place the muslin cloth (or equivalent) over the top of the jar - use an elastic band to keep it in situ if needed. Do not seal the jar yet. Leave it in a coolish place in the kitchen to ferment.
- The time it takes depends on how warm your kitchen is. After 3 days bubbles should start to appear at the side and on the top (if you move the protective leaves). Check the smell every day after this - it should be slightly sour but not unpleasant. (see below)
- When you are happy your sauerkraut is fermented, remove the muslin cover and protective leaves and seal the jar. Keep in the fridge or a cool place whilst it contines to gently ferment and develop. It's ready to use, but if you can leave if for 5-6 weeks it will taste even better.