Sauerkraut (sour cabbage) is one of those special, old-world traditions that’s helped sustain life for thousands of years. It’s simple, nourishing and economical. And in our time now, it’s made a big comeback.
Back then, our ancestors didn’t have research on hand to explain why it’s so healthful. They just knew. The benefits of fermented foods, and the techniques to craft them, were carried through the generations.
Times have changed and you have Google and Wikipedia at your fingertips. Masters of biochemistry can outline all the hows and whys that make sauerkraut so damn good for you.
Sauerkraut is commonly regarded as a condiment for foods like eggs and sausage. It is, and a very tasty one.
But sauerkraut can also be a fabulous, health-boosting supplement for you. Depending of course how it is made, which makes all the difference in the world. More on that in a bit.
First, have you heard of probiotic (beneficial bacteria) supplements?
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Probiotics are microorganisms that are believed to provide health benefits when consumed. The term probiotic is currently used to name ingested microorganisms associated with beneficial effects to humans and animals.
There is now a great deal of fanfare about probiotic foods and supplements.
Sauerkraut is a great source of beneficial bacteria. And it’s in a very natural form.
Plus, it’s arguably more potent per serving than standard probiotic pills. It’s also a heck of a lot cheaper!
Better still, if you enjoy fermented foods, it’s delicious.
I’ve been enjoying raw, homemade sauerkraut for quite a while now. Eating copious amounts of it is one of the reasons that I never get sick.
(Lots of sunshine is another.)
You, too, can use sauerkraut liberally to help build up a robust immune system and boost health in many other ways.
Read on and I’ll share these benefits with you.
Plus, I’ll show you step by step how to make sauerkraut that’s so good, your friends and family will be kicking down your door, begging for more. And I’ve got pictures for you, to help illustrate.
Health benefits of sauerkraut and its juice
Overall, sauerkraut is great for your:
- Hormones (especially testosterone)
- Kidneys and liver
- and more
It’s rich in sulfur, which purifies the blood, benefits healing and is called the “beauty mineral” for good reason. Sulfur does great things for you, like boost the health of your hair, joints, nails, skin, and more.
It’s the third most abundant (and therefore necessary) mineral in the body; behind calcium and phosphorus.
Sauerkraut provides other important minerals, too. Like potassium with 410 mg (12% daily value) per cup.
Minerals act as catalysts in the body, to make chemical reactions happen properly. Sports drinks are made effective by the electrolytes – the minerals. Because sea salt is used in the preparation, combined with the minerals of cabbage, sauerkraut supplies essential and trace minerals.
Keeping electrolyte levels high boosts your athletic performance and in general, helps your body work better.
Sauerkraut is also rich in vitamin C, providing at least 34.7 mg (58% daily value) per cup. I say at least because depending on the fermentation process, the vitamin C will build in concentration. Sauerkraut, thanks to fermenting bacteria, has significantly more vitamin C than regular old cabbage.
Sauerkraut has an anti-cancer compound called sulforaphane. It’s naturally present in cruciferous veggies like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. There’s been a lot of press about it.
Sauerkraut, the liver and testosterone
You may have heard, testosterone levels in men have been plummeting from generation-to-generation. Your grandfather had higher testosterone levels than you did. Your dad had more than you, but less than granddad. And you are in 3rd place.
I believe the estimation is 10% loss, or possibly more, per generation.
What’s to blame? Well… lots of variables including:
- lack of a father figure, or absentee father
- guys being taught to be submissive pussies
- high consumption of starchy carbs, junk food, processed food, and refined sugars
- lack of healthy fats in the diet
- high consumption of estrogenic compounds like soy
- lack of intense physical activity, weight-lifting, competitive sports, and/or responsibly dangerous activity
Outspoken men have been calling attention to this for years now. Stand-up guys like Mike Cernovich, Victor Pride and Chris – Good Looking Loser (NSFW) have published a wealth of information on the issue. Between the 3 of them, thousands of men have been helped.
Knowing that test levels are declining by the decade, it makes me wonder: what were our grandfathers doing differently?
Well, consider this. Knowing that our diet influences genetic expression, what’s the end result of eating garbage estrogenic foods vs foods that support healthy testosterone levels?
In past times, fermented foods like sauerkraut were staples. Were men manlier because they ate more raw kraut, onions, garlic, and so on? Perhaps so.
Victor wrote about this years ago. Foods like garlic and onions contain allicin that support testosterone levels.
Now here’s something else: the health of your liver will greatly affect your hormones.
Why? Because the liver is a major filter organ that, aside from detoxifying harmful compounds, it has to process excess hormones like estrogen. Poor liver health, causing a retention of estrogen, will wreck hormone balance.
Sauerkraut stimulates liver enzymes that are needed for filtering all that crap out. In fact, sauerkraut is helpful for people with Fatty Liver Disease.
And cabbage, whether natural or kraut form, helps block and reduce estrogen.
For these reasons and more, cruciferous veggies are a cornerstone of what’s heralded as the “Anti-Estrogen Diet” for men.
The fascinating connection between your immune system and gut health
Did you know?
The gastro-intestinal (GI) tract contains the majority of our “immune system” – roughly 3/4 of it.
The “gut” is a major battleground of interaction. Your internal defense network clashes with invaders from the outside world.
Our gut flora play a crucial role in immune strength. They are the beneficial bacteria we talked about earlier.
Bless them, they target invading microbes and communicate with our lymph nodes. This allows the body to establish immune system defenses and carry out attacks on microbes.
Beneficial bacteria, the good guys, also have to fight off “bad” bacteria and other nasty specimens like yeast (candida).
The presence of healthy bacteria in the gut makes it incredibly more difficult for the invaders to colonize. As healthy bacteria take up more “real estate” in the GI tract, they get first dibs on nutrients. It makes it easier for them to keep the bad guys under lock down.
In the mean time, antibiotic drugs can wreck havoc on beneficial bacteria colonies. Repeated use, like when doctors over-prescribe antibiotics for conditions that don’t warrant them, will create long term problems.
For instance, a person’s immune system would be very susceptible to infection. And antibiotics are also fueling the rapidly growing resistance in MRSA.
For this, probiotics are especially important for those who have a history of antibiotic use.
Here’s a fantastic piece of work by researchers, illuminating some of the hows and whys in the gut-immune connection:
“Freiburg Researchers Describe Influence of Natural Intestinal Flora on Immune Response to Viral Germs in Journal Immunity
Signals from natural intestinal bacteria are necessary for an effective immune response to various viral or bacterial germs.
Trillions of bacteria reside in the intestines of healthy humans as well as those of many animals. This natural intestinal flora contributes to digestion and the metabolism of vitamins and is of critical importance for the host organism. Recent research has shown that the intestinal flora also plays an important role in the formation of the immune system in the intestines and that changes to it can increase the risk of food allergies or chronic inflammatory intestinal diseases.
“It was previously unclear to what extent the intestinal flora also influences immunological processes outside of the intestines, such as the defense against viral germs like the flu virus, and that was the main question of our work,” explain the scientists.
To really dig into that study, you may find it here.
Going one step further, research demonstrates how gut flora affects the growth and effectiveness of immune system organs, such as the thymus.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The thymus is a specialized primary lymphoid organ of the immune system. Within the thymus, T cells or T lymphocytes mature. T cells are critical to the adaptive immune system, where the body adapts specifically to foreign invaders.
This study in particular measured the difference of thymus growth in babies who were breast-fed versus those who were formula-fed. There is a special connection between a mother’s milk and the infant’s gut health. Truly, it begins early and remains important throughout our entire life.
From the study’s abstract:
We have previously shown that breast-fed infants have a considerably larger thymus at 4 months than formula-fed infants. The aim of the present study was to investigate whether breast-feeding also influences the thymic size in late infancy.
At 10 months the thymic index was significantly higher in those still being breast-fed compared to infants who had stopped breast-feeding between 8 and 10 months of age (P=0.05). This difference became more significant when controlled for the influence of infectious diseases (P=0.03).
In infants still breast-fed at 10 months there was a significant correlation between the number of breast-feeds per day and their thymic index (P=0.01).
The effect of breast-feeding on thymus size is likely to be caused by immune modulating factors in breast milk. Breast milk influences thymic size in late infancy.
Now here’s where it ties back to gut flora…
Breast milk includes a natural supply of healthy bacteria. Mother’s Milk is the original probiotic!
Breast milk provides probiotics that become the base of the child’s immunity, through the intestinal tract.
Formula milk is lacking in beneficial bacteria, among other things. The practice of breast-feeding isn’t just to deliver basic sustenance; it’s a sacred action that allows transference of immune strength.
Sauerkraut and gut health
Fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut (made from cabbage) offer a natural, time tested way to incorporate beneficial bacteria back into your life. Kraut makes a fantastic condiment that can go on top of eggs, sandwiches, potatoes, and lots of other foods.
— Derek Wolf (@DerekMWolf) August 12, 2015
BUT… you must preserve the integrity of live enzymes and bacteria in order to reap the benefits. The preservation and canning process of most store-bought kraut involves pasteurization, which destroys the benefits.
For taste, probiotic content and nutrient-richness, the best sauerkraut is raw and home-made.
You can make big batches of sauerkraut at home and although delicious, the trade-off is time and effort. Each batch takes at least 2 weeks of fermenting. And in the meantime, while fermenting, it can make your house smell funny.
Plus, understandably, not everyone enjoys the taste of sauerkraut.
How to make damn good sauerkraut for a price that’s (almost) too good to be true
I make homemade batches of sauerkraut to use as a healthful condiment. You can, too, if you’d like. It’s one of the most inexpensive health foods on the planet.
Using 3 heads of cabbage gives enough sauerkraut to last the misses and I for 2 weeks. This includes eating some daily and sharing a bit with friends and family.
Two heaping tablespoons of kraut a day keeps a lot of bad things away.
You can use big ceramic crocks to make your sauerkraut in, but for just 2 or 3 heads of cabbage, it can be overkill.
I inherited a large, old fashioned crock and after using it I concluded that they are better served for big batches, like 15-20+ heads of cabbage.
Instead, I use these glass jars, which you can find at Target.
You need two of them, a 1-gallon jar and a 2-gallon jar. Both should come with a lid; the lid for the 2-gallon jar is very important.
The larger, 2-gallon jar is the main container. This one holds the sauerkraut.
The smaller, 1-gallon jar is used as a weight. You fill it with water, making it quite heavy, and place it on top of the cabbage. It is slimmer than the 2-gallon jar, and slides right into it. The pictures will help demonstrate this.
Sauerkraut needs to be submerged below its fermenting, salty, brine juice. That’s why the smaller jar is used as a weight. It presses down the cabbage into the liquid and keeps it there.
In the old days, people would wrap a heavy rock in cheesecloth and use that as the weight.
Kraut – Step by step recipe with pictures
Overall you’ll need the containers, cabbage, sea salt, cutting board, Chef’s knife or food processor, and a large wooden spoon or potato masher. That, plus elbow grease and time, is all you need to make delicious sauerkraut.
In summary, you’ll slice up cabbage yourself or use a food processor, put it all in the jar, mix in several tablespoons of sea salt, use the wooden spoon or potato masher to break up the cabbage real good, set the small jar as a weight, put the large jar’s lid on, and then step back and congratulate yourself.
After that there is minor maintenance involved during fermentation – at least 2 week’s time.
The only type of dangerous interaction that I can think of is the potentially high sodium content interacting with certain medications. Always consult your doctor for possible interactions.
It’s usually best to eat it in small portions at first. A forkful with a meal. Sometimes it really kick starts the digestion.
Here is the step by step recipe with pictures. Feel free to click on the image to get a close up. You may get a kick out of the fermentation pictures!
#1 Acquire necessary containers, clean them well, rinse and dry.
#2 Pick out fresh cabbage; organic is recommended. Green cabbage is most commonly used, but red cabbage is fabulous. It has great flavor, makes reddish and magenta kraut-juice, and stays crisp better than green cabbage. I usually mix 2 red cabbages and 1 green for each batch.
#3 Rinse and clean cabbage as necessary; vinegar and water make a great, sanitizing, vegetable soak.
#4 Cut the cabbage into thin slices and small chunks. Some prefer to use a food processor here. I do it manually with a Chef’s knife.
#5 Begin to put sliced cabbage into the 2-gallon jar. Add a layer of cabbage about 2 inches thick, and then toss a few dashes of sea salt over the top. I don’t measure, rather I use dashes and pinches.
PS… this is the type of sea salt that I use:
#6 After 2 layers, grab your wooden spoon or potato masher. The cabbage needs to be broken. Being careful to not damage your jar, start breaking the cabbage in the same manner you’d mash up potatoes.
The combination of breaking the cabbage, and sea salt, makes the cabbage “sweat.” This creates the brine that ferments cabbage, turning it into probiotic sauerkraut. From the natural sugar in cabbage, lactic acid bacteria proliferate. Salt preserves the cabbage until the bacteria populate enough to take over.
You may have heard of the process as lacto-fermentation.
#7 Continue to layer sliced cabbage, dashes of sea salt, and cabbage-mashing.
#8 Once you’ve added all of your cabbage, continue to mash it for 5 minutes. If anything, you want to be extra sure that it has been broken up enough to make the brine. You will actually see moisture building, and small amount of brine collecting at the bottom of the jar.
#9 Use the masher or wooden spoon to flatten and even out the top surface of cabbage.
#10 Take your 1-gallon jar and fill it about 3/4 full of water. Carefully set it directly on top of the cabbage.
Here is an example:
#11 The weight of the water jar helps to press out more liquid from the cabbage. If your countertop is sturdy enough, you can press down on the water jar to smoosh the cabbage a little more.
#12 Depending on how much cabbage used, you may be able to place the large, 2-gallon jar’s lid over the top. This keeps out bugs and helps prevent brine from evaporating.
If the water jar is sticking up above the top rim too much, cover the jars with cheesecloth and secure in place with the small jar’s lid.
I usually keep it on my countertop. But if the room gets too warm, put it in a cooler spot or turn on the AC/swamp cooler. Excessive heat will corrupt the fermentation process and spoil sauerkraut. Bad bacteria instead of beneficial. Avoid this.
#13 Usually by the second day, you’ll see more brine building up. A lot more. This depends on how broken up the cabbage is, which making it sweat. The more the better.
#14 Within several days, the brine should have increased enough to completely submerge the kraut. This is critical to fermentation. Cabbage that is not submerged will begin to spoil. If the brine isn’t building on time, you can add a little non-chlorinated water and sea salt to raise its level.
#15 As the brine level rises, you’ll also notice bubbling, which is an indication of fermentation.
#16 Alongside bubbling, as the days pass you will see a buildup of white “scum.” It collects at the surface where the cabbage and brine are exposed to air.
Every few days, remove the lid, slowly remove the water jar, and use a giant spoon to scoop out any white scum. Before replacing the water jar, even out the cabbage near the surface, making it flat so it submerges better.
#17 Continue this process for at least 2 weeks. Most times, the only maintenance you’ll have to do is scrape out the scum every few days. You don’t have to mix the cabbage or anything like that. But after scraping, be sure to pack down and flatten the kraut under the juice as best you can.
#18 After 2 weeks, you’ll have a pretty mild but delicious kraut. You can leave it to ferment longer, such as 4 weeks, if you desire. The longer you ferment, the different the taste. You’ll have to experiment to see which you prefer best.
#19 When you’re ready to harvest, carefully remove the lid and water jar. Use a large soup ladle or serving spoon to scoop out the kraut. We put ours into a large, rectangular Tupperware.
Be sure to pour the brine (kraut juice) into the storage container, too. It’s one of the best parts!
That rich, purple kraut-juice is wonderful to drink when cold. Very nourishing to the gut; a healthful tonic full of nutrients and electrolyte minerals. It also helps keep the sauerkraut fresh. Once again, pack and flatten the kraut as much as possible to keep as much as you can submerged.
Mason jars also work great for storage.
#20 Immediately refrigerate. Sauerkraut can be eaten room-temperature but, in my opinion, tastes much better cold. Refrigerate overnight and then the next day it’ll be ready to add to your favorite foods!
If you decide to make sauerkraut and experiment with fermented foods, hats off to you! It’s an acquired taste so usually a love it or hate it thing.
Nourishing your gut one of the best health choices we can make. The more you help your gut flora, the more it can help you. Better energy, hormones, immune system and more.