Fermented Foods Are Beneficial for Health

— Written By and last updated by Kathy Lee

Fermenting is an ancient practice of preserving food that is documented back to China in 7000 BCE. The organisms in fermentation produce alcohol, lactic acid, and acetic acid, which help retain nutrients and prevent spoilage. The process creates strong and pronounced flavors found in a variety of foods, including aged cheeses, pickled cucumbers, sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables, kimchi, tempeh, vinegar, soy sauce, cider, yogurt, wine, mead and beer.

A presentation by Sandor Katz, author of best-selling book Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods, along with a scientific review of the health benefits of fermented foods published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology has convinced me to add more fermented foods to my diet.

A large variety of potential beneficial health effects have been reported. The process creates probiotics, or micro-organisms proven to exert health-promoting influences in humans and animals. Fermentation not only preserves nutrients, it breaks them down into more easily digestible forms. For example, fermented dairy products are digested more easily due to lactose being transformed into lactic acid. Colonizing our guts with beneficial microorganisms helps keep harmful organisms from settling in, making us less vulnerable to intestinal illnesses. Other health benefits include enhancement of the immune system, decreasing the prevalence of allergies in susceptible individuals, and reducing risk of colon cancer.

Sauerkraut is one of the easiest fermentation recipes to start with, and cabbage is available locally at the Watauga farmers’ market through November. This recipe was taken from the USDA national center for home food preservation website. Every recipe is thoroughly tested for safety.


25 lbs cabbage

3/4 cup canning or pickling salt

For the best sauerkraut, use firm heads of fresh cabbage. Shred cabbage and start kraut between 24 and 48 hours after harvest.

Makes about 9 quarts

Work with about 5 pounds of cabbage at a time. Discard outer leaves. Rinse heads under cold running water and drain. Cut heads in quarters and remove cores. Shred or slice to a thickness of a quarter. Put cabbage in a suitable fermentation container, and add 3 tablespoons of salt. Mix thoroughly, using clean hands. Pack firmly until salt draws juices from cabbage. Repeat shredding, salting, and packing until all cabbage is in the container. Be sure it is deep enough so that its rim is at least 4 or 5 inches above the cabbage. If juice does not cover cabbage, add boiled and cooled brine (1-1/2 tablespoons of salt per quart of water). Add plate and weights; cover container with a clean bath towel. Store at 70º to 75ºF while fermenting. At temperatures between 70º and 75ºF, kraut will be fully fermented in about 3 to 4 weeks; at 60º to 65ºF, fermentation may take 5 to 6 weeks. At temperatures lower than 60ºF, kraut may not ferment. Above 75ºF, kraut may become soft.

If you weigh the cabbage down with a brine-filled bag, do not disturb the crock until normal fermentation is complete, or when bubbling ceases. If you use jars as weight, you will have to check the kraut 2 to 3 times each week and remove scum if it forms. Fully fermented kraut may be kept tightly covered in the refrigerator for several months.

Margie Mansure, M.S., R.D. is a registered dietitian/nutritionist and extension agent with N.C. Cooperative Extension. She offers personalized classes to improve the health of citizens in Watauga County through worksites, schools and community groups. margie_mansure@ncsu.edu, (828)264-3061