“Fermented? EW!” …This was my mother’s reaction when I offered for her to try this homemade lacto-fermented sauerkraut with probiotics back in the early stages of my healing journey… I kid you not. 😀
I mean, she has a point! When I used to think of “fermented” foods, the first thing that came to mind was something that has been sitting around a while. (That’s technically not wrong!). But there’s SO much more to fermentation and probiotic foods.
What is fermentation?
- Fermentation is an ancestral method of naturally preserving foods and increasing their nutritional value.
- This is the dietitian equivalent of alchemy, or “turning lead into gold” if you ask me!
- Fermentation is a part of history, food science, culinary art, and also a really great hobby for all my fellow health nerds out there…
- Fermentation involves bacteria which consume the undigestible/less digestible parts of a food (to our advantage), usually in an “anaerobic” (without oxygen) environment, and produce good, healthy, beneficial “probiotic” bacteria as a bi-product.
Back in the day, before refrigerators existed, our ancestors would use lacto-fermentation to preserve their veggies and other foods, especially at the fall harvest, to prepare for winter. Little did they know these foods were also providing them generous doses of good, beneficial probiotic bacteria for their gut health, immunity, mental health and more!
Types of fermented/probiotic foods
There are many different types of fermented foods out there, each originating from a different culture (pun intended):
- Sauerkraut (Germany)
- Kimchi (Korea)
- Kefir (Russia)
- Miso (Japan)
…I could go on!
What all of these foods have in common is billions of beneficial bacteria (“probiotics”) in every spoonful. Adding these “functional foods” into your routine is something that your gut and your immune system will thank you for!
Why maintain or restore gut health?
~70% of our immune system is located in the gut, so the microbiome plays a MAJOR role in all things immunity (allergies, autoimmune disorders, acute viral illnesses, etc.)…
~90% of our serotonin is made in the GUT, not the brain! This is why clinicians and scientists now refer to our gut as the “second brain”…
Long story short: we need to keep our microbes HAPPY!
Probiotic foods as gut health supplements
- Bacteria and fungi of all kinds live in and on our body, outnumbering our human cells by 10:1. It’s pretty mind-blowing! Collectively, we refer to this mini ecosystem as our “microbiome”.
- The microbiome is mostly found throughout our digestive tract.
- The “good” bacteria are considered to be a first line of defense when it comes to breaking down food particles, and also in determining what may or may not enter our bloodstream. (Technically when a food is in our stomach/digestive tract, it’s still considered to be outside the body!)
Fermented foods as gut health supplements: Buyer beware!
You may have seen pickles, sauerkraut or kimchi at your local deli or supermarket…
But did you know that NOT all pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, etc. contain probiotics?
The distinguishing factors that make only SOME fermented foods probiotic-containing, compared to many found at most supermarkets and restaurants are:
- No vinegar
- Salt must be non-iodized, non-chlorinated
- Water must be non-chlorinated (filtered, spring or well water all work)
- No heat – must be raw/unpasteurized (except for yogurt/kefir)
Vinegar, chlorine, and heat will actually interfere with the fermentation process.
So does oxygen! We’ll talk about this, but you’ll need to keep your fermented veggies submerged in a salty brine once it’s prepared.
How to find sauerkrauth with probiotics in the grocery store
- If you’re unsure of whether or not a fermented food contains probiotics, just check the label – it should say “live active cultures” if it’s truly a probiotic food.
Additional “functional” foods for gut health
- If you are looking to better your gut health, I recommend trying out my go-to crock pot chicken bone broth recipe while you’re at it!
Sauerkraut with probiotics: let’s get culinary!
As much as I love having access to traditional lacto-fermented foods in supermarkets, they’re very expensive. I find it’s more practical, cost-effective and empowering to make your own. Plus, this recipe for sauerkraut with probitoics is really easy!
Sauerkraut (German for “sour cabbage”) is a great easy way to start fermenting and getting probiotics too. It only requires two ingredients to make!
You could also feel free to get fancy and doctor it up with some garlic or spices like garlic or dill if you like….
Probiotic Sauerkraut Recipe
- Cutting board
- Large bowl
- Knife for chopping cabbage
- Wooden spoon
- Wide-mouth 1-quart mason jar
- Fermentation weight (recommended)
- 1 head cabbage (Red or green… you choose!)
*Napa cabbage = low FODMAP.
- 2 TBSP unrefined salt Celtic or Kosher recommended
- 1 teaspoon caraway seeds (optional!)
Part 1: Preparation (30-45 minutes)
- Make sure all equipment is clean (and wash your hands too!).
- Remove outer layer of cabbage then chop into halves, then quarters, smaller and smaller until it appears shredded.
- Transfer shredded cabbage to large bowl, then add the salt.
- Begin hand-mixing (massaging) the cabbage-salt mixture for about 5-10 minutes until it begins to “sweat”. (The salt will cause the water from the cabbage to leak out, and the cabbage will shrink in size). By the end, there should be enough liquid brine to completely submerge the cabbage when it’s transferred to the jar.
- Add the caraway seeds (stir in with a spoon).
- Transfer the cabbage-caraway blend and liquid brine into the mason jar. Make sure the cabbage is completely submerged under the liquid in the jar. Cover it with a fermentation weight to ensure it’s completely anaerobic (“without air”).
- Seal tightly with the mason jar lid.
Part 2: Fermentation (~1 week)
- Leave the jar of cabbage in salt brine in your kitchen cabinet for 5 days to 2 weeks (exposed to as little light as possible). The hotter the room temperature, the faster your cabbage will ferment. One week is the standard amount of time it usually takes me to successfully make probiotic sauerkraut.A few things to keep in mind:After 24 hours you should start to observe some bubbling or even fizzing sounds. This is normal and exciting! Let it continue to ferment over the next week or so until it has reached your desired taste/texture. **If you see any mold on top above the brine, remove it. This should not happen if all the cabbage is 100% submerged. Anything under the brine is still safe to eat!**
- Enjoy a spoonful of this probiotic sauerkraut 1-4x/day around meal times for best results. Start small (1/2 teaspoon at a time), and slowly work your way up to a few spoonfuls a few times a day.
- Probiotic sauerkraut makes a great addition to salads, sandwiches, or over eggs for some extra flavor to your meal!
Sauerkraut with probiotics: a few words of caution
- The cabbage in probiotic sauerkraut and kimchi may or may not be well tolerated for people with SIBO or on a low-FODMAP diet. Napa cabbage is considered lower in FODMAPS so you may be able to enjoy sauerkraut in moderation! But I always encourage people to listen to their bodies.
- This probiotic sauerkraut recipe is great for gut health in many cases, but it’s also very high in sodium, which is not ideal for somebody with heart failure, kidney issues or hypertension, following a low-salt therapeutic diet.
- Always check with a dietitian, holistic health practitioner or doctor if you are unsure of whether or not probiotic sauerkraut is a good fit for your gut health regimen.
Sharing is caring!
I hope this recipe for sauerkraut with probiotics serves as a resource for you on your journey, whether preventive or healing. If you tried this recipe out or found this blog post interesting/helpful, please SHARE this post with someone you love!