In keeping with the 13 skills challenge, yesterday I started making some Lacto fermented sauerkraut for the first time.  If I work on one skill a month for the whole year, plus move to Idaho, I will complete my 13 new skills for the year.  I decided to start with the fermentation because of two reasons.  First, in the summer its too hot to let stuff just sit out on our counter without it rotting, so it’s definitely a winter activity here in the desert.  Second, we have been eating a ton of pork lately, and I wanted to try this with it.

So what is lacto fermentation?

Lacto fermentation is one of the easiest ways to preserve and enhance food.  It’s basically taking vegetable, salting them to get them to release their water as brine, and submerging them in that brine for anywhere from a week to several months.  Since the food is not exposed to air, and is anaerobically breaking down, it will not spoil.  The carbohydrates in the veggies themselves break down and form lactic acid.  The only ingredients you really need are food, salt and a container to hold food submerged.

Why lacto ferment food?

Their are two main benefits to fermenting food.  One is the preservation of the harvest.  When you have fresh veggies from the garden, you can only realistically eat so many of them before they go bad.  Fermenting, like canning, can help extend that life.  Unlike canning though, you can ferment without any inputs other than salt, so its a lot easier and quicker than canning.

The other are health benefits.  This is my first batch of lacto fermented anything, so I don’t really have any first hand knowledge yet.  However, I have seen the personal benefits to my digestion from both taking probiotics as well as drinking raw milk.  Both of these things introduce the often much needed lactobacillus bacteria back into your gut.  This is especially true for people that have taken courses of high dose antibiotics recently.  They will wreak havoc on your guts, and disrupt digestion.  Lactofermenting your foods will introduce those elements back into your body in a much more natural (and inexpensive) way than buying pills.

I have also heard many convincing arguments that a lot of our modern digestive maladies are caused by no longer eating fermented foods.  Clearly our ancestors didn’t have access to freezers and refrigeration, so one way they had to preserve food was ferment it.  It fits quite well with my paleo philosophy to try and recover that input into our body.

So how do you make Sauerkraut?

Well, there isn’t really a wrong way to do it, as long as your veggies release brine, and you keep them submerged.  Its much more about ratios than it is about a recipe.  In general online, I found the guideline to be about 3 tablespoons of salt per 5 pounds of cabbage.  When this batch is done, I will know more how it need to be adjusted.

Lacto Prep

First, a warning.  This is a process that basically needs two things.  Salt and food.  That being true, make damn sure you have BOTH of these things in good supply before your start.  Mid chopping is a really stupid time to realize you don’t have the thing of salt you thought you had.

So since this was my first time, I just tried to make it as simple as possible.  I took a small head of cabbage and sliced it into thin strips.  About every quarter of the cabbage, I would salt the cabbage in the bowl and mix it by hand.  I used some pink Himalayan sea salt from a grinder, in addition to the last of the regular salt we had.  I think I got the ration right, but we will see.  I also peeled a small carrot, and sliced it into tiny pieces as well.  This was to give it some color, as well as to experiment with a second veggie.  Lastly, I took some caraway seeds and dumped them in for flavouring.

The goal of the salt is to extract the moisture from the veggies and form a protective layer of brine over them while they ferment.  They make expensive fermenting crocks for this, or you can use a plate and a bowl.

Lacto Crock Replacement

It works pretty much the same way.  I did see that the cabbage wasn’t releasing enough brine to cover itself.  This might be from me not having as much salt as I thought, or it might be because the cabbage sat too long in the fridge and dried out.  That’s what experiments are for, to learn how to do it better.

So took the mixture out of the bowl, and put it into two jars.  When I did this, I saw how much the cabbage had shrunk, so I know it was working.  I took some water, mixed in some granulated salt we had, and poured it over-top of the veggies until they were submerged.  Then I packed them down with a wooden spoon to drive out any air and keep them preserved.

Finished in a jar

So far I have to say this process is very easy.  I do look forward to trying to out in a few weeks when its done.  Good sauerkraut is amazing.  Try it out at home and let me know how it goes.  I will report back my own findings once its done.