Recipe for making a classic eastern European condiment for pork sausages. Fermenting cabbage to make your own tangy and sour sauerkraut is quick and easy.
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01. What is sauerkraut?
Sauerkraut is a condiment made from shredded white cabbage leaves that have been pickled in a brine of their own juices and salt, and then left to age for at least 1 week, but usually for several months. The preserving process changes the flavour and develops an intriguingly tangy sourness. When ready to use, the cabbage is drained and served in small quantities. Sauerkraut is commonly found in central and eastern Europe – usually served alongside fatty meats like pork sausages, as a means to cutting through the richness. It is an example of lacto-fermenation.
02. What is fermentation?
Fermentation is a method of preserving food using bacteria. Whilst most methods of food preservation aim to remove bacteria altogether, or at least slow the rate at which they can reproduce, fermentation actively encourages bacterial growth. Not all bacteria cause food to spoil. In fact, some bacteria are not just harmless but beneficial, in that they create an acidic environment that discourages ‘bad’ bacteria from growing. The acidity of a substance is measured on a scale of 1 – 14 called the pH scale, with 1 being very acidic, 7 being neutral, and 14 being very alkaline. The optimum environment for bacteria is pH 7, but most are able to grow between pH 4.6 and 7. Lactobacilli is an example of a beneficial bacterium, which converts the starches and sugars found in fresh foods into lactic acid.
03. How do I ferment food?
Lactobacilli is naturally present on the surface of all plants. This means that you do not need any specialist equipment or ingredients to ferment food. All you need is some salt to stop the bad bacteria from reproducing during the first few days, before the lactobacilli have had time to produce a sufficient build up of lactic acid. Salt also draws out liquid from the flesh, which means that the food is kept submerged in an oxygen-free enviroment. This is important, as fermentation is an anaerobic reaction – that is, it needs to take place in an environment where there is no oxygen.
04. Why is fermented food so good for you?
Lacto-fermentation doesn’t just preserve food, it enhances the nutritional benefit. Because the starches and sugars have been broken down, food is easier to digest. More importantly, when the live bacteria contained in fermented foods travel to the gut they help to boost and rebalance the gut microbiome for improved digestion and general health. For this reason, fermented foods should not be heated if you want to enjoy the full health benefits, as heating kills the bacteria. Fermented foods are particularly important for people who are dairy-intolerant and cannot get their fill of healthy bacteria from yoghurts, and for those who suffer from digestive disorders like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or have taken a course of gut microbiome-nuking antibiotics. From a culinary perspective, using fermented foods add an extra flavour dimension to dishes. As fermented foods continue to age the flavours continue to develop and change – creating complex and possibly unique flavour compounds in your jar.