I’ve been making sauerkraut for a few years now. I kind of sidled my way into it, because I was so apprehensive about undertaking the fermentation process by myself. I was already sold on the benefits of sauerkraut (and was already eating store-bought, unpasteurized sauerkraut), and I was fascinated by the fermentation process. But I was so worried about stuffing it up or being unsure about whether or not it had actually worked that I hesitated to try it.
I was also a bit stumped on the equipment front. You see, lacto-fermentation is an anaerobic process, which means that it won’t work in the presence of oxygen. The cabbage should be packed down and completely submerged in brine to ensure that no oxygen can get to it. A fermentation crock is designed to exclude the oxygen, but I didn’t want to buy one of these because they are expensive. But I had no idea how I was going to ensure my cabbage remained weighted and submerged.
So I had many excuses 🙂 But I really wanted to master this very important traditional food technique! So I decided to start easy and small, and chose the Ginger Carrots recipe in Nourishing Traditions. I followed the recipe and ended up with slime! Yes, long slimy goo was dripping off my fork when I picked out some carrots after the 3 day fermentation time. Was this correct? I wasn’t sure if it had worked!! I didn’t think slime was the correct outcome. I tried a little bit, and it tasted tangy and ok, but the slime made me uneasy. My husband convinced me to throw it out. I think the reason I got slime was because the carrot wasn’t properly submerged in brine and was therefore exposed to the air. I hadn’t weighted it and hadn’t covered the carrot with enough brine, and the packed carrot rose up to the surface of the brine. Even though I had a lid on my jar, there is still an oxygen pocket between the top of the brine and the lid of the jar.
I was a little discouraged and didn’t try again for a while.
Decided to try again. I REALLY wanted to be able to do this. This time I made sure I had enough brine in the jar to completely cover the vegetables and I put a smaller jar inside the mouth of the jar I was fermenting in, to weigh down the carrots. This time it worked! How did I know that it worked? It looked good (no slime, no mold). It smelt good (no off smells, and smelt fresh and tangy). It tasted good (tangy, crunchy, a little salty). Success!
Look at it. Smell it. Taste it. If it’s all good, then it worked!
But I still wanted to make sauerkraut. So I had a go, and cheated a little. As a starter, I added some of the liquid from the store-bought brand that I was currently eating. This is actually a really good way to start if you’re a little unsure, because you’re inoculating your sauerkraut with a healthy dose of the right bacteria from the start. But for this to work, your store-bought brand must contain live bacteria ie. it must NOT be pasteurized. I weighted down my cabbage and made sure it was submerged in brine. I left it at room temperature for a few days, then removed the weight and transferred my sauerkraut to the fridge.
Success! It looked good, it smelt good, and it tasted good!
But I wanted to be able to make this on my own, without relying on liquid from an existing batch as a starter. So I followed the Nourishing Traditions recipe of using both whey and salt. And it worked! I had finally, successfully, made my own sauerkraut from scratch!
Since then I’ve made sauerkraut numerous times. I’ve had a few failures – occasional mold and more slime, but I’ve always known because it either didn’t look right, or didn’t smell right……and if it doesn’t smell right I’m certainly not going to taste it! But I’ve always been able to pin point where I went wrong. Most of the time it was because I left it to ferment in some place that was too warm, or forgot about it and left it fermenting for too long!
I’ve since experimented with many different types of vegetable ferments, although sauerkraut remains my favorite. I’ve also made beet kvass, kefir, yogurt, young coconut kefir and sourdough starter. I don’t make all of these on a regular basis, but with practice I’ve become much more confident in my abilities to ferment and I enjoy experimenting.
Lacto-fermentation is such an amazing process, and offers amazing health benefits. It also feels really good to know how to do something like this – you really feel like you’re crafting something wonderful, and participating in a time-honored real food practice. I hope you feel inspired to give it a go! Don’t worry about stuffing it up, its all part of the learning process. If it doesn’t look right, smell right or taste right, you will know if something has gone wrong 🙂
In my next post, I’ll go over my method for making sauerkraut, and some of the things that I’ve learned to watch out for along the way. I’ll also show how I solved my equipment dilemma.
Linking to: Real Food Wednesdays @ Kelly the Kitchen Kop, Healthy 2day Wednesdays @ day2dayjoys, Probiotic Food Challenge @ Real Food Forager, Full Plate Thursdays @ Miz Helen’s, Freaky Friday @ Real Food Freaks, Fight Back Friday @ Food Renegade