The Many Health Benefits of Fermented Foods

March 28, 2016 Debbie Bowman

The health benefits of fermented foods are mainly centred around the fact that fermented foods, such as unpasteurized sauerkraut, kimchi, quality yogurt, kombucha, kefir, tempeh and miso, are naturally rich in probiotics, i.e. friendly gut bacteria.   

The body of knowledge surrounding the health of our gut flora and its relation to our overall health is growing every day.  Most health professionals now acknowledge that an unhealthy gut environment can lead to many health problems.  These problems range from indigestion, gas and bloating, to more serious afflictions such as chronic inflammation, mental illness, diabetes and heart disease. 

Today we live in an environment that makes maintaining a balanced gut environment almost impossible.  We live in a sterile world that is full of processed, irradiated and pesticide/herbicide coated and/or genetically modified foods.  We are bombarded by environmental chemicals and smothered by stress.  And most of us have some sort of pharmaceutical drug coursing through our veins, including antibiotics.  All of these things are devastating to the friendly flora that are trying to set up shop in our gut.  

So what can we do to make friends with our friendly bacteria?

Firstly, removing herbicides, pesticides, genetically modified, irradiated, or highly processed foods from our diet is a great place to start.  Find ways to lower stress and only take antibiotics when it is completely necessary.  Lastly, eat foods that support a healthy gut, like naturally gluten free foods, and fermented foods.  

Fermented foods are healing foods.  Fermented foods balance the acid level of the stomach and support pancreatic function.  They are full of digestive enzymes, B vitamins, essential fatty acids, and most importantly, beneficial bacteria.   Maintaining optimal gut flora, and 'reseeding' your gut with fermented foods may be one of the most important steps you can take to improve your health.

Every different type of fermented food has different strains or ratios of bacteria, and each strain is crucial to good health. For a well-balanced diet, be sure to eat a wide-range of fermented foods. Considering how many there are to choose from, variety shouldn’t be a problem!

Here is a recipe for home-made sauerkraut that is easy and quick. 

How To Make Homemade Sauerkraut in a Mason Jar

Ingredients:

1 medium head ORGANIC green cabbage (about 3 pounds)

1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt or sea salt - non iodized

1 -2 teaspoons caraway or dill seeds (optional, for flavour)

Equipment:

Cutting board

Chef's knife

Mixing bowl

2-quart wide-mouth canning jar (or two-quart mason jars)

Zip lock sandwich bag

Instructions:

Make sure your mason jar is washed and rinsed of all soap residue. You'll be using your hands to massage the salt into the cabbage, so give these a good wash too.

Now slice the cabbage.  Remove the wilted, limp outer leaves of the cabbage. (Psst! Save one large outer leaf for later). Cut the cabbage into quarters and trim out the core. Slice each quarter down its length, making 8 wedges. Slice each wedge crosswise into very thin ribbons. Alternatively, you can use a food processor to grate your cabbage.  

Transfer the cabbage to a big glass mixing bowl and sprinkle the salt over top. (It may seem like a lot of cabbage - in fact, too much to fit in the jar.  But as you work the cabbage and salt together the cabbage will break down to a point where you will be able to fit it all into the jar.  Trust me).  Begin working the salt into the cabbage by massaging and squeezing the cabbage with your hands. Gradually the cabbage will become watery and limp.  The massaging will break down the cell walls of the cabbage, making it release its liquid.  Squeek, squeek…squish, squish.  Continue to massage until there is a good amount of liquid in the bowl. This will take 4 - 8 minutes - depending on how vigorous you massage. My hands always get sort of tired, so I take little breaks throughout the process.  If you'd like to flavour your sauerkraut with caraway or dill seeds, mix them in now.  

Now it's time to pack the cabbage into the jar.  Grab handfuls of the cabbage and pack them into the canning jar. Every so often tamp down the cabbage in the jar with your fist. Pour any liquid released by the cabbage while you were massaging it into the jar.  Place the reserved outer leaf of the cabbage over the surface of the sliced cabbage. This will help keep the cabbage submerged in its liquid.

Once all the cabbage is packed into the mason jar, fill your sandwich bag partially with water, squeeze out the air, seal and slip this over your cabbage and liquid. This will help keep the cabbage weighed down and submerged beneath its liquid. 

Over the next 24 hours, press down on the cabbage every so often.   It's important that the cabbage remain submerged under the brine at all times.  

Ferment the cabbage for 4 to 10 days.  As it's fermenting keep the sauerkraut away from direct sunlight and at a cool room temperature — ideally 65°F to 75°F. Check it daily and press it down if the cabbage is floating above the liquid.  

Because this is a small batch of sauerkraut, it will ferment more quickly than larger batches. Start tasting it after 3 days — when the sauerkraut tastes good to you, remove the weight, screw on the cap, and refrigerate. You can also allow the sauerkraut to continue fermenting for 10 days or even longer. There's no hard-and-fast rule for when the sauerkraut is "done" — go by how it tastes.

This sauerkraut is a fermented product so it will keep for at least two months and often longer if kept refrigerated. As long as it still tastes and smells good to eat, it will be. If you like, you can transfer the sauerkraut to a smaller container for longer storage.

Red cabbage, napa cabbage, and other cabbages all make great sauerkraut. Make individual batches or mix them up for a multi-coloured sauerkraut.