Thursday, September 12, 2013

Lacto-fermentation



Lacto-fermentation, or lactic acid fermentation, is a process in which  starches and sugars are converted into cellular energy and the metabolite lactate.  The most commonly fermented products are yogurt and sauerkraut.  Our ancestors were unaware of the benefits of these types of foods and used this process to preserve foods at a time when refrigeration was not an option. There are two stages involved - in the first stage the harmful bacteria gets killed off and in the second stage the beneficial bacteria gets to work creating an environment that safely preserves the vegetables/milk and gives them that tangy deliciousness!

I've long been wanting to try making my own sauerkraut  not just for it's deliciousness but also for the health benefits. Besides prolonging the life of food, lactic acid fermentation increases the nutritional value(vitamins) of food, making it more digestible(enzymes) and promotes the healthy growth of flora (probiotic bacteria) throughout the intestine.  It also contains antibiotic and anti-carcinogenic substances.  It has been credited with curing indigestion as well.

I'm all for a healthy gut as I believe your digestive system is the gateway to overall body health.  It all starts with your stomach and what you put into it!  I think it was Hippocrates who said "let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food".  Heart disease and cancer are the biggest killers in north america and it's no secret that both of these diseases are linked to the foods we eat as well as our lifestyles. 

I make my own yogurt on a regular basis but this is the first time that I have tried to make my own sauerkraut.  You can purchase one of those professional but expensive fermentation crocks or take the cheap route like me and do it in a canning jar or the ceramic insert from your crockpot/slow cooker.  Don't get me wrong - I would seriously love to have a Harsch crock - I just can't justify the cost for one right now.  The main thing is making sure that the equipment you use is clean and sterile and that the foods you choose to ferment are fresh and preferably organic and free form pesticides and fertilizers.

For my first vegetable ferment I chose to make basic sauerkraut using just cabbage and salt.   Use a non iodized salt such as  himalayan pink.

Ingredients:

1 head of green or red cabbage (4-5 lbs)
3-4 tablespoons himalayan pink salt or other non iodized salt

Equipment:

sharp knife
cutting board
crock or large jar to hold the cabbage while it ferments
something to weigh down the cabbage and keep it below the juice


Method:

Clean your jar or crock (whatever vessel you choose to hold the cabbage while fermenting) with soapy water and rinse well.  Scald it with boiling water or if heat proof, do what I did and heat it in the oven at 210 degrees for about 10 minutes.  Let it cool while you are shredding your cabbage.

Wash the cabbage and remove any discolored or damaged outer leaves.  Peel off a couple of larger leaves and save to use to hold down your shredded cabbage - more on that later.

With a sharp knife quarter your cabbage and remove the core.


Slice each quarter into shreds, thick or thin according to your preference.  (I knew an old Croation woman who used to ferment the whole head intact to use the leaves for cabbage rolls and it worked out fine!)  Layer the shredded cabbage in a large bowl, sprinkling with salt as you go to start the softening process.


With clean hands, massage the cabbage with the salt for about 10 minutes to release the juice in the cabbage. Alternately you can pound it down with a potato masher or wooden spoon if you don't want to get your hands dirty! One whole cabbage shredded looks like a lot of cabbage but once the juice is released it will shrink down considerably.  You will want enough juice to cover the shreds while they are fermenting.  At this point you can cover it and let it sit at room temperature for a couple hours while you do something else.  The salt will continue helping to release the juice.


After a couple of hours, massage or pound the cabbage shreds for a few minutes - you will notice that quite a bit of juice has accumulated in the bowl.  It is now time to put it into the container it will ferment in.  Pack it down firmly making sure to get out any  air pockets and to force the juice to the top to cover it.  If you still do not have enough juice to do this you may add enough filtered water to cover it.  If using a canning jar, make sure the cabbage/juice does not go up past the shoulder of the jar or it may overflow when it ferments.


Take the large leaves you saved at the beginning and use them to cover the shreds and hold them down under the juice.  You will need some kind of a weight to place on top.  You can use a heavy glass plate, a large unused ziplock baggie filled with filtered water, or a smaller jar filled with water. You want to make sure the cabbage is kept below the juice to prevent it coming in contact with the air.


I used a large flat bottomed pyrex bowl that was heavy enough to keep it lower than the juice and then  covered it with a food grade plastic wrap to keep dirt out.  The lid of the crockpot will keep it weighed down.  After about 24 hours you could see my cabbage was already fermenting by the bubbles forming in the juice.  Don't be alarmed if after a few days your ferment becomes a little odorifous for a couple of days - that seems to be a part of the first stage in fermentation and after the first week it should start smelling more like sauerkraut.  Let it ferment for 4-6 weeks in a cool place (70F or 20C).  I did not experience this, but it is apparently quite common to find a little mold form on the top which you can just remove as you find it.  You can taste your kraut along the way to see how the fermentation is going, just be sure to use clean utensils and keep the cabbage covered with it's juice. When your kraut is ready remove the larger leaves, and if using a crock transfer the sauerkraut with it's juice to clean jars and store in the refrigerator for up to a year - if it lasts that long!


After four weeks my cabbage turned into this crisp, tangy, tasty, oh-so-good-for-you, lovely sauerkraut!  It's at it's finest eaten raw as heating destroys the enzymes, probiotics and vitamins (as does pasturization and canning).  It is, however, excellent tasting cooked as well so consume it both ways! 


Make an effort to include fermented foods in your daily diet.  They will improve your digestion and help you to absorb the nutrition in your foods.  There are many fruits and vegetables that can be fermented so don't limit yourself to just cabbage.  Currently I am fermenting more sauerkraut and also some lemons, and I plan to try my hand at making some vegan kimchi in the near future.


These are the lemons I started about 10 days ago - they still have another 4 days or so to go.   I fashioned an air-lock system using a plastic wide mouth lid (Bernardin) with a hole drilled, and parts bought from a wine supply store for less than $1.50.  The air lock allows the fermentation gasses to escape without exposing the contents to air where mold can breed.  This would also work with your other fermentations.


What do I plan to do with all that sauerkraut?  Eat it of course!



1 comment:

  1. I had to pop over from Marie's to see tell you how yummy it look.Know one will eat sauerkraut but me.I love it.Love every thing on the plate.Wishing it was seting right here,Thanks for sharing.Have a nice day.

    ReplyDelete