Tag Archives: cabbage

Homemade Sauerkraut: Improve Digestion, Prevent Cancer

There is a farm at my children’s school, and every Thursday afternoon they host a farm stand where parents and students can buy fresh veggies, goat milk products, and homemade goodies. A few weeks ago, I stopped by the stand and encountered some truly amazing produce–a head of cabbage so giant I thought I was back in Alaska. I passed on buying it, not knowing what I’d actually do with the beast, but I went home and thought about it all night, came up with a plan, and the next day headed back to the farm to see if there were more. The farmer generously took me out to the field and found me this beauty. I brought this leafy 15-pounder home and started shredding.IMG_1105

Making Sauerkraut:
It turns out making sauerkraut is a relatively simple process: it requires cabbage, salt, and a good vessel for storage. I bought a large crock for making vinegar a few years ago so I decided to use this. I would recommend using something nonreactive and not plastic, so crockery or glass are good options. According to Alton Brown, my go-to resource for all cooking projects that seem a bit more like chemistry, for every 5lbs of cabbage, use 3Tbsp pickling salt (I used kosher salt and doubled the amount). He also uses 1 Tbsp of juniper berries and 2 tsp caraway, but that is optional. After shredding and mixing the cabbage with salt, pack it firmly into your sanitized fermentation vessel of choice. Place a plate on top of the cabbage, then lay a quart-sized glass jar full of water over the plate (sanitize these too).
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After a couple days, a liquid brine should form to cover the top of the cabbage, if not, add enough water to cover the cabbage. Check it every couple of days and skim the scum off the top if necessary. The sauerkraut should be ready in 10 days to 4 weeks-just take a bit out and taste it! When it is finished, pack it into sanitized quart jars and cover with brine (the spigot at the bottom of my vinegar crock was handy for this). It should keep in the refrigerator for a few months.IMG_1177

Why Sauerkraut?

In addition to being a good source of Vitamin C, B6, and iron, there are two primary health benefits to eating sauerkraut: improved digestion and cancer prevention. The digestive benefits are twofold: there are many strains of probiotic bacteria (including lactobacillus) that work together to eat the sugars in the cabbage and produce this fermented food. Eating raw sauerkraut will help to repopulate the large intestine with beneficial bacteria, which can improve digestion, relieve inflammation, and increase the strength of the immune system overall. Green cabbage is also a good source of glutamine, which is an amino acid that is the preferred food for the lining of the digestive tract. This can also help to repair damaged cells and improve the integrity of the large intestine. One word of caution; the process of fermentation can create a trisaccharide that, when consumed by the bacteria that live in the digestive tract, can cause gas for some people. The addition of caraway and juniper (as advised by Alton Brown’s recipe) can help to dispel that gas and maximize the digestive benefit of the sauerkraut.

Indole-3-carbinol (I3C) is the primary chemical present in sauerkraut that has been associated with cancer prevention. I3C can be found in all members of the cabbage (brassica) family, but particularly high levels have been found in cabbage that has been fermented for 7-9 days. After this length of time, I3C levels continue to remain elevated but will taper off over time. I3C has been shown to reduce proliferation (growth) of several types of cancer, including colon, prostate, breast, and leukemia. I3C has been discussed particularly in reference to prevention of breast and cervical cancers because it helps to metabolize and remove estrogens from the system. These types of cancer are frequently (though not always) dependent upon estrogen as a growth promoter. However, I3C also can help to initiate natural cell death (called apoptosis) and protect the liver against cancer-causing chemicals which is why benefit has been found for non-estrogen dependent cancers as well.

Making sauerkraut is a little adventure that yields a delicious, health promoting, and cost-saving product with flavor unrivaled by the canned store-bought types. You can purchase raw sauerkraut at many health food stores, but the cost can be upwards of $20/quart. Making it at home requires only the cost of the cabbage–mine cost about $1.30/quart, plus the glory of figuring out what to do with a cabbage the size of my torso.

Enjoy and be well!

Restoring Digestive Health with Cabbage

The sun has returned to Colorado! I spent this morning in my garden with the girls, turning over the sun-warmed dirt and finding a few of last year’s carrots and onions lingering in the soil; perfect for us to share in our lunch.

As we head towards warmer weather, we will soon be getting to enjoy the first delicious foods of spring: greens, asparagus, and peas are all just around the corner. While these foods are delicious and a welcome nutritional boost after the storage foods of winter, it can be a big transition for our digestive tract to bring in all these fresh new foods. Now is the time to tune up our digestion to make sure we are ready to break down and properly absorb the fresh foods of spring.

So how can we utilize the foods of winter to help support our digestion? One of the best options out there is the humble cabbage. Cabbage has long been used as a folk remedy for ulcers as well as generally restoring the lining of the stomach and intestines. A traditional naturopathic remedy for stomach flu and ulcers is to chop up cabbage, cover it with water in the blender, blend it and let it sit for a couple of days before drinking. This may not sound like the yummiest of concoctions, but it works well enough to look into why it is effective.

The first reason cabbage is so useful for healing the digestion is its high glutamine content. Glutamine is an amino acid; our body makes glutamine but it becomes an essential amino acid during times of illness or high stress. While most of our body, such as our brain and muscles, use glucose, a sugar, the lining of our digestive tract prefers glutamine as an energy source. So when you eat cabbage, you are giving your stomach and intestines the food it prefers to replace and heal itself. Studies utilizing extracts of cabbage have found them to be protective against and healing to ulcers; it is hypothesized that glutamine is at least part of the reason for this. Glutamine content tends to be higher in raw cabbage, though, so the cabbage juice described above would be preferable to cooked cabbage.

The other medicinal element to our blended cabbage has to do with letting it sit for a couple days before eating. Fermented cabbage tends to develop strains of acidophilus and other bacteria that have been shown to function as probiotics; this means they promote the healthy growth of all the bacteria necessary for healthy functioning of the large intestine. Studies on kimchi, a traditional fermented cabbage product from Asia, have been shown not only to function as a probiotic, but also to inhibit the growth of h. pylori, the bacteria that has been associated with stomach ulcers.

So, as the air begins to warm and we look forward to the fresh new foods to come, utilize the end of our storage veggies to get our digestion ready for the excitement of spring! You don’t necessarily need to drink homemade fermented cabbage juice, but other traditional fermented cabbage dishes such as natural sauerkraut and kimchi could be quite useful. Even shredding cabbage into a slaw will provide a good source of glutamine to heal the lining of your digestion. Enjoy!