Fermented foods Feed

How to make simple sauerkraut

How to make sauerkraut. Little eco footprints

Fermented foods are gaining popularity - and rightly so. Laden with probiotics, beneficial enzymes and vitamins - they are great for our digestion and health. They are also easy to make and extremely frugal.

Most organic food stores stock a range of fermented vegetables. They are convenient and delicious - but at $15 a jar I quickly learnt to make my own. An equivalent amount of home made sauerkraut can cost less than $1.

You don't need fancy ingredients to make sauerkraut.

How to make sauerkraut 1. Little eco footprints

At its most basic you combine only cabbage and salt.

Nor do you need special equipment.

I've made many batches using a large wide-mouth glass jar and a bottle that fits neatly inside.

I've only recently invested in an air lock. For less than $10, an air lock and stopper from a brewery supply store converts a large jar and lid into a safe fermenting vessel. 

You can also get beautiful ceramic fermenting crocks - but it's easy to make do without. 

How to make Sauerkraut.

1. Thoroughly clean your hands and equipment.

Rinse well, especially if your detergent is antibacterial as it will kill the good bugs you want to encourage (primarily lactobacilli).

2. Shred cabbage and weigh.

Save a nice big outer leaf. You'll use this later.

How to make sauerkraut 2. Little eco footprints

How to make sauerkraut 3. Little eco footprints

How to make sauerkraut 4. Little eco footprints

How to make sauerkraut 5. Little eco footprints

3. Sprinkle salt over shredded cabbage.

Use a good quality unrefined salt such as sea salt or rock salt.

The salt inhibits the growth of bad bacteria until the lactobacilli increase and produce sufficient lactic acid to preserve the cabbage.

The recommended amount of salt varies considerably. I add 1 - 2 tablespoons of salt for every kg of cabbage.

You can also add additional flavors (e.g caraway seeds, oregano, garlic, ginger or chilli) or vegetables (e.g grated carrots or sliced radish). Although I suggest it's probably best to keep it simple for your first few batches.

Whey can be added to speed up fermentation. The whey inoculates the cabbage with additional lactobacilli. You can safely decrease the amount of salt used if you add whey.

Whey can be strained from yoghurt and speeds up lactofermentation. Little eco footprints

Whey can be obtained by straining good quality yoghurt through muslin (or a fine old curtain as I'm doing above). The leftover strained yoghurt makes a delicious cheese (labneh) spread. I add around 1 tablespoon of whey per kg of cabbage.

4. Massage the salted cabbage with your hands for up to ten minutes to release juices.

How to make sauerkraut 7. Little eco footprints

I can only manage to massage around 1 kg at a time so I do it batches. I massage the first kg for a few minutes and then let it sit for a while and go on to shredding the second kg. Letting it sit for a few minutes helps to release the juices. 

How to make sauerkraut 6. Little eco footprints

How to make sauerkraut 8. Little eco footprints

5. Pack the cabbage and juices into your jar or fermenting crock.

Press down firmly with your hands until the juices entirely submerge the cabbage.

The outer leaf you set aside can be pressed on top and used to hold the shredded cabbage below the surface.

6. Exclude oxygen.

Making Sauerkraut. Little eco footorints

Lacto-fermentation is an anaerobic process and the presence of oxygen during fermentation will spoil the sauerkraut. Using an air-lock or fermentation crock will provide the right environment. You can also use a bottle filled with water (or any other clean weight) to weigh down the cabbage and keep it submerged.

Making sauerkraut  using a ordinary jar and air lock or weight. Little eco footprints

If using an open jar, cover with a fine cloth to keep out insects. 

7. Wait.

Keep your jar at room temperature. Start tasting after 4 days. You can leave you sauerkraut at room temperature for anywhere from 4 days to 4 weeks.

8. Once you are happy with the degree of fermentation, move your sauerkraut into the fridge where it will keep for many months.

Having a jar of sauerkraut in the fridge means a simple healthy meal can be made in minutes. A generous scoop of sauerkraut, a couple of boiled eggs and a handful of carrot sticks. Done. Simple, frugal healthy food.

Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 4th May 2015.

How to make water kefir: a healthy fizzy fermented drink

How to make water kefir. Recipe and tips. Little eco footprints

I have become obsessed with fermented foods. Sourdough bread, sauerkraut, yoghurt, milk kefir and water kefir have all become part of my daily diet. If I were to buy these fermented foods from a health food store, I’d be spending a small fortune on my habit. Thankfully, fermented foods are easy to make at home.

My current favourite ferment is water kefir.

Water kefir is a naturally fizzy fermented drink laden with probiotics.

It is bubbly and refreshing like soft drink, but without the artificial ingredients and with far less sugar. The beneficial bacteria and yeast are an added bonus. 

You can buy water kefir from many heath food and organic stores. Here in Newcastle we’re fortunate to have it made locally by a small family business. Imbibe Water Kefir is delicious, but at $12.95 for a bottle it’s a drink I reserve for special occasions.

You can make your own water kefir at home for only a few cents per litre.

Water kefir grains. Little eco footprints

You’ll need some water kefir grains.

Despite their name, water kefir grains aren’t actually ‘grains’. They are small translucent bundles of yeast and bacteria living symbiotically.

You can buy water kefir grains online, but I think cultures are best shared.

Find someone who makes water kefir. Perhaps a friend of a friend. And ask for some grains and culturing tips.

I like the idea of cultures being used to culture community.

For me, sharing my excess grains is part of the fun of making kefir. A friend gifted me some grains and I have since passed on grains to others. Kefir grains have been shared like this across the globe for hundreds of years.

There are many stories about the origin of water kefir. One story suggests it originated in Mexico, where water kefir grains were collected from a prickly pear cactus. Another, and my favourite, suggests it originated in Tibet where monks gifted some grains to Mother Theresa to improve the health of India’s poor. There was a condition on the gift, that it must never be sold. It should to be shared for free instead.

Whatever the origin of water kefir, I love that my bottles of beneficial yeast and bacteria are decedents of microorganisms that have been drunk and shared for hundreds of years.

How to make water kefir 

Step 1: Make a sugar solution

How to make water kefir. Step 1 make sugar solution. Little eco footprints.

To a large two litre glass jar add: 

1/2 cup of raw sugar
1/4 teaspoon of coarsely crushed sterilised egg shells
1/4 teaspoon of bicarb soda (baking soda)
1 teaspoon of molasses (optional)

Water kefir needs a solution rich in minerals to thrive. The egg shells, bicarb soda and molasses provide the minerals the kefir grains need to thrive. Molasses does have a distinctive taste that not everyone in my household likes, so I don't always include it. In the picture above, the middle jar contains molasses. 

How to make water kefir. Adding egg shells increases mineral availability. Little eco footprints

To make sterilised egg shells, I wash the shells as I use them and collect them in a bowl. I then place the bowl in the oven at 110 degrees celsius for 10+ minutes. Cool, crush, and store in a jar. 

Add one cup of boiling water to the jar. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Add 7 cups of water.

The type of water you use will influence the health of your kefir. Spring water is ideal, rainwater is good, and tap water is fine, as long as you evaporate off the chlorine first. Chlorine can damage the kefir grains. The chlorine can be evaporated off by letting the water sit overnight before using. 

Step 2: First ferment 

How to make water kefir. Kefir grains. Little eco footprints.

How to make water kefir. Water kefir grains in sugar solution. Little eco footprints.

Add one cup of kefir grains to the jar of sugar solution. 

Put a lid on the jar or cover with a cloth. Leave to ferment at room temperature for 24-48 hours. 

The longer you ferment, the lower the sugar content of your final drink, thanks to the appetite of the yeast and bacteria.

Be aware, there's apparently a risk of jars exploding under the pressure of carbonation (a product of the fermentation process). If you are new to making water kefir and are not sure how active your grains will be, I suggest covering your jar with a cloth rather than a tightly closed lid. I like bubbles, so screw my lids on tight. 

Step 3. Strain grains from sugar solution. 

How to make water kefir. Straining grains. Little eco footprints.

After one to two days, strain grains from the sugar solution. 

If your kefir grains are happy, they will multiply each batch – leaving you with more than enough to share. I've also been feeding excess grains to our dogs and chickens. 

Note: Once you get to your second batch you will do this step first so that you have grains for the next batch. i.e. when you are ready to make your second batch you will do step 3 (strain grains) first, then step 1 (make sugar solution), then step 2 (first ferment), then step 4 (second ferment). 

Step 4. Second ferment. 

How to make water kefir. Bottling ready for second ferment. Little eco footprints.

How to make water kefir. Second ferment with apple and cinnamon. Little eco footprints.

The second ferment is where the fizz is enhanced and extra flavours are added.

Place your strained water kefir into sealable bottles, add fruit or juice to flavour, seal lid and turn bottle a few times to mix. Leave to ferment at room temperature for another day.

Almost any fruit or fruit juice can be used to flavour water kefir.

Here's a few of my favourite flavours so far. To a one litre bottle I add the following: 

  • Ginger and lime: a teaspoon of ground ginger and a couple of slices of lime
  • Lemon: the juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • Peach: the flesh of one peach chopped
  • Mango: I use a jar rather than a bottle and add an entire mango seed still covered in flesh
  • Apple and cinnamon (shown above): 1/4 apple chopped + 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon. 

Experiment with your favourite seasonal fruits. I'm looking forward to grape and bluberry season. 

Be careful when opening the bottle after the second ferment as it may be supper fizzy and overflow. There's also apparently a risk of bottles exploding under the pressure of carbonation. When I'm second fermenting with a super sweet fruit like mango, I leave more space at the top of the bottles and also open the lid every now and then to release pressure. One day I'd like to collect some swing-top style brewing bottles with rubber seals as they expand under pressure. 

Place in the fridge to chill before serving.


Water kefir grains need to be fed a fresh sugar solution every 48 hours or they will starve. If you want a break you can store the grains in a sugar solution in the fridge. Replace the sugar solution once a week. For longer-term storage you can dehydrate the grains and store in the fridge for six months.