Preparing Fermented Foods: Keeping the Gut Healthy
by Dr. Anthony Cutting
What is fermentation? It’s the process of using microorganisms, such as bacteria or yeast, to convert carbohydrates to alcohol or organic acids under anaerobic conditions. There are several benefits to fermenting food.
First, fermentation serves to enhance the digestion of food. Your body needs adequate digestive enzymes to properly absorb, digest, and utilize nutrients in food. When vegetables like cabbage and cucumbers are left to steep and sit until the sugars are broken down to promote the growth of bacteria, this is when the vegetables are fermented.
Fermented foods are also filled with beneficial bacteria that work as reinforcement for the good bacteria in the digestive enzyme. Since 70 percent to 80 percent of the immune system lies in the gut, having proper balance of gut flora is important. Your brain sends messages all over your body. Researchers believe your gut may talk back. Studies show that the balance of bacteria in the gut microbiome may affect your emotions and the way your brain processes information from your senses, like sights, sounds, flavors, or textures. Scientists suspect that changes in that balance may play a role in diseases like autism spectrum disorder, anxiety, and depression, as well as chronic pain.
I have to admit, this is my wife’s recipe for delicious and very easy-to-make sauerkraut. Brenna loves to ferment and we all reap the benefits from her food endeavors…
First Step: choose your cabbage. The most traditional sauerkraut is made with green cabbage, but you can experiment with a purple cabbage mix and even throw in some shredded carrots. Kim Chi is made with Napa cabbage with spices added. Whatever you choose to use, you will need one head of cabbage to make one quart mason jar of sauerkraut.
Second Step: Now that you know what kind of cabbage you are going to use, you need to thinly slice it as evenly as possible so you have a nice even fermentation. Then, place it in a large bowl.
Third Step: Add a teaspoon of real sea salt (not iodized salt) and start massaging the cabbage with your hands. Continue to massage and squeeze the cabbage for at least 8-10 minutes. Feel free to take breaks.
When the cabbage is ready, it will be shiny and soft and have a watery brine at the bottom of the bowl. (Shown above)
There are a lot of fancy fermenting tools on the market, but you really just need a simple quart mason jar, weights that fit just inside the rim, and a lid that will allow the gases to release. Muddlers are nice if you hands won’t fit inside the jar, but sometimes hands are the best tools.
Step Four: Fill your mason jar up with the cabbage. You will notice that the cabbage has shrunk and the entire bowl will fit nicely inside the jar. Be sure to keep packing it tightly as you add. You can use your hand or the muddler. Let the liquid brine rise to the top of the jar, or pour remaining from the bowl. Then place your glass weight on the top of the cabbage to keep the liquid above it.
Now you set your Sauerkraut aside and wait for the magic to happen. Fermentation usually begins within 3 days and it’s best to wait 6-10 days before eating. Test it and see what you prefer. More fermentation will happen over time. If you ferment with other vegetables, that are thicker, it could take up to 20 days. After you reach your desired fermenting point, refrigerate your Sauerkraut if you don’t eat it all right away!