Friday, January 24, 2014

Sauerkraut Saga - Part 6 - The Red Cabbage Results

I fermented the red cabbage for about 2 weeks.  In the first week little fermentation was observed.   In the second week there was evidence of fermentation by action in the air lock bubbler.  This demonstrated that the plastic lid on the mason jar was a sufficient seal to force the excess carbon dioxide to be released through the air lock. 

After about two weeks I opened the jar.  The cabbage had a sauerkraut smell so I transferred the contents to several smaller mason jars and placed them in the refrigerator  The cooler temperature will stop, or at least greatly reduce the rate of fermentation.  I also sampled the sauerkraut. 

The sauerkraut was a very beautiful bright red color.   It was mild by commercial sauerkraut standards.   Also, it was fresher tasting with a cruncher texture than most commercial sauerkraut.  The taste was between commercial sauerkraut and a coleslaw with a vinegar dressing.

I gave some to the neighbor that provided the cabbage.  I also gave some to a vendor at the Market that grows cabbage and expressed interest in the process of lacto-fermentation.  Both my neighbor and the Market vendor stated that they liked the sauerkraut.

I will do this again next year, but I may do things a bit differently. For example; I will ferment the cabbage longer.  I will also try fermenting additional vegetables.

I like to experiment in making traditional ethnic foods.  If this is also interesting to you, I encourage you to try lacto-fermentation of cabbage and other vegetables.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Sauerkraut Saga - Part 5 - A Recipe and My First Attempt

There are many recipes for sauerkraut on the web. The books and website of Sandor Katz are very good sources of information; 

The most common recipe is 3 tablespoons of non-iodized salt for every five pounds of cabbage. The cabbage is shredded and then mixed with the salt. The cabbage releases water to form a brine. The cabbage and the brine are packed into a vessel and allowed to ferment anaerobically. 

I started with the two heads of organic red cabbage supplied by my neighbor (Part 1 of this series).  I removed the outer, slightly dried leaves and discarded them.   I removed and reserved several more leaves. 

I cut the cabbages into quarters and removed the hard center core.  I then shredded the cabbage using the slicer blade of a food processor.   You can use a knife or a manoline if you prefer. 

I weighed the cabbage after slicing.   If you have a kitchen scale this is the best approach.   If you do not have a kitchen scale and there is a scale where you purchased the cabbage, weight it there and note the weight; but the weight as used will be slightly less.  If you grow your own cabbage and do not have a scale; the two average sized cabbages I used yielded about 2.5 lbs of shredded cabbage each. 

Place the sliced cabbage in a large non-reactive bowl and add the non-iodized salt (Part 4 of this series).   After you add the salt to the cabbage, mix well and then let it sit for about 1 hour. The cabbage will release a lot of moisture.   That water combines with the salt to create the brine. 

Pack the cabbage tightly into the fermenting vessels using a wooden spoon or other implement.   I used 2 quart wide mouth mason jars.  Do not fill the containers completely because the cabbage will expand during fermentation.  The two cabbages I used sufficiently filled two of the large mason jars. 

I folded the cabbage leaves I had reserved so that they would just fit in the mason jar and placed them in the jar over the shredded cabbage to keep it from floating up out of the brine.  I placed a small jelly jar in the mason jar over the cabbage leaves to keep everything submerged in the brine.  The cabbage and salt did not create quite enough brine to cover the cabbage so I made up a small amount of additional brine by adding 1 teaspoon of salt to a cup of water.  I used this to be certain that the cabbage was completely covered and would ferment anaerobically.

Finally, cover with a cloth, or screw on a cap, but keep it a loose fit or use an air lock.  I used the air lock shown in Part 4 of this series.  Place somewhere at cool room temperature. I suggest placing some container under the fermenting vessel in case there is sufficient expansion to cause the brine to overflow.  

Next the results.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Sauerkraut Saga - Part 4 - Controlling the Air, Salt and Water

The primary variables that a home sauerkraut maker can control are; air, salt and water.  The secondary variables are temperature and light.   Here is some information I have collected from the web.

The lacto fermentation process is anerobic; that is, you do not want oxygen in the air to have access to the cabbage. The primary barrier is simply to submerge the cabbage in a brine (salt water) solution.  This has been used for centuries. Traditionally the cabbage, salt, and water are placed in a crock.  A weighted plate or other disc is used to keep the cabbage submerged. A cloth or other barrier is used over the crock to reduce air, insect, and possibly rodent access to the fermenting sauerkraut. 

The modern home sauerkraut maker has several approaches for lower risk production of small volumes.   The first is to use a mason jar as the fermenting vessel.  One average cabbage will be enough to fill one 2 quart mason jar. This is a very nice batch size to use to experiment.  You can also use any similar container like a large empty mayonnaise jar.

The traditional cloth over the crock is a poor barrier for undesirable items entering the fermentation vessel.   If you seal the mason jar tightly you risk that the carbon dioxide from the fermentation process can develop sufficient pressure to explode the jar.  I do not personally know of anyone that has exploded a mason jar, but a friend has exploded a few wine bottles making kombucha.  Messy at best, dangerous at worst. 

My suggestion is to use an air-lock system, a wine makers bubbler, to allow carbon dioxide to vent from the fermentation vessel without allowing air to enter.  One company, , sells a complete system of this type. You can make a very similar system by purchasing the components from a local home brew or wine making supply store.

Here is a photo of the system I used.  A plastic mason jar lid from Ace Barnes Hardware in Ann Arbor. A wine bubbler and rubber stopper from Adventures in Homebrewing in Scio Twp.  All I did was drill the hole in the plastic lid. Use a wood bit with an outside spur to cut a clean hole. 

The salt you use should be pickling salt, kosher salt, or sea salt. The important thing is to avoid salt with iodine or other additives that might discolor the fermented sauerkraut. 

Finally the water.   Tap water contains chlorine or chlorine compounds to prevent bacterial growth. For home made sauerkraut we want to encourage the lacto bacteria to grow.  In most cabbage fermentation you will not need to add much water.  When you do add water it is best to use carbon filtered water, well water, or water from other sources that that does not contain chlorine or chlorine compounds. 

The best fermenting temperature is cool room temperature.  Direct sunlight should be avoided since light in the ultra violet spectrum is antibacterial.  The traditional fermenting location is a basement. 

Next: A recipe and my results

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Sauerkraut Saga - Part 3 - The History and Some Theory of Lacto fermentation

The sauerkraut method of preserving vegetables has been used for centuries.  It was a method of keeping some of the fall harvest late into winter without refrigeration. In central and eastern Europe; it was sauerkraut or a similar dish by a different regional name.  In the east, the dish is kimchi, similar to sauerkraut, but usually spicier. In central America the dish is Curtido; and is usually milder and fermented for a shorter period of time.

The practice in all the regions was the same.  Members of the cabbage family are fermented using the naturally occurring bacteria.  A salt brine is used to encourage the growth of the desirable bacterial while suppressing the growth of undesirable forms.

Very little has changed in many centuries.  We now recognize that the bacteria we want are anaerobic; that as, they do live in the presence or air and the ones we do not want are aerobic.  This gives us a few better ways to protect the fermenting batch.  We have isolated the bacteria and have names for them.  Little else has changed for the home sauerkraut, kimchi, or Curtido maker.

Next - Controlling the primary variables, air, salt and water.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Sauerkraut Saga - Part 2 - The Definitions

Lacto fermented means that bacteria are used to convert the sugars in the vegetables to the organic acid, lactic acid.  Organic acids are usually sour to the taste.  This is the "sauer" of the sauerkraut.  These bacteria and the resulting acids are compatible with human digestion. This 'preserves', 'pickles', or 'cures', the cabbage or other vegetables and prevents other bacteria, yeasts, or molds that are incompatible or poisonous to us from growing.

Probiotic, means that the bacterial cultures in the food are still active when consumed.  Think of yogurt, the most common probiotic food.  The right bacteria in our intestinal tract are very beneficial to our human digestion.  If the bacteria in the food are to be active the food must be fresh and not pasteurized.

As a final point, many vegetables can also be 'pickled' by the addition of vinegar. In this case the bacteria has acted on a different host, usually apple cider or grape wine to produce acetic acid. This is added to the cabbage or other vegetables for taste.  This is usually described as quick or easy pickling.  This can be very good, but it is not the same as the traditional lacto fermenting pickling process and it is not probiotic.

I urge you to try fresh fermented sauerkraut, Asian kimchi or the Central American version, Curtido, versus the pasteurized or the 'quick pickled' versions. The fresh fermented version is different and it is the real, authentic way to make the food. Try it.

Next post: some theory and history of lacto fermentation"

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Sauerkraut Saga - Part 1 - How It Started

I have been intending to do a post about my experiment with homemade sauerkraut for some time.  I knew it would be a long post so I kept procrastinating;   waiting until I had a lot of free time.  As usual, that never really happened.   So rather than one long post,  I decided to make multiple short posts that I would find time to do.  Here is the first.
A few weeks ago one of my neighbors and I were discussing food.   She commented that she was interested in probiotic food and asked if I ate sauerkraut.  I commented that did eat it occasionally.
She than asked if I knew how to make it.   I told her I had never made any, but I did not think that it was difficult.   I suggested she try Goggling it.
Well now, you may ask how a lad of Scott heritage ever came to eat spoiled cabbage.   Like many a lad gone a stray, it was a lass that lead the way.   She was a cute, beautiful, fraulein that said "love me, love my sauerkraut".   I never quite got to the point of loving the sauerkraut, but I got as far as liking Reuben sandwiches.
A few days later my neighbor reappeared at my door with two heads of organic red cabbage.   She said "Here is the cabbage, go for the sauerkraut.   I want probiotic, lacto-fermented unpasteurized sauerkraut".
The first thing I had to do was look up the definition of these terms.