Try This DIY Sauerkraut Recipe to Nourish and Support Your Gut Health
With nature literally bursting all around us, it’s time to harness a little springtime energy with a nourishing DIY recipe that can improve our gut-health and feed our microbiome. Understanding that we need good bacteria in our gut is clear enough but choosing how much or where we get it can be confusing to navigate. Keep reading for a refresher on your microbiome and try our DIY sauerkraut recipe to nourish and support your gut health.
What’s Your Microbiome?
Your microbiome is your gut’s community of good and bad bacteria that together form your individual ecosystem. The health of your gut is largely connected to your overall health and strength of your immune system, and when you care for your microbiome, it will support you back. “Since outside invaders primarily enter through the nose and mouth, the body’s first line of defense is in the digestive tract,” says Phoebe Lapine in her book, The Wellness Project. “Seventy percent of our immune cells reside beneath the intestinal lining and rely heavily on their friends, your good bacteria, to function properly.” We need a defense team.
While scientists say there are no two microbiomes alike, we are all impacted by the environment we live in and interact with daily. Throughout history, the human diet has shifted from hunting and gathering to farming and now to more factory-produced foods, say Justin and Erica Sonnenburg, PhDs, of Stanford University and authors of The Good Gut. In addition to changes in food, the overuse of antibiotics and an obsession with cleanliness has led to what the Sonnenburgs describe as microbiota extinction. Some of the bacteria has disappeared and now or in the future, could be extinct in our guts.
Sound dismal? Well, the good news is we can strengthen our gut microbiota by providing diverse sources of good bacteria when we eat more fibrous plants and fermented foods. By eating plants, we’re feeding the bacteria that is already in our gut. Our gut bacteria can ferment our undigested fiber and produce SCFAs (short-chained fatty acids) that in turn reduce inflammation and offer a sense of fullness and satisfaction.
Additionally, when we eat fermented vegetables, we’re not only feeding the fiber to our microbiota, but we’re also giving resident bacteria new strains to reinforce our whole system. Phoebe says, “One of the reasons edible probiotics like vegetable-based kimchi and kraut are so effective is that they cross-train your system with new transient bacteria and feed the existing community at the same time.”
What Kind of Good Bacteria and Probiotic Support Is Right For You?
Because our microbiomes are as individual as our fingerprints, it goes without saying that what’s best for you may not be best for another. For example, one kind of fiber is not fermentable for everyone and the best options for you need to be discovered through trial and error. Likewise, whether you choose a probiotic in the form of food or supplement, you’ll need to practice and see what works for you and your system over time, using your personalized data. There are a number of probiotic foods to try including dairy, grains and vegetables. Sonnenburgs suggest systematically trying different forms until you find something that works for you.
Try Our DIY Sauerkraut to Support Your Gut
When we ferment a vegetable like cabbage, the bacteria converts the sugars in the plant to lactic acid, which become the tart and pickled flavor we love in kimchi, pickles and sauerkraut. It also acts as a natural preservative.
- 1 large bowl
- 32 oz. wide-mouth mason jar with lid
- 1 small, 4-oz. jam or jelly jar to fit inside the mason jar
- Rocks to fill the small jar (optional)
- Fork or large spoon
- Cheesecloth + rubber band
- Funnel (optional)
- 1 3/4 lb. cabbage
- 1 Tbsp. kosher salt
- Clean all jars, lids and utensils by setting on a rack in your sink and pour boiling water inside and out. Let all pieces dry and cool.
- Remove any wilted outer cabbage leaves, cut whole cabbage into quarters and remove inner core. Shred cabbage into thin ribbon-like strips, then again into bite-sized pieces.
- In a large bowl, put 1 3/4 lb. of cabbage pieces and sprinkle salt over the top. Let sit for 5 minutes.
- With clean hands, mix and scrunch the cabbage and salt together. Continue to stir and squeeze with your hands. The salt will start to break down the cabbage leaves and release the water in the vegetable. Do this for five to 10 minutes. When you can press down on the cabbage with your knuckles and the liquid created rises above the top of the cabbage and your knuckles, it’s ready to scoop into your tall mason jar.
- Using a funnel, scoop cabbage into jar, gently pressing down with the fork about halfway through. Pour all remaining liquid on top of cabbage into the jar.
- Press the smaller, clean jelly jar down into the mouth of the mason jar and press, so liquid rises above the cabbage. It’s important to keep the liquid above the cabbage for the cabbage to ferment and not mold when exposed to air. Add your rocks into the small jelly jar to keep it weighted (optional).
- Cover the open jars with cheesecloth and secure with rubber band. This will keep any dirt out and allow air to flow while it ferments.
- Set in a cupboard or a darker corner out of the sunlight while it ferments for three to 10 days. Each day, press down on the top jelly jar to bring the liquid to the top and keep cabbage under the liquid barrier.
- On day three, taste the sauerkraut. If you like the taste, you can remove the cheesecloth, and put on the lid and refrigerate. If your jelly jar fits inside, you can keep it there to press on or remove it. Press down with a clean utensil or the smaller jar each time you use it.
- If it tastes salty or not as tart or fermented as you like, let it ferment longer. How long you go, and the level of tartness is up to you!
- Keeping pieces submerged in the fermented liquid will keep it fresh. When you pull some out, take care to push all sauerkraut pieces back into jar, not on the sides of the jar with a clean utensil. Refrigeration and the fermentation process will keep your sauerkraut fresh for up to a few months.
Add a spoonful of kraut to your eggs, hash, on top of a salad, as a crunchy layer in a sandwich, as an addition to your grain bowl, with a side of protein or in a taco. Kraut is delicious on top of warm, roasted vegetables but remember that if you cook fermented vegetables, the beneficial bacteria will be lost. Add it at the end as a condiment to preserve all that good bacteria.