Is there anything scarier than intentionally growing bacteria in your food? Why would anyone even attempt it? After all, recipes like these are probably difficult to follow and bound to fail.
Fermented foods like Sauerkraut, Kefir, Kombucha etc. are quite popular right now. They contain “good” bacteria in larger quantities (and a larger variety of strains) than yoghurt, and this bacteria helps to improve the balance of bacteria in our stomach and gut. There is growing evidence that prebiotics (foods high in fibre that bacteria feed on) and beneficial forms of probiotics (the bacteria themselves) improve gut health which in turn can have a positive effect in treating or preventing diseases like inflammatory bowel conditions, colon cancer and obesity. Research has suggested that lean individuals have a more diverse gut biome than obese individuals and eating fermented vegetables is an effective way to improve the balance between “good” and “bad” bacteria.
Another important consideration is how prebiotics, or indigestible fibre, are crucial in maintaining a healthy concentration of acid in the stomach. This is important as a lot of the really nasty bacteria like E. Coli, Salmonella, H Pylori (of “causes stomach ulcers” fame) don’t thrive in acidic environments and it has been shown that reducing fibre in the diet makes the stomach less acidic which can set the stage for potentially damaging bacteria to get a foothold in our gut. For people like us who adhere to the low carb healthy fat whole-food way of eating it really is essential that we ensure we get lots of fibre from vegetables and fruit.
The main reason I love fermented foods is they are simply delicious and my personal favourite so far is Sauerkraut. Here is my super simple, colourful version of this classic pickle. I am a sad case and I actually get quite attached to the sauerkraut once it’s made as I find it so amazing that something so cheap and boring can transform into something so delicious. When it’s made just right it has a clean, delicate pickle flavour with a distinctive scent of blackcurrants. Try it out and get the bug for growing bugs… in your food (will that tagline ever catch on?)
Successful September Sauerkraut
- 1 Red Cabbage
- 1 Carrot
- 1 Onion
- 1 Clove of Garlic
- 1 ½ tbsp Salt
- ½ tbsp Chilli Flakes (optional)
- Olive Oil to form a layer on top
Chop the cabbage into quarters and reserve a couple of the outer leaves for packing the pickle at the end. Finely slice the cabbage and place it in a large bowl (not aluminium). Finely slice the onion and grate the carrot, add to the bowl beside the cabbage. Crush or grate the garlic into the large bowl. Add to the vegetables the chilli flakes (if using), and the salt. To speed up this process, I would recommend using a mandoline to prepare all of the above – just watch your fingers!
Thoroughly clean your hands or wear some food preparation gloves and then begin to “knead” the vegetables for at least 5 minutes until the salt begins to draw the liquid out of the vegetables, this is a crucial step as we need the liquid to come up over the vegetables in order for the bacteria that grows to be the kind that grows without air (more on that later).
Once the vegetables have been massaged, put them into an immaculately clean mason jar and press down quite firmly to pack them in. Pour the liquid over the top and using the cabbage leaves we reserved at the start, push the vegetables down and tuck the large leaves down the side of the jar to keep the sliced vegetables in place. Pour enough olive oil onto the cabbage leaves on top to form a thin air proof layer of oil.
Place a sheet of cling wrap over the mouth of the mason jar and then close the jar with it’s hinge clip. Cling wrap the top of the jar again to ensure it is sealed from the air and your preparation is complete. Find a cool, dark place for your sauerkraut and give it at least 2 weeks to ferment.
You can keep it fermenting longer which will produce a sourer, stronger pickle. Once you have “harvested” your pickle, transfer it to smaller jars and keep it in the fridge – it should last at least a couple of weeks up to a month. Once you have cut your teeth making sauerkraut you can experiment with making different pickles and fermented foods, getting the basics down first will set you up for successful fermenting.