Making Sauerkraut in the Philippines

sauerkraut
Sauerkraut is something that I have so wanted to make for some time now. For those of you who do not know what sauerkraut is (as it is kind of unknown to most Filipinos, I suspect), sauerkraut is fermented cabbage that is more commonly eaten in cold countries, notably Germany.

There are so many things to love about sauerkraut. It is cheap — only cabbage and salt. It is healthy — cabbage is simply fermented by good bacteria which in the process enhances the nutritional profile of the cabbage. It is raw food — not heat-processed at all. It is so easy — as you will soon see.

In the next posts I will be detailing the health benefits of sauerkraut and some lacto-fermented vegetable foods but for now I will simply be sharing with you my own experience on making my own sauerkraut at home — yes, in the tropical country of the Philippines.

By the way, I got the recipe for this sauerkraut from a couple of sites and blogs — wellnessmama.com, theprairiehomestead.com and others — though it is dfordelicious.com, the blog of a Filipina expat in the US, which finally motivated me to make my own sauerkraut.
sauerkraut
1. First off, pick the freshest, crispest cabbage you could find in town. That, and unrefined sea salt, are all that you need. Simple, eh? Remove the wilted outer leaves and then wash in running water.

sauerkraut recipe
2. Next, slice the cabbage into thin 1-inch or so strips as the photo above shows. Put the cabbage into a big mixing bowl, preferably a non-reactive one such as glass. 

3. Sprinkle with a tablespoon of unrefined sea salt. Dfordelicious.com recommends a teaspooon of toasted caraway seeds for flavor but I have not found the spice in retail in my city (just the gigantic jars) and so I made do without it.

4. With your bare hands, crumple, crush and squeeze the cabbage strips, mixing as you go. Do not drain the juice. The cabbage strips will soon be reduced to about half of its original volume and their juices will ooze out considerably.
The goal of squeezing is to coaxe out all the juices so as to have enough liquid with which to submerge the cabbage strips in. You may need to push down on the cabbage strips to keep them submerged in their juices. By the way, the fresher the cabbage, the more juicy it is, so make sure your cabbage is really fresh.

sauerkraut recipe
5. Transfer the cabbage strips along with the juice into a big mason jar. After some epic rounds of squeezing and crushing, you will find that a big head of cabbage could fit into a big mason jar. (I love the fact Ball mason jars are now available in one of the malls in my city. These mason jars are so pretty, and making sauerkraut is one good excuse for buying myself a couple of them.) 

  • Make sure your mason jar is clean and dry.Make sure that that you’re not filling the jar completely. Leave about an inch from the top to allow for fermentation gases to vent.
  • Lastly, do not close the lid tightly, just somewhat loosely. Fermentation needs some kind of anaerobic environment while at the same time allowing some fermenting gases to escape.


6. Leave the jar in a cool, dark place — yes, you heard read it right — unrefrigerated, for one week. Now it’s not exactly cold where I left it — around 25 to 26 degrees Celsius to be exact. Some foreign blogs say leave it for 3 weeks, but I suspect that this only applies to cold countries where their ambient temperature is cold enough as to lengthen the fermentation time. Here in the Philippines, I have found that 7 days is enough. Later though, I want to try to leave it longer to see how it goes.

Every morning for 7 days, check on the jar for molds. I read that molds on top is not a cause to freak out. Simply remove the moldy layer with a non-reactive spoon (I used a wooden spoon) and get on with it. Scared? You bet I was, but I wanted it too bad to back out of it, with or without mold.

I did find a few moldy strips on the third day which discouraged me a bit. However, I looked up my references again and all of them said to just skim away the mold or discolored ones and press down on the cabbage to submerge it — which I did. One more thing: do not be scared of the odor. Scary as it may seem, a funky, farty, pungent and sharp odor is normal.
sauerkraut recipe
I tasted my sauerkraut on the 5th day but I did not find it tangy enough as my references said it should. I gave it two more days and then, when I taste-tested it — with much trepidation — I found it surprisingly tasty and pleasantly sour. It did seem strange at first but then it grew on me, though not yet on the kiddos.

You can then transfer your jar of sauerkraut to cold storage in the ref, where it will keep for months as they say. I couldn’t personally vouch for that, though, as I used up my jar of sauerkraut in a week. Cold storage will only arrest the fermentation but will not kill the good bacteria. As such, you can count on sauerkraut to be probiotic.
Today, I find sauerkraut to be a much welcome side dish to my fried or grilled foods. Please try it. It’s easy, low-cost, tasty and brimming with good bacteria to keep bad bacteria away.

Here’s other homemade fermented foods I have tried and featured in this blog: Homemade yogurt

2 thoughts on “Making Sauerkraut in the Philippines

  1. Create an anaerobic environment for optimum results:

    In northern European countries sauerkraut is traditionally made in the fall. At this time there is a surplus of produce, and the ambient temperatures are warm enough to initiate fermentation before being transferred to cold storage.

    "A temperature of 18º to 22º C is most desirable for initiating fermentation since this is the optimum temperature range for the growth and metabolism of L. mesenteroides cultures. Temperatures above 22ºC favour the growth of Lactobacillus species."

    This means in the Philippines, with ambient temperatures of around 27 degrees, we'll tend towards a Lactobacillus fermentation, yielding a slightly different flavor but nonetheless all of the health benefits.

    The bacterias that ferment cabbage are anaerobic (they prefer very little or no oxygen) and they like 2-3% of salt per cabbage. Meanwhile spoilage bacterias can cope with salt up to 7%, so try to keep salt in the 2-3% range.

    Any salt is OK except for salt with lime, which can create an alkaline environment and prevent fermentation. Salt that has iodine added (table salt) can result in a cloudy colored brine, that is otherwise ok, but could be less appealing. Kosher salt is a good pure salt, and cheap. Sea salt is also great.

    Now, about molds. They're best avoided. As we've said above lactobacillus bacterias are anaerobic, so the trick is to keep the cabbage well submerged beneath the brine. juices. When we create an oxygen free environment it not only prevents mold but preserves the vitamin C and other nutrients. To keep the cabbage beneath the juices you can add a weight on top, some people use very clean stones.

    Or you could use a traditional crockpot like this one:

    http://www.wayfair.com/TSM-Products-Harvest-Fermentation-German-Style-Crock-Pot-3106-TSV1135.html

    . . its pretty expensive but if you order on Amazon they deliver right to your door in the Philippines.

    Another much cheaper option are these Korean Kimchi containers:

    http://crazykoreanshopping.com/kimchi-container/rectangular-shape

    . . which you could probably find locally, with so many Koreans choosing Manila as their home these days.

    Or you could just improvise on the above principles.

    Summary:

    Most important is to keep submerged. A lid on top can be handy as well, but it should allow c02 to escape, otherwise our little bacterias will be under pressure and they don't like this. Crock pots have a lid with a water "moat" that prevents any mold spores getting in, but allows c02 that is produced during fermentation to get out. If you have an airtight lid, just open it a few times per day.

    Finally, I haven't tried this yet, but I heard it can help to add an acidic fruit like a green apple, to get things moving in the right direction.

  2. Thank you for these infos, Jasper. Ever since I have started making Sauerkraut, I haven't stopped. Right now I have jars and jars of Curtido, lactofermented green mangoes and iba in my ref. My ref is filled with lacto-ferments actually. Now raw, probiotic food is so easy for my family. It's as simple as taking a jar of Curtido each meal! I agree that ambient temperature here in the Philippines hovers around the 27 to 29 degree Celsius range. The spot where I keep my ferments is at 26. And yes, I use unrefined sea salt from the public market, and I use a little, probably within the 2 to 3% range. Thanks again for these, Jasper. I probably have to make a separate page where I can post all these handy tips.

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