Sunday, March 20, 2011

how we make our sauerkraut

i've mentioned the mister's homemade sauerkraut when i made reubens and piroshkis.  i've also devoted countless facebook statuses to the stuff. so you may be wondering, "what's the big deal with sauerkraut?"

i had it in my head that i didn't like it (stemming from many unreasonable fears & general disgust for a great number of now-awesome (to me) foods (like rye bread, bananas, and sauerkraut). yet i used to eat mcdonald's happy meals and hot dogs.  go figure.

just before christmas 2009, the mister started doing intense research (as he tends to do) on sauerkraut and the vessels used to make it at home. mrs. claus brought him a harsch stoneware crock for xmas (she ordered it from this website - based out of alabama and very reasonable shipping rates for such a heavy item). since then, we've tried to keep a batch going at all times, although we experience some down time when he goes on tour. and then i have to buy bubbie's or boar's head just to get my fix.

so the mister made the very first batch, but it didn't really like it. i'm not even sure if i remember the first time sauerkraut really clicked for me, but i think it may have been triggered by a seitan reuben i had in chicago last spring. and now, i can't get enough. i like to eat it with mashed potatoes and kale (a la colcannon)...but it is also great all by itself. it gives me energy and makes me feel clean.

so what goes into making our kraut? (the mister used to be the sole kraut-maker, but i've helped out the last two times. so now i think it's safe to say we're co-kraut conspirators).
  • cabbage procurement (usually 6-8 heads).  ideally, we'd get locally grown / organic (or in a perfect world, we'd grow our own), but most of it has come from the grocery store.  reserve a few of the big outer leaves to put between the mashed cabbage & weight stones. 
 29 cents a lb at publix. we couldn't pass that up.
  •  clean it WELL, then cut the core out.
  • i shred/cut, while the mister salts (roughly 3 TBS per 5 lbs of cabbage) and mashes it down. (they do make cabbage-specific mandolins (and we own one), but usage resulted in a near decapitated fingertip (they recommend wearing kevlar gloves) and it doesn't cut the cabbage as thin/consistent as we'd like).
 the wooden cabbage tamper (also purchased from the wisemen trading company) is a very useful tool. prior to buying it, the mister used a standard mashed potato masher. 
  • basically, you mash the ever-loving stuff out of the shredded cabbage in order to draw the liquid/water out (the salt also assists in this process).  put the saved outer leaves on top. then you place the weights on top of everything. after the weights go on, you need the water level to be at least 3cm above the stone. Push everything down with the tamper, using all your might.
  • put the lid on (making sure the "lip" of the lid constantly has water to keep a tight seal), then wait 3-6 weeks (depending on the season/weather/temperature of the house).
not our photo. i wish we could make the lid levitate like that though.
and that's it! (let me just say that the cleaning/cutting/mashing is at least a 2-hour process (with both of us working. solo, it used to take him 3-ish hours). your hands cramp up and your muscles hurt. but it is oh so worth it.
Still need some convincing?  Check out some info i found here:

Specific Health Benefits

  1. Sauerkraut as immune booster
    One of the not so secret benefits of sauerkraut is the boost it gives to immune systems. Packed with vitamins andminerals, sauerkraut has been used as a lay immune booster for centuries.Sauerkraut contains phytochemicals which are created during the fermentation process. These naturally occurring, beneficial by products of sauerkraut help boost the immune system which leads to a decrease in a number of health problems. The common cold, skin problems, weight gain and tainted blood are all fixed by a healthy functioning immune system.
  2. Sauerkraut as cancer fighter
    The most recent evidence of sauerkraut's status as a Superfood is found in numerous studies on the cruciferous wonder's cancer fighting properties. The results of a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry concluded that sauerkraut is a cancer inhibitor. The study discovered that the fermentation of cabbage produced a substance called isothiocynates, which prevents cancer growth, particularly in the breast, colon, lung and liver. Although raw cabbage is normally rich in a compound called glucosinolate, the researchers found that during the fermentation process enzymes are released that completely decompose the compound into several breakdown products. The majority of these products are cancer-fighting isothiocyanates. The University of New Mexico published a study linking sauerkraut consumption by adolescent females to a reduced risk for breast cancer earlier studies indicate sauerkraut may reduce the risk for other forms of cancer including lung, colon, prostate, and liver We are finding that fermented cabbage could be healthier than raw or cooked cabbage, especially for fighting cancer, says Eeva-Liisa Ryhanen, Ph.D., research manager of MTT Agrifood Research Finland, located in Jokioinen, Finland. A recent study by the American Center for Cancer Research has found that sauerkraut has a profound effect in preventing and healing breast cancer. Based on reports that breast cancer rates amongst polish women in the United States were much higher than those in Poland researchers set out to find out why. Their answer; the women who still lived in Poland ate significantly larger amounts of sauerkraut especially important while they were in adolescence. The research found that the women who immigrated Americanized' their diets and stopped eating as much of the super food that is sauerkraut thus increasing their rates of breast cancer.
  3. Digestive Aid
    Eating sauerkraut is a great way to protect the balance of bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract. Sauerkraut is one of the few foods that contain the bacterium Lactobacilli plantarum. L. planatarum is a very dominant strain of healthful bacteria which helps your digestive system in the following ways: boost the immune system by increasing antibodies that fight infectious disease help inhibit pathogenic organisms including E.coli, salmonella and unhealthy overgrowth of candida (yeast) create antioxidants (glutathione and superoxide dismustase) that scavenge free radicals which are a cancer precursor transforms hard-to-digest lactose from milk to the more easily digested lactic acid. It neutralizes the antinutrients found in many foods including the phytic acid found in all grains and the trypsin-inhibitors in soy generates new nutrients including omega-3 fatty acids, digestive aids and the trace mineral GTF chromium. These various properties are the best scientific reasons given for what has been known by loyal users for millennia, sauerkraut cures an upset stomach and is the best natural physic there is. Many sources say raw fermented foods are beneficial to the digestive system by increasing the healthy flora in the intestinal tract or creating the type of environment for them to flourish. Sauerkraut and its juice are traditional folk remedies for constipation. Fermentation actually increases nutrient values in the cabbage, especially vitamin C. Fermented foods are also said to facilitate the breakdown and assimilation of proteins. They have a soothing effect on the nervous system. The benefits of sauerkraut and sauerkraut juice have been recognized for generations. In some families of southern Germany, the children are fed raw sauerkraut twice weekly to support their intestines. Today it is thought that these benefits may relate to a high proportion of lactic acid in sauerkraut and sauerkraut juice that naturally supports the digestive processes, maintain intestinal flora, and increase the feeling of well-being.
  4. Flu Fighter
    With the spread of Avian Flu spreading across the globe, one enterprising Korean scientist, Kang Sa-Ouk of Seoul National University, took 13 chickens infected with avian flu virus and a couple of other diseases, fed them Kim chi extract and found that 11 of the birds recovered. Experts think the vital bacteria are created during the fermenting process and this gives the dish its health-boosting qualities.