Simple Scrumptous Sauerkraut

I was not raised eating this lovely food.   My Italian momma's table was always brimming with veggies - but pickling cucumbers in the summer (canning with vinegar) was the closest I came to the tangy goodness of what I would later discover.  One of my parent's favorite expressions while introducing new food to us was 'broaden your horizons!'   The only sauerkraut experience I'd ever had was watching people pile it atop their hot dogs at a baseball game in the summer.... the sour smell mixing with the stale onions in the heat.  Not too appealing - and so, the strange and slimy-looking condiment was never part of my horizon-broadening experience. Now.  ERASE the image I just painted for you.

After tasting it myself - I will tell you it is NOT what I thought.  It is refreshing and crisp.  Tangy and salty.  If you like pickles, you'll probably love sauerkraut.

sauerkraut warm

I was amazed to learn that the concept of fermenting vegetables was a very common practice before industrialization (and the demand for mass quantities) changed the way that people preserved their food.  I had heard of a 'pickle barrel' but never realized that those pickles could be kept in that barrel ( in a cellar for months on end ) - because they were being magically preserved in a brine... they had been fermented.

Once again - (the old me) - heard the word 'fermented' and thought of stinky cheese.  Rotten leftovers in the fridge, left to putrefy.   But actually, the process of lacto-fermentation is quite amazing.  Adding lacto-bacilli (in the form of whey) to vegetables and allowing them to ferment, actually boosts the nutritional value of the vegetables themselves.  It takes them beyond simply being preserved (which is great in itself) and turns them into a SUPERFOOD!

"The proliferation of lactobacilli in fermented vegetables enhances their digestibility and increases vitamin levels. These beneficial organisms produce numerous helpful enzymes as well as antibiotic and anticarcinogenic substances. Their main by-product, lactic acid, not only keeps vegetables and fruits in a state of perfect preservation but also promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout the intestine."  (get more in-depth here)

If that's not enough to get you excited - here is another great link with MORE reasons why.

You may already love sauerkraut.  Sadly, the sauerkraut you can buy on a store shelf is NOT loaded with any of this superfood-ish goodness.  Most of it gets it's flavor from vinegar and has been pasteurized (heated) which kills any beneficial enzymes and friendly bacteria.  Never fear!  I am about to show you how easy it is to make your own.

This lovely fermented vegetable is one of the easiest and most gratifying fermented foods I've made.

All you need are a few very simple ingredients:

  • Fresh organic cabbage - 1 medium/large head
  • Whey from organic yogurt - 1/2 cup
  • Salt (kosher or sea salt - non-iodized) - 2 tbls.
  • a bowl for mixing
  • a potato masher (or any other bashing tool)
  • a large jar for fermenting, with a lid
  • a small ziploc-style baggie (or save a large outer leaf of the cabbage)


First things first.  You can read my post here about how to make your own yogurt.  If you want to skip that step - you can purchase some organic plain yogurt and get the whey out of that.  Don't use Greek yogurt, though (since the whey has been drained out already).  You've probably seen whey before, though you may not have known it.  Whey is that clear-ish, yellow-ish liquid that you may have seen right on top when you open a tub of yogurt.  It is a byproduct of culturing milk (you've heard of curds and whey... well, the yogurt can be called curds in this example, and the clear liquid is the whey).

Get a strainer or sieve and place a piece of cheesecloth (if you have it) or a clean piece of smooth cotton fabric, or even a large coffee filter inside of the strainer.  Pour your yogurt into this and let it drain.  You should be able to get 1/2 cup of whey out of 16 oz of yogurt.  Any extra whey can be kept in the fridge and will last for months and months as long as it is well strained.

Slice your cabbage into thin pieces or shreds.  You might find a food processor helpful, but I find it still has to be re-chopped a bit, since it doesn't always slice evenly.  I also find hand chopping therapeutic.  TIP:  If you don't have a nice, non-serrated knife - get one.


Once your cabbage is shredded,  put it into a mixing bowl and add your salt and whey.


Now for the fun part.  Start bashing and smashing that cabbage, mixing the salt and whey in as you go.  You are releasing the juices from the cabbage and beginning the process of breaking down the cells of the cabbage.  I've tried skipping this step (not smashing ) - and it takes longer for the kraut to be ready to eat.  I believe this speeds the process.  You should smash and bash for at least 10 minutes - up to 30.  It's good stress relief.


Next, begin spooning your kraut mixture into a large jar ( I use 1/2 gallon mason jars) packing it in tightly.  You'll want to only fill it 3/4 of the way full, so you have room to weigh it down at the top.



You then need to pour in  some filtered water, enough to completely cover your cabbage.  Any cabbage left floating above the surface may get moldy.  The salt and whey are what keep the cabbage fermenting safely, and free from any nasties.

I've experimented with different objects to try and keep that darn cabbage beneath the brine's surface... but the simplest way is to fill a small ziploc baggie with water and use that to weigh down the cabbage inside the top of the jar.  *update* ... I now save a large cabbage leaf from the outside of the head and use it to press down on the cabbage in the jar.  It works well because it sort of sticks to the side of the jar.  Then you can pour more brine on top and it holds most of the kraut down this way!


Then, open the baggie and fold down over the  jar's edge, and screw  on the lid.


Don't screw the lid on too tight (air will need to escape a bit) and keep in mind that the cabbage is going to expand.  Set your jar on top of a plate of some kind to catch any overflowing brine.

Place your beautiful jar of lovely fermentation in a dark place (fermented food does best in the dark).  It will ferment best at 64 -70 degrees.   You really could eat it right away, but the flavor will get better with time.  I like mine best after 5 days of fermentation.  Once you taste it and are happy with where it's at - transfer to the fridge.  The flavor will continue to get better, but the cooler temp will slow the process way down. Ours doesn't last long enough to be concerned with it sitting too long, but it should last at least 6 months or more in the fridge.



All of my girls (ages 4, 6, 8, 10) love the sauerkraut! We'll have it as a snack with a hard-boiled egg, or as a side dish with a sandwich.  It's delicious with grilled sausage, any meat or fish.  We toss it into our salads, too.   The other day I ended up with this delicious, quick snack:  I slathered a slice of sourdough bread with some home-made hummus, then put a layer of sauerkraut and topped it with sprouts and some salt & pepper.  YUM!


As with any fermented food, you will want to give your system some time to get used to the new friendly bacteria.  Don't go and eat a heaping bowlful your first time.  Trust me, I wanted to when I first tasted mine!  You may even experience some mild gas or bloating if you eat too much at first.  Let yourself get used to it - and as your system starts to build up and become colonized with these friendly bacteria, you'll be able to eat more with no problem.  That said, sauerkraut is meant to be condiment, not a main dish!

Once you get in the sauerkraut groove - a whole WORLD of  other fermented veggies awaits you!!  You can ferment pretty much ANYTHING.  You can add spices like mustard or fennel seed, garlic, onion slices to flavor your veggies.  I want to try fermented salsas next.   Do a google search for 'fermented vegetables' and you'll find so many others to try.  Here are my two new faves:

Sweet lacto-fermented beets, and ginger carrots:


Because of my daughter's  MRSA battle - I absolutely LOVE this quote - and it is fitting to leave you with these words from Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions book:

"Scientists and doctors today are mystified by the proliferation of new viruses--not only the deadly AIDS virus but the whole gamut of human viruses that seem to be associated with everything from chronic fatigue to cancer and arthritis. They are equally mystified by recent increases in the incidence of intestinal parasites and pathogenic yeasts, even among those whose sanitary practices are faultless. Could it be that in abandoning the ancient practice of lacto-fermentation and in our insistence on a diet in which everything has been pasteurized, we have compromised the health of our intestinal flora and made ourselves vulnerable to legions of pathogenic microorganisms? If so, the cure for these diseases will be found not in vaccinations, drugs or antibiotics but in a restored partnership with the many varieties of lactobacilli, our symbionts of the microscopic world."

So go ahead people... 'BROADEN YOUR HORIZONS!'   Try something new (or old - depending on how you look at it!) your body will thank you.


Making your own yogurt is easy. REALLY!

Did you know you DON'T need a yogurt maker to make amazing yogurt?  I didn't.


When I first decided to try and incorporate more probiotic foods into our diet, it was because of my daughter's battle with MRSA, as well as my husband's battle with his own health issues regarding yeast/fungal overgrowth.  After learning more about the immune system - it amazed me that the intestinal tract is directly linked to overall immune system health.    It also put me on the fast track to finding ways I could incorporate the healthy bacteria we needed!

Yogurt was the first thing I started making.  Probably because it was the most easy to introduce (yogurt wasn't as intimidating as sauerkraut or kefir).

There are a TON of how-to's online for making home made yogurt.  Each of them will be a bit different, but in my tutorial -  I want to stress SIMPLICITY.   To be honest, I was a bit nervous about the idea of leaving milk without refrigeration for 6 hours.  Would it really be edible?  Would it stink or taste sour? This was because I didn't understand how fermentation works.  What protects the milk from the bad bacteria which could potentially grow in it, is the good bacteria that you are introducing in the form of the starter culture.  I've never had a batch stink or turn funky while culturing!

Here's a simple recipe you can make at home - with some pretty basic tools:

You'll  need:

  • 1 half gallon organic milk (I prefer whole)
  • a pot to heat the milk in (preferably heavy-bottomed)
  • 1/2 cup of organic plain yogurt - (this is your starter culture)
  • a candy thermometer (usually around $5 in any grocery store baking aisle)
  • whisk
  • sterilized glass jars or containers (to fill with your yogurt)
  • a cooler/ice box

STEP 1:   Heat milk until it reaches at least 180 degrees.  ( and just  starts boiling... be careful it doesn't boil over!)  Then remove from heat and set aside to cool.

STEP 2: Sterilize whisk and glass jars or containers by submerging them in boiling water for a couple minutes.


*(important!) Don't add your yogurt starter until the milk has cooled down to at least 110 degrees, otherwise the heat will kill the starter culture, and the milk won't thicken into yogurt.


STEP 3: Dilute your plain yogurt (starter) with a bit of milk - then whisk into the rest of the warm milk.


You can remove the 'skin' that forms while the milk cools, or just whisk it in.

STEP 4:  Pour yogurt mixture into sterilized jars/containers and place into cooler.


STEP 5: Add 3 jars of hot water to the cooler to keep the yogurt at the optimum temperature.  Close lid of cooler.


Remove your yogurt after approx. 6-10 hours.  (I have left mine for up to 14  hours and it still was more tart but still great)  Move to fridge and enjoy!!


  • If you like thicker, greek-style yogurt - this is easily done!  Get a strainer and set it over a bowl.  Place a piece of cheesecloth if you have it - or coffee filter (I just use some cotton fabric) and pour your yogurt into it.  Let it sit like this for as long as you like, depending on how thick you want it.  You will get a thicker yogurt as the whey drains out of it.  SAVE THE WHEY in your fridge for later!  It is the beginning of MANY wonderful fermented foods like sauerkraut, as well as a useful tool to soak grains and beans prior to cooking.
  • The process can still go on if you make some mistakes.  I have let my milk boil over, and thought 'oh no! it's ruined!'  I went ahead with it, and it was still good.  The texture wasn't as smooth - but it was definitely edible.  I've also let my milk cool way down to below the ideal temperature.  No problem.  I heated it up slightly until it was in the 'window' it needed to be, and then stirred in the starter.
  • I often am impatient while I'm waiting for the milk to cool all the way down to 110.  I just read a tip:  Carefully place your pot of hot milk in the sink, and surround it with cold water to help it cool down faster.  I'm going to try it!
  • I've had batches turn out too runny.  This has been because I didn't heat the milk until boiling.  I had hoped to keep the beneficial enzymes from my raw milk in tact - but I've found that (unless you want to stir in added powders to thicken) you MUST boil the milk in order for it to thicken nicely.  I still use my raw milk because I love the cream on top - but I will also use regular organic (pasteurized) milk as well.
  • Some people will use a dehydrator to keep their milk at a consistent temperature while culturing.  I  have not found this necessary. You may end up playing with the amount of hot water you add to your cooler (depending on it's size, and the amount of yogurt you are making) but don't let this stress you out.   In fact, Jamie Oliver  has a recipe which calls for  an even simpler method:  Heat the milk till it boils, cool it until you can hold your finger in it, stir in the starter and leave on the stove with the lid on!   It really IS a simple process that people have been doing for centuries!  I find that my house is too cold during the winter months to keep it that warm.  I may try this simpler process during the summer, though.
  • The biggest problem I've had is forgetting to save some of my yogurt  to start the next batch!  We eat it all up too quickly.  I usually end up purchasing another single plain yogurt to start my next batch... but be smarter than me, and save a cup of each batch to start the next.  Just remember the ratio is approx.  1/2 cup of yogurt starter for 1/2 gallon of milk.  Simple!
Home made yogurt with frozen blueberries, vanilla extract and a drizzle of honey
Home made yogurt with frozen blueberries, vanilla extract and a drizzle of honey

Here's an interesting fact.  For anyone who has a seriously deficient gut - yogurt won't be the best thing to begin with.  Emma and Jeremiah had a harder time digesting yogurt at first - but they could tolerate drinking kefir just fine.  Here's the reason why:

Yogurt contains transient beneficial bacteria that keep the digestive system clean and provide food for the friendly bacteria that reside there. But kefir can actually colonize the intestinal tract, a feat that yogurt cannot match.”   "Because the curd size of kefir is smaller than yogurt, it is also easier to digest, which makes it a particularly excellent, nutritious food for babies, the elderly and people experiencing chronic fatigue and digestive disorders."  quote sourced here

So... if your intestinal tract does not already have enough friendly bacteria - yogurt isn't probably the best place to start.  We have seen the proof of this with our girls.  It took awhile for Emma (drinking lots of kefir,  first - which gave her no stomach aches) before she could start eating the yogurt without any stomach aches.  I will post and upload a kefir tutorial soon, as well!

Hope you give this recipe a try!