Updated: Nov 12
We have always eaten fermented foods as part of the Chinese and Western diets that we grew up with. One day we took the plunge and, somewhat apprehensively, decided to make the simplest home ferment – sauerkraut.
In the last few years there has been a great deal of press and good science about the incredible microbiome that exists in and on us. The gut microbiome (all the bacteria that live in our digestive tract) essentially acts as another organ of the body: living off what we feed ourselves and excreting chemicals into our bodies that can support or set-back our health.
The scientific evidence is clear: eat a fibre rich diet (full of prebiotics, dietary fibre that feeds your good bacteria) and enjoy fermented foods (probiotics, these are good bacteria). For sports people in the summer or tropical heat, if you need it, this is a healthy way to get a little additional salt in your diet.
You will need:
A 1 litre capacity glass jar with a lid. Recycle something or buy from a store.
1kg organic white cabbage (note: best results with organic)
20g salt (not iodised table salt, use sea salt or Himalayan)
Optional: ginger slices, juniper berries, bay leaves, caraway seeds
Jar – this needs to be clean and sterile. We use boiling water to wash it and/or steam for a few minutes.
Take the cabbage and set aside a couple of outer leaves, you’ll need these later.
Cut and shred the cabbage, half centimetre slices or thereabouts. Throw into a large bowl, add the salt and massage the salt into the cabbage, or beat with a kitchen tool - very therapeutic. Do this for about 3-5 minutes, you will notice the mixture becomes wet as the salt draws out the water from the cabbage. This is good.
Throw in the optional ingredients. I nearly always use a dozen juniper berries and a couple of bay leaves. Ginger slices add a fresh flavour. Leave for 15 minutes.
Now pack the cabbage into the jar, force it down until you get about 85% of the way to the top. Asthe jar fills with cabbage the liquid coming from the cabbage will also fill the jar. You should end up with two or three cm. of liquid above the cabbage.
Important step: We need to keep the cabbage under the liquid to ensure that it all ferments. Take a section of the cabbage leaf that you set aside earlier and use this to cap the shredded cabbage and keep it all under the liquid. You will probably have to trim the leaf to make it fit and I like to poke a hole in the top to let the air escape. Press the cap under the liquid.
Leave some space (say, 2 or 3cm) between the top of the liquid and the top of the jar as once the fermentation process starts its going to bubble.
Place the lid on the jar, you can screw just finger tight, to keep the jar covered but loose enough so that the fermenting gasses can escape.
Leave the jar in a dark cupboard and wait. In the Singapore warmth fermentation is noticeable after 24 hours or so and can be rapid. Watch for the bubbles to appear - this is fermentation. Success! We place the jar in a shallow bowl or on a small plate in case fermentation is too vigorous and brine froths out of the jar. The Singapore heat is too exciting. If you notice that you have lost too much liquid, the cabbage is exposed to air, simply add some clean water to the top of the jar and a little pinch of salt.
Check the jar twice a day, make sure that the cabbage is under the liquid.
After about 72 hours or so fermentation calms down. We usually wait until Day 5 and put it into the fridge, ready to enjoy. Alternatively, if you have a wine fridge you could dedicate some shelf space to fermentation. In the first week always leave the jar lid loose so that pressure does not build up.
Don’t be afraid, try it out, it’s only cabbage. Once you’ve done it once you will see how simple the process is.
If it ever turns black (not a good sign) and smells bad – throw it. This has never happened to us.
There are plenty of online resources and videos. We follow Sandor Katz at Wild Fermentation. He has a fantastic YouTube channel “sandorkraut” and a shot a particularly inspiring series of fermentation videos in Sichuan.
If you get into fermenting it is worthwhile to buy a couple of proper fermenting jars and accessories. Wide mouth jars (1 or 1.5 litre size), lids / pickle pipes (a silicon lid with hole to allow the gasses to escape) and pickle pebbles (to use as a weight in the jar). The “Ball" and "Mason" brands are good.
We have so much fun with fermenting, it is well worth the - minimal - effort!
Felicia and Alastair
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