Naturally fermented foods are such a wonderful addition to a real-food diet! There are so many benefits to eating foods that have been fermented. Food that’s been naturally fermented with a starter like whey (or water kefir) is full of gut-healing probiotics, and is easier to digest because it is rich with enzymes and the fermentation process breaks down hard-to-digest cellulose in vegetables. Fermented foods will keep much longer than fresh food, but the process of fermentation actually increases the nutrient content of the food…whereas preserving food using modern canning methods kills off the food’s enzymes and reduces its nutritional value.
If you’ve been interested in trying a little fermentation of your own but have been hesitant to take that first step, you’re not alone. It’s admittedly a little scary thinking about letting something sit out out on your counter for days, and then….gulp….feeding it to your family! We’re used to thinking that we need to protect ourselves at all costs from food that’s “gone bad,” and understandably so. Nobody wants to contract food poisoning! But when you really understand how the process of fermentation works, you’ll feel much better about trying it at home. When you ferment something, you’re introducing a strain of beneficial bacteria into the food to get the process started. These bacteria are not only good for your body, they also specialize in killing off the bacteria that are bad for your body! As the probiotic culture grows, it kills bacteria that could be harmful to you as it ferments the food. In fact, fermented vegetables may be safer than raw vegetables when it comes to harmful bacteria, as this article from Food Safety News describes.
Ready to give it a try? Naturally fermented sauerkraut is a great place to start, because it’s fast and easy. All you need is a head of organic cabbage, some salt, and a bit of whey or water kefir! Just shred up the cabbage (I use a food processor) and mix in the salt and whey or kefir. Pound it a bit with a wooden spoon to get the juices going, and let it sit for about 40 minutes so that liquid starts to seep out of the cabbage.
Then, just pack it all into a quart-sized jar and fit it with a fermenting lid (not a necessity, but I like to use them, I find it prevents mold pretty well). If you don’t have a fermenting lid, press the cabbage down into the jar and then fit a smaller jar or drinking glass down on top of the cabbage. Put something heavy in the smaller glass…marbles, stones, etc…to weigh it down. This will help hold the cabbage down so that the liquid in the jar will cover it while it ferments. Set the jar out on your counter in a cool place, out of direct sunlight. It will be ready to eat in 3 days, or if you’d like it a little more sour you can leave it out for up to a week. If you see mold growing on the top, that’s OK. Just scrape off the top layer and toss it, what’s under it will still be just fine! You can taste it after three days and see if it’s sour enough for you, letting it sit a little longer if needed. When it’s just right, put a lid on it and pop it in the fridge…where it will keep for up to two months, since it’s fermented. That’s all there is to it!
I think that sauerkraut is a great introduction to fermented food…it’s easy to make and almost always turns out just right the first try (although it’s rare for something to go wrong, if your sauerkraut smells rotten or looks slimy, toss it and try again). What do you do with it once it’s ready? You can eat it as a side dish, a snack, or on a sandwich. I like to just put a few spoonfulls of fermented vegetables on everyone’s plate for dinner, it gives my family a nice dose of healthy probiotics and enzymes and it tastes great mixed in with whatever other veggies might be on the plate. Or you can make a meal that features your homemade sauerkraut…I’ll be sharing a dinner recipe later this week that is one of my favorite ways to serve sauerkraut, so if you start fermenting today you’ll be ready to go!
- 1 head of organic cabbage
- 1½ Tablespoons of sea salt
- ¼ cup water kefir or whey
- Wash the cabbage, and shred it with a food processor or cheese grater.
- In a large bowl, combine the shredded cabbage with the sea salt and whey and stir well. Pound it gently with a wooden spoon to help release the juice from the cabbage, then cover and leave out for 40 minutes.
- In a very clean mason jar, pack the cabbage firmly. If you have fermentation lids, just screw one onto the jar. If not, press down firmly on the cabbage and place a smaller jar or drinking glass over the cabbage. Fill the glass with weights, such as marbles or small stones. This will keep the cabbage under the level of the liquid in the jar, which helps prevent mold. Cover the jar with a clean dish cloth and secure it with a rubber band.
- Place the jar in a cool place in your kitchen, away from direct sunlight. Let the jar sit for at least 3 days, checking after 3 days to see if it's sour enough for your taste. You can leave the jar out for a week to get the desired sourness. If mold grows on the top of the cabbage, just skim it off...what's underneath is still perfectly fine.
- When the sauerkraut is fermented, place a lid on the jar and store in the fridge for up to 2 months.
Note: It's not common for anything to go wrong in the fermentation process, but if your sauerkraut smells rotten (instead of just "sour") or is slimy, toss it and try again.
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