Gott im Himmel! That’s Good Sauerkraut!

“I’ve got something you really need to try.”

Five years ago, Andrew Weil, MD, invited me into the kitchen of his Tucson kitchen, spoke these fateful words, and gave me a conspiratorial wink.

I was at his home to discuss a writing project. But aside from being America’s best-known authority on natural health and healing, Weil was — and is — a brilliant and dedicated gastronome:

  • Exhibit one: He has his own chain of hugely successful True Food Kitchen restaurants
  • Exhibit two: His kitchen has a walk-in refrigerator.

So the implied question — should we keep grinding on the literary front or stuff our pie holes? — was a no-brainer.

“Bring it,” I said.

Retreating to his pantry, he emerged with a 14-inch-tall ceramic crock. Its top was a circular trench filled with water. The heavy lid’s rim sat in this trench, forming an airtight seal.

He removed the lid, pulled two C-shaped ceramic stones from the interior, and then spooned a generous portion of light-green cabbage for me and one for himself.

“When I was a kid growing up in Philadelphia, the German delis had sauerkraut just like this, actively fermenting in huge barrels,” he said, stabbing his portion with a fork.

Yeah, whatev, I thought. I’d had plenty of canned sauerkraut as a kid. Limp, vinegary, and salty as squid tears. However…

When I took a bite, I knew that I should have trusted the good doctor. Revelation! Teutonic redemption! Crunchy! Piquant! With just enough salt to make it sing!

Gott im Himmel, that’s good sauerkraut!

It was a life-changing moment. Shortly afterward, my wife, Laurie, and I bought this fermenting crock and began chucking all manner of shredded vegetation inside.

While we’ve tried Korean kimchi and various other fermented dishes, we keep returning to making plain sauerkraut.

Crock of Sauerkraut

It’s delicious and nutritious — a rich source of B-complex, C, and K vitamins; calcium and magnesium; and dietary fiber.

But most importantly, raw sauerkraut is a rich source of live lactobacilli, the organisms that impart its characteristic sour flavor. Eating it supports the growth of healthy gut flora — which is, in turn, increasingly understood to be the foundation of robust physical and even mental health.

In fact, several studies link frequent raw sauerkraut consumption to lowered cancer risk.1

So… you can buy sauerkraut with live cultures, but at north of $7 a pound, it’s no bargain.

Fortunately, making it at home is simplicity itself.

Shred two heads of fresh cabbage either with a sharp knife or food processor. Mix in a large bowl with roughly 3 tablespoons of salt. Pack the salted shreds in the crock. Press hard with your fist.

Place the two half-circle-shaped ceramic weights (these come with fermenting crocks; a heavy plate will also work) on top of the cabbage.

Crock Weights

Fill the crock’s rim-trough with water and put on the lid. This forms a one-way seal. Carbon dioxide from the fermenting process can bubble out, but fresh air — which may foster mold growth — can’t get in.

If visible brine does not form naturally within 24 hours, add salted water — roughly 1 teaspoon of salt per cup — until the weights are barely covered.

Weights in Crock

Now comes the hard part — patience!

Good sauerkraut takes time. At our typical kitchen temperature of about 74 degrees, it’s tasty at three weeks, but perfect at four and good for at least six.

Once it tastes right, it can go into fridge, covered, for several weeks more. And don’t forget to drink the juice, which offers many of the same therapeutic effects as the fermented cabbage itself.

I hope you enjoy your sauerkraut journey as much as Laurie and I have. To this day, we offer enduring thanks to our friend Andrew Weil for showing us the way.


Brad Lemley

Editor, Natural Health Solutions

[1] EurekAlert. “Sauerkraut contains anticancer compound.” 2002

Brad Lemley

Written By Brad Lemley

Brad Lemley is a science and health writer and former senior correspondent for The Washington Post and Discover magazine. He is a tireless advocate for safe, natural, self-directed healthy living practices and therapies.

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