Nourish - The Benefits of Vegetable Fermentation in a Nutshell [Plus Emily’s Sauerkraut recipe!]
Fermentation is one of the oldest forms of preservation.
Vegetable fermentation helps to transform a simple raw vegetable into something infinitely healthier and even more delicious.
How is this achieved?
The transformation owes everything to the microbes in the soil that the veggies are grown in and the sugars present in the vegetables.
During fermentation, microorganisms including bacteria, yeasts or moulds break down complex molecules into simpler substances. Given the right conditions, the bacteria kick-start fermentation by feasting on the vegetables natural sugars and converting them into a variety of things. These include lactic acid, carbon dioxide and a tinsy amount of alcohol.
This not only transforms the chemical composition of the food but also enhances its nutritive value.
How do they benefit us?
Our bodies are populated with trillions of bacteria, most of which live in our gut and have a huge impact on our overall health.
Our microbiome does so much to keep us healthy, from:
- keeping our good:bad bacteria ratio balanced
- synthesizing vitamins including Vitamin K and B
- enhancing nutrient absorption
- regulating inflammation
- regulating immunity throughout our entire body and so much more.
Fermented vegetables are so good for us and our gut health; they really should be eaten daily. That’s because these fermented beauties help:
- aid in digestion
- help heal the gut
- boost the body’s ability to absorb more nutrients from food
- support the immune system
- help to improved mood
That’s why I believe that nurturing our guts is the number one thing we can do to boost our overall health and immunity.
Do you want to learn more about fermentation? For some real in-depth info about fermentation, the difference between culturing and fermenting, and types of ferments available, have a read over my blog:
- Candida Overgrowth: The Importance of Fermented and Cultured Foods on the Anti Candida Diet (Part Three)
Here I cover in-depth about the differences and the types of fermented creations you can make and consume.
Vegetable Fermentation for Gut Health
If you’re struggling with digestive problems or an imbalanced gut, read on.
Check Your Diet
In order to rebuild and maintain a healthy gut, you have to remove what could potentially be causing the damage.
Popular culprits include:
- processed and refined foods
- poor diet
- excessive caffeine and/or alcohol
- poor sleep quality
- food intolerances or sensitivities (perhaps ones you don’t know about) e.g gluten, eggs, corn, dairy etc.
Dietary wise, refined sugar is one of the worst offenders because it feeds the negative gut bacteria and depletes the positive bacteria that support a healthy microbiome.
It also contributes to poor blood sugar levels which affect every other aspect of health, from your stress response, sleep through to your immune system. If you struggle with blood sugar problems, have a read over:
- 13 Natural & Easy Ways To Balance Your Blood Sugar Levels | 1
- 13 Natural & Easy Ways To Balance Your Blood Sugar Levels | 2
My advice – bring in the good bacteria with fermented foods like:
- fermented veggies
- kefir (water and/or milk)
All of these fermented foods are full of good bacteria to help combat poor digestion, bad skin, irritable moods, inflammation and low immunity.
Bring in the Prebiotics
Another important area to focus on are prebiotics. These are essentially the food source for probiotics.
Think raw asparagus, garlic, onion, leek, bananas and dandelion greens. I have a whole blog post on this topic here:
And here’s where my sauerkraut recipe comes in!
Making sauerkraut is one of the cheapest and easiest fermented foods you can make and it’s so versatile. Sauerkraut goes well with many foods. Plus, you can adjust what you put in it to alter its flavour profile.
Personally, I like to add it to avocado toast, veggie burgers, sandwiches, mixed into or added to salads. It’s also great as a side dish to any of my meals.
The combinations are endless.
What you will need:
There are many different types of jars, crocks, containers, slicing tools and gadgets that can be used to make fermented foods. Then you have endless veggie combinations too. To keep things simple, I’ll stick to the following:
- 1-litre sized jar (a Kilner jar/ airtight glass jar (I get mine in IKEA)
- A knife
- Chopping board
- 1 tablespoon of Sea salt /Himalayan Salt*
- 1 head of cabbage
- 3-4 carrots
- some arm muscle power
- optional: a food processor with grater
Pull off about 3 outer leaves of cabbage and set aside.
Cut the cabbage in half and remove the core.
Shred your cabbage using a food processor (I personally prefer the coarser grater). Alternatively cut by hand into thin strips. Place the cabbage in a large bowl.
Sprinkle your salt into the bowl and start massaging it into the cabbage by hand. Squeeze, push, and squeeze again to get the liquid out of the cabbage. You can also use a vegetable pounder to help.
You’re aiming for plenty of liquid to come out and a soft textured feel to the cabbage.
If you find that there’s little-to-no juice coming out, leave the cabbage aside for 10-20 minutes and come back to it. The salt will have helped draw the liquid out of the cabbage and it should be easier to get stuck into it!
If you want to add other veggies, spices or herbs to your kraut, do so in this step. Mix and squeeze them with the cabbage.
Pack the cabbage into your jar tightly with either your hand or a vegetable pounder. Push it all the way down until it submerges in its own juices (this is the brine).
Fill your jar until there is about 1-2 inches of space from the top and pour any remaining brine into the jar to cover the cabbage entirely.
It is vital that your cabbage is always kept UNDER the brine. This keeps it in an anaerobic condition, meaning there’s no oxygen. This creates an oxygen-free environment where lactobacillus bacteria can thrive and bad bacteria cannot.
If you allow your cabbage/veggies to be exposed to any oxygen, you’ll be creating a jar of mould instead of delicious sauerkraut!
Remember the outer leaves and core you kept aside? Here’s where they come into play.
There’s a multitude of ways to keep the cabbage under the brine, but here’s a couple of different ways to do it.
Either you can place a couple of the cabbage leaves into the jar and push down to ensure they’re keeping everything submerged under the brine. Alternatively, you can take one of the cabbage cores and place it on top of the cabbage, acting like a weight, and then add the cabbage leaf over top to cover it further.
If you use a larger jar/crock/pot, other submerging options include:
- a plate with a weight on top
- a smaller jar that fits inside the jar
- glass pebble weights
- a plastic sandwich bag filled with water
- the weights that often come with a fermenting crock.
Screw on the lid to the jar loosely so gas can escape as fermentation takes place, or seal your air-tight jar shut. If you do the latter, remember to ‘burp’ your ferment daily so it doesn’t go bang!
Some veggies can be very explosive, so make sure to keep opening the jar in the first few days to release the gas.
Set the jar on the counter on top of a plate for 7-21 days in a cool, shaded place.
In case it bubbles over and makes a mess, keep a plate underneath.
I’ve made beetroot infused sauerkraut before and trust me, using a plate underneath saved my countertop!
One thing to note is the time.
It really depends on your environment how long a ferment will take.
If it’s cold, it will take longer, if it’s warm it will be faster.
The truth of the matter is there is no exact time on it. Maybe you love it after 7 days or maybe it’s reached a taste you like at 2 weeks. Generally after 2-3 weeks the probiotic content is at it’s best, but it’s basically done when you like the taste of it!
Once it’s reached the flavour you like, pop it in the fridge and enjoy!
* A quick note on salt. Generally, the rule is to go for a 2.5% salt percentage for sauerkraut. You simply weigh the cabbage/veggies and multiply the gram weight of them by 2.5. For example 450g of cabbage at 2.5% = 450 x 0.025 = 11.25g. So let’s go with 11g of salt.
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*Please note that while we are knowledgeable about our products and nutrition, this blog should never be a substitute for medical advice and attention.
Please remember that you should always obtain the all-clear from your doctor before starting any new supplement plan or diet if you’re on any medication.