In this article, we are going to learn about lacto-fermentation by making sauerkraut—a very healthful food for this season. In future articles, we will explore the topic of lacto-fermentation further.  

Autumn is just around the corner, and for many people, the change of season can mean sniffles and sneezes! Moving from summer to fall, and all the transitions it brings can usher in immune challenges. Back to school increases our exposure to germs. Our bodies need to “recalibrate”  from hot weather to cooler and damper weather. Spores and mold from falling leaves can stress our respiratory tract.

In Chinese medicine, autumn is the season of the lungs and large intestine, organs that are about detoxification and letting go. Fall weather can be challenging to  our lungs and upper respiratory systems and give us symptoms that are not comfy—such as sniffles, sneezes, and mucous— as our immune system copes with all the changes. Luckily, this  season is also time to start “putting up” or preserving the bounty from our gardens. Lacto fermentation is perfect for this season, for so many reasons. Yes, it’s time to make the  sauerkraut…but first, what is lacto-fermentation? 

What is Lacto-fermentation? 

Lacto-fermentation is a traditional method of preserving food. It is one of the OLDEST ways of  doing so…dating back to about 6,000 BCE, when someone thought to throw (or accidentally  threw) some salt on vegetables, and the veggies did not rot. Since those times, humans have invented fancier (and more expensive) ways to preserve foods…most notably the refrigerator  and freezer. But before refrigeration, there was lacto-fermentation. (Even canning is a “newbie”  on the food preservation front, having started in 1809, to preserve food for army and navy use. Canning has nothing on lacto-fermentation in terms of health benefits. After all, “shelf-stable”  means “sterilized”, or dead. But more on that later.) 

Lacto-fermentation preserves food by way of lactic-acid producing bacteria. (That’s where the  “lacto-“ comes from. It does not mean “lactose”, a milk sugar which some people try to avoid.)  Lactic-acid producing bacteria are also known as “lacto-bacilli” or “LAB”. They are what I have, for years, called “gut good guys”, aka beneficial bacteria. These beneficial bacteria eat the sugar in your vegetables or fruits and partially digest them, and in exchange give off lactic acid and carbon dioxide. The lactic acid preserves the food. 

Why Ferment? 

We lacto-ferment food to preserve it, but that is not all! Lacto-fermentation is also a “value added” process! That means you get more out than you put in. Extra value to your veggies. We already know that vegetables are good for us, but how about making them “extra good”? Lacto fermentation adds “gut good guys” for your GI tract that help you digest your food and aids  your immune function. How about some extra vitamin C for those sniffles? Yep! B vitamins?  Yes-sir-ee! Enzymes? Yes again. Some lacto-ferments are even anti-carcinogenic and can help  stabilize blood pressure.

What else does lacto-fermented food do? It can increase hydrochloric acid (HCl) in the stomach, which you need to digest protein, and can help break down fats in  the liver. Sounds like a lot of good reasons to ferment. (For more information about the  benefits of lacto-fermentation, see The Complete Cooking Techniques for the GAPS™ Diet, page  156.) 

How to Lacto-ferment! 

It’s easy! At its base, all you need is the vegetable, salt, and pure water, and something to put  the vegetable in while keeping air (and physical contaminants like dust, dog or cat hair, or bugs,  etc.) out. You may choose to use a “starter” or something to inoculate the vegetables, but it is not necessary.

First, I will go through the equipment you need, and then I’ll go through a few ways to lacto-ferment. You can choose whichever method you would like. Just start somewhere! It’s fun, it’s easy, it’s inexpensive, and the benefits are great! I am going to start  with sauerkraut, because cabbage is naturally remarkably high in real vitamin C that is easy for  the body to use (aka “bioavailable”) and fermenting it makes it even more so! 

Equipment for Lacto-fermenting Vegetables: 

  • Wide-mouth mason jars with canning lids (2 piece) to fit—1 quart for the recipe below
  • A tablespoon-measuring spoon 
  • Stainless steel bowl—for the recipe below (in which to pound cabbage)
  • Wooden or bamboo cutting board, medium to large is best 
  • Sharp knife (I like Santoku knives; easy to handle) 
  • Meat pounder
  • Canning funnel 

Sauerkraut Recipe 

Note: do not over-pack the cabbage because it will expand as it ferments. Leave about 2 inches  of space between the cabbage and the lid, and it will have plenty of room. This will prevent the  jar from leaking onto your counter, as well as the need to “burp” your ferment.  

Fermentation is an anaerobic process – lactobacilli do not like oxygen, so be sure to tighten the  cap well when you put it up on your counter.  

This recipe yields one quart of sauerkraut.  

Ingredients  

1 medium cabbage (any color or type) 

1 tablespoon caraway seeds (optional)  

1 tablespoon sea salt 

4 tablespoons whey (optional, see below for sources)  

No whey option: Increase salt to 2 tablespoons, leave out the whey 

Instructions  

  1. Using a very sharp knife or mandolin, cut cabbage fine. Retain an outer leaf of the  cabbage to cover it after you have packed it in the jar.  
  2. Place shredded cabbage in a large, stainless steel bowl.  
  3. Add salt or salt and whey if you are using it.  
  4. Pound with a meat pounder or massage between your clean hands for 10 minutes. The  cabbage will become limp and very bright in color as the water is drawn out of the  leaves and into the bowl.
    • Alternatively, you may sprinkle the cabbage with the salt, cover with a plate, and let it sit on the counter for 6-8 hours or so. The salt will draw out the water from the cabbage and into the bowl.  
  1. Place the cabbage and all the liquid in a wide-mouth quart jar, leaving 2 inches of space  from the top. Be sure cabbage is submerged below the liquid. Cover the cabbage with  the reserved cabbage leaves, to help keep it under the brine (you may also use  fermentation weights if you have them). 
  2. Cap with lid and seal tightly.  
  3. Leave on the counter at room temperature (68-72°F) a minimum of 3–5 days, or until  the lid becomes taut under the pressure of your finger (if you prefer a milder  sauerkraut, you may leave it for up to 2 weeks). When it is done, place in the  refrigerator—top shelf, or in other cold storage, at about 40°F. 

Note: the longer cabbage ferments, the milder the kraut. You can leave unopened jars of  sauerkraut in your refrigerator for several months to a year or more.  

Histamine Hint: If you have histamine intolerance, ferment the cabbage longer – for a year or  more. The longer cabbage ferments, the lower the histamine in the sauerkraut. Also, storing the kraut at 37-38°F will prevent the formation of histamines.

How to Make Whey the Easy Way 

The easiest way to obtain whey is to strain a good quality yogurt or kefir through a linen napkin  or towel, several layers of cheesecloth, or through a nut milk bag. What is the best quality  yogurt or kefir? One you make yourself from raw milk. (For more about that, see pages 65-72 in  the Culturing Dairy section of The Complete Cooking Techniques for the GAPS™ Diet.) If you  cannot obtain raw milk in your area, the next best is organic, grass-fed, whole, plain or kefir,  with no fillers or additives. You may use cow, goat, sheep, or yogurt or kefir made from any  other mammal milk to drip whey.

Another way to make whey is to allow raw milk to separate on the counter at room  temperature for several days. Do NOT try this with pasteurized milk of any kind. It will make  you extremely sick! 

Do not use powdered whey. It is a highly processed food fraction and will not work for our  purposes.  

Let’s Talk about Time, Temperature and Oxygen 

Fermentation is a bit of an art because we are dealing with live bacteria. However, there are  some guidelines that will help you successfully ferment. These have to do with time and  temperature, and how they are related.  

In general, the warmer the temperature of the room, the faster the fermentation. The cooler  the room, the slower the rate of fermentation. For most vegetable ferments (and low sugar fruits, such as tomatoes and cucumbers), it will take 3-5 days at room temperature (68-72°F) to  ferment.

How do you know when a ferment is “done”? That’s where those two-piece canning lids come in. A ferment is ready when you cannot press the lid down with your finger. That can  range from 3-5 days or more, depending upon the temperature of the room, the vitality of the  lactobacilli in the whey, and the amount of sugar in the vegetables.  

As mentioned above, lacto-fermentation is an anaerobic process. That means “no oxygen”.  Those gut good guys—the bacteria that are beneficial—grow without oxygen. Be sure to tightly cap your ferments to limit the oxygen in the jar so the beneficial bacteria can grow.  

Good luck putting up your sauerkraut! And keep up the “fermentum”! 

Monica Corrado, MA, CNC, CGP 

www.simplybeingwell.com

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Fermented Sauerkraut Recipe

Source: Monica Corrado

Course: Fermented Fruits and Veg

Yield: 1 quart

Serves:

Ingredients

  • 1 medium cabbage (any color or type)
  • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 4 tablespoons whey (No whey option: Increase salt to 2 tablespoons, leave out the whey)

Directions

  1. 1. Using a very sharp knife or mandolin, cut cabbage fine. Retain an outer leaf of the cabbage to cover it after you have packed it in the jar.
  2. 2. Place shredded cabbage in a large, stainless steel bowl.
  3. 3. Add salt or salt and whey if you are using it.
  4. 4. Pound with a meat pounder or massage between your clean hands for 10 minutes. The cabbage will become limp and very bright in color as the water is drawn out of the leaves and into the bowl. Alternatively, you may sprinkle the cabbage with the salt, cover with a plate, and let it sit on the counter for 6-8 hours or so. The salt will draw out the water from the cabbage and into the bowl.
  5. 5. Place the cabbage and all the liquid in a wide-mouth quart jar, leaving 2 inches of space from the top. Be sure cabbage is submerged below the liquid. Cover the cabbage with the reserved cabbage leaves, to help keep it under the brine. (You may also use fermentation weights if you have them.)
  6. 6. Cap with lid and seal tightly.
  7. 7. Leave on the counter at room temperature (68-72°F) a minimum of 3–5 days, or until the lid becomes taut under the pressure of your finger. (If you prefer a milder sauerkraut, you may leave it for up to 2 weeks.) When it is done, place in the refrigerator—top shelf, or in other cold storage, at about 40°F.
  8. Note: do not over-pack the cabbage because it will expand as it ferments. Leave about 2 inches of space between the cabbage and the lid, and it will have plenty of room. This will prevent the jar from leaking onto your counter, as well as the need to “burp” your ferment.
  9. Fermentation is an anaerobic process—lactobacilli do not like oxygen, so be sure to tighten the cap well when you put it up on your counter.
  10. The longer cabbage ferments, the milder the kraut. You can leave unopened jars of sauerkraut in your refrigerator for several months to a year or more.

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2 Responses

  1. I’ve been fermenting sliced red onions. Really tasty! I’ve always submerged the vegetables under the brine with weights — but left the top open. Pros and cons to leaving top open?
    We’ve also done kraut and kim chi. Tried okra — but they were too old and were too tough to eat.

    1. Hi Alaine, I reached out to the author and here’s what she had to say: “Lacto-fermentation is an anaerobic process. Anaerobic means “no oxygen”, so it is best to keep the lid on tight. When you leave the lid off, you stop lacto-fermentation and open up the jar to yeast. So best to keep those lids on!”

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