I was introduced to lacto-fermentation long before I understood what that really meant. Growing up in Russia, culturing vegetables was a common occurrence in most households as a way to preserve the harvest. Barrels upon barrels would hold cultured sauerkraut. Jars of pickled cucumbers in cloudy brine would line the shelves of musty cellars. And homemade yogurt (or kefir in Russian) was a staple in most kitchens and had numerous uses besides food consumption. Where I'm from, “crunchy” was an adjective used to describe swimming trunks left out in the sun too long and not so much of a diet or lifestyle.
Interestingly enough, traditionally fermented foods can be found all over the world. The Asian cultures are known for their version of sauerkraut as Kimchi, fermented soybean paste, Miso and various fermented fish sauces. Likewise, European countries boast their fair share of ferments from Brie cheese in France to Italy's cured olives and salami and the Polish are famous for their pickles.
Perhaps, our ancestors preserved food via lacto-fermentation because they lacked proper refrigeration and that was the only way for them to preserve their harvest. But just maybe, intuitively, they understood the tremendous health benefits of cultured and fermented foods and as so, was an art that was passed down from generation to generation.
Whatever their reasons were back then, fermented foods are making a comeback and for good reason.
What is lacto-fermentation?
In short, lacto-fermentation is a microbial process that uses the beneficial bacteria called Lactobacillus to convert raw food into more digestible compounds. Simply put, the bacteria converts sugars into lactic acid and in doing so, this fermentation process creates what we know of as probiotics or good bacteria. (source) Additionally, lactic acid acts as a natural preservative that prohibits the growth of harmful bacteria and preserves nutrients of the food making it ideal for food preservation, as evidenced in Russian cellars. 🙂
Many of today's grocery stores offer variety of vegetables like pickles and cabbages, olives, and dairy products acidified with vinegar and pasteurized for long shelf life and as a result, no longer contain the health benefits of traditionally fermented foods. A good rule of thumb to follow, is look clearly to the brine. If it's clear, put it back on the shelf as it most likely contains vinegar. If it's cloudy (as it is with Apple Cider Vinegar) – those small particles are healthy bacteria and is a good option.
An even better and cost-efficient option would be to master the art of lacto-fermentation. Sauerkraut is always a good place to start. And this sauerkraut comes with pungent ginger and spicy garlic that will make your mouth water every time you catch a whiff. Not only does this contain the beneficial bacteria found in most traditionally fermented foods, but the addition of ginger and garlic makes this one of the best superfoods, especially during the cold and flu months.
- Wash the cabbage and discard any wilted outer leaves. Retain 1 small leaf for later use. Cut the cabbage in quarters and remove the core.
- Cut the quartered wedges in half lengthwise, creating 8 wedges. Run the cabbage through a shredder in your food processor or shred by hand.
- Place shredded cabbage in a large bowl and sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Using clean hands, knead cabbage with salt for 3-5 minutes. Set the bowl aside.
- Wash and grate carrots. Peel them first if using conventionally grown carrots. Toss them with the cabbage.
- Peel and grate ginger and mince garlic. Add all ingredients to bowl and combine well.
- Pack the sauerkraut into a large jar (I used a larger ½ gallon Mason jar to ferment then transferred sauerkraut to quart size jar after it's ready). Pound the cabbage with your fist to allow the juices to rise to the top. Leave at least 1" of head space for fermentation rise.
- Place an outer cabbage leaf on top to make sure the sauerkraut stays submerged in its juices and weigh it down with a water-filled glass bottle or another weight.
- Cover with a flour sack or doubled cheesecloth over the mouth of the jar and secure it with a rubber band.
- Set in a cool, dark place for 4-10 days, checking daily for taste and pushing the sauerkraut down if it rises.
- The sauerkraut is ready after at least 4 days at room temperature but check daily to reach your desired flavor. If kept longer, it will continue to ferment and will produce a more tangy taste. As soon as it tastes "ready" for you, cap it and transfer to cold storage. I like to transfer the sauerkraut into smaller jars first for convenience.
- Keeps in the refrigerator indefinitely.
A note from Mindy:
This sauerkraut recipe is so beautiful. I was personally inspired to make this as my very first fermentation. I can't wait to taste it!
I am using this anaerobic fermenting kit for my ferment, but as you can see, you really only need a mason jar and cheesecloth. 🙂
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