The juice (brine) in sauerkraut is where lactic acid bacteria live and where fermentation occurs.
Nutrients, phytochemicals, and water found within cabbage cell walls flow from the cabbage shreds at the first sprinkling of salt. Gradually, compounds with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, gut-healing, anticarcinogenic, and immune-boosting properties collect in the juice.
From a gut-health and nutrition perspective, the juice is more valuable than fermented cabbage shreds.
The only problem is that sauerkraut contains relatively low amounts of brine compared to fermented cabbage shreds; that is, cabbage shreds are the major part and juice is the minor.
A regular batch of sauerkraut wouldn’t provide enough brine for daily shots of sauerkraut juice while leaving enough brine to keep remaining sauerkraut moist.
Extracting the juice from sauerkraut is an option, but it generates a lot of waste. Additionally, it is hardly worth the effort to shred and pack cabbage during harvest only to discard the majority of the product upon fermentation completion, 10-12 weeks later.
This is why we turn to a different version
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Sauerkraut juice vs. juice from sauerkraut
If yielding more sauerkraut juice is the goal, don’t make more sauerkraut.
The most efficient solution is to make sauerkraut juice. It differs slightly in ingredients and technique.
In the case of sauerkraut juice, salt is dissolved in water to make a brine. Then it is added to finely ground cabbage. In the case of sauerkraut, dry salt is added to shredded cabbage. The former is a brine-pickling technique; the latter, a self-brining technique.
Adding brine to cabbage yields more liquid (i.e. juice) than sauerkraut. When fermentation is complete, you strain the mealy cabbage fibre from the juice. The juice is transferred to a swing top bottle and the pulp is discarded.
Alternatively, you can eat the pulp and liquid like applesauce instead of removing the fibre.
Key benefits of sauerkraut
Sauerkraut and sauerkraut juice have the same good benefits.
This amino acid is a fuel source for cells lining the small and large intestine (enterocytes and colonocytes, respectively). It helps to enhance and maintain gut barrier function by stimulating proliferation of intestinal cells, thus, preventing breakdown of the lining.
This is the active form of glucosinolate glucobrassicin, a glucosinolate with cancer-protective mechanisms through regulation of inflammation, cell proliferation, and inhibition of tumors (1, 2, 3, 4).
It also stimulates phase II detoxification enzymes to improve hormone regulation in females and males and to reduce oxidative stress.
This is also a glucosinolate and the active form of glucosinolate glucoraphanin. It is well known for its anti-carcinogenic effects and as a stimulator of phase II detoxifying enzymes.
Vitamin C and E
These vitamins are nutrients with antioxidant effects. Antioxidants counteracts the effects of oxidative stress, which is the cause of accelerated aging and degenerative diseases and just poor health in general.
Does sauerkraut juice sound like something you’ve seen in a health-food store or grocery store?
It is actually sold by companies under the guise of gut shots. Don’t be fooled by fancy labelling and packaging: gut shots and sauerkraut juice are the same thing. They are raw, vegan, fermented veggie drinks that contains plenty of belly-balancing microbes, nutrients, and phytochemicals without added sugar.
It makes for an ideal gut-healing, anti-candida, keto-friendly, microbial-rich drink compared to other fermented drinks like water kefir, kombucha, and ginger soda.
Farmhouse Culture Gut Shot
Farmhouse Culture is a popular brand in the U.S. and Canada with four Gut Shot flavours. Their Classic Gut Shot has the same ingredients as sauerkraut juice – cabbage, water, sea salt, and caraway seeds.
In addition, Farmhouse Culture Gut Shots have distilled vinegar. While lacto-fermentation doesn’t require added vinegar, this company may add it to drop the pH even lower or for flavouring.
In Canada, a 473-millilitre bottle of Farmhouse Culture Gut Shot sells for $8.99 on Spud.ca, maybe more in grocery stores. The label on the bottle recommends taking 44 mL (1.5 oz.) daily. For a family of four, that equates to three bottles per week, or $26.97.
Homemade gut shots
Homemade sauerkraut juice made in a 3-Litre Airlock Fermenter yields 1750 mL, 3.7 times more than one bottle of Gut Shot at only a fraction of the cost.
At $1 to $1.50 per pound, the cost for cabbage is no more than $3 to $4.50 (even less when purchased seasonally); 30 grams of unrefined sea salt is nearly negligible; and a couple teaspoons of caraway amounts to less than a penny.
Once fermented, strained, and bottled, a little math reveals that 473 mL the homemade version is, at most, $1.20 without any added vinegar.
That same family of four could make the equivalent of three Farmhouse Culture Gut Shot bottles for $3-$4.50. Multiply that by a few weeks and add in the cost of fermentation equipment you’ll need: 3-Litre Airlock Fermenter, 2 swing-top bottles, and a kitchen food scale. The making gut shots at home actually keeps money in your pocket.
Benefits to making sauerkraut juice
More than saving money, making sauerkraut juice at home ensures control over:
You, the artisan, can choose to use unrefined sea salt, and fresh, organic ingredients such as cabbage and anything else you want to add.
Besides the staple ingredients of cabbage and salt, you can add additional ingredients for flavouring and therapeutic benefits. Whole spices, ginger, turmeric, herbs, beets, or aromatic vegetables offer accent flavours as well as phytochemicals for specific health benefits such as antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.
Making sauerkraut at home also gives you control over the fermentation process and duration.
There is no telling what type of fermentation vessel manufacturers use and the duration they are left to ferment. If you use a vessel with a perfect seal such that oxygen can’t get in, fermentation will go to completion from stage one through four.
These ferments are often better tolerated by people with histamine sensitivity or digestive issues.
A vessel that leaks air inside halts fermentation at stage two. Stage three and four are where histamines are degraded and complex carbohydrates are further broken down. Shortcutting the fermentation process may yield ferments that are troublesome for some people.
How long does sauerkraut juice keep?
After bottling, oxygen further limits the shelf life of sauerkraut juice.
Farmhouse Culture recommends consuming the whole bottle within 10 days of opening to ensure microbial viability in every shot. For people who consume one Gut Shot daily, the expiry date isn’t an issue.
Bottling sauerkraut juice in an airtight swing top bottle, however, extends its shelf-life to about a month regardless of how many times a bottle is opened and closed. Of course, best practice is always to minimize oxygen exposure to fermented foods.
Why the one-month shelf life after bottling?
Once fermented drinks are separated from vegetable fibre, microbial viability declines.
Fibre (complex carbohydrates) is food for microbes. Straining the liquid from solids (fibre) removes the fuel source. Consequently, lactic acid bacteria numbers will gradual decline over time without fibre. It doesn’t take long – about a month when stored in an airtight bottle and much less when oxygen is permitted.
If you find an online recipe for a fermented vegetable drink that instructs you to ferment freshly pressed vegetable juice without the pulp, don’t trust it. It needs to be fermented with the pulp to give microbes food.
Best ways to take sauerkraut juice
To maximize health benefits with consistent consumption of sauerkraut juice, here are some things to consider.
When to take
Fermented juices stimulate the release of acid-tolerant digestive enzymes from the stomach. Sauerkraut juice, itself, is also full of enzymes, similar to the digestive enzymes released by the pancreas. These food-derived enzymes assist the body’s digestive enzymes in preparing nutrients for absorption. Enzymes break down large food components into basic units, suitable for absorption.
To maximize digestion, take one teaspoon of sauerkraut juice about 15 minutes before each meal. If you feel fine at this dose, increase to two teaspoons per meal for a total of 1 ounce (30 mL) per day.
Distributing small amounts of this healing drink over the day around meals provides digestive help every time you eat. This is particularly helpful for people with low digestive enzymes such as seniors.
If you have gastric reflux, avoid taking sauerkraut juice, and other acidic liquids (e.g. lemon, tomato, apple cider vinegar), on an empty stomach. Instead, take it with food to avoid gastric pain until your gut heals.
How to use
Besides taking sauerkraut juice as a shot, there are many other ways to incorporate it with food.
- Add a spoonful of sauerkraut juice to warm soup or bone broth to pre-digest the fats, just remember to let these cool slightly. High heat denatures enzymes and kills good microbes.
- In place of lemon juice or vinegar, add sauerkraut juice to salad dressing!
- Hummus and mayo up their ante with a little garlic-flavoured sauerkraut juice added.
- A little sauerkraut juice in your next Bloody Mary will have you wondering why you never added this health-boosting ingredient sooner. For more body in this drink, add the slurry of juice and pulp (sauerkraut puree).
Risk factors to consider
High blood pressure
It is no secret that lacto-fermented foods are high in sodium. Sauerkraut juice is no different. Actually, it is easier to consume more sodium through drinking sauerkraut juice than eating sauerkraut, because the juice is concentrated.
If you are limiting your sodium intake to manage high blood pressure or to stay within the daily recommended intake for sodium (1500-2300 mg for adults), you can still have sauerkraut juice in your diet – and I’d encourage this for a healthy gut.
This might sound like heresy coming from a registered dietitian. However, the influx of sodium for the trade-off of good microbes and bioavailable nutrients is totally worth it. The important part is keeping your portion size a few teaspoons a day while limiting other food sources with sodium.
A whole-foods diet – unprocessed meat, home-cooked pulses, yogurt, whole intact grains, fresh or frozen fruit and vegetables, herbs and spices, plain nuts and seeds, and basic oils – is essential for incorporating high-sodium ferments without blowing your daily sodium limits.
People with hypothyroidism need to drink sauerkraut juice sparingly. Cabbage, like all cruciferous vegetables, contains goitrogens, which interfere with iodine absorption. Iodine is needed to synthesize thyroid hormones.
Steaming, boiling, and cooking cruciferous vegetables cancels the goitrogenic effect. Because fermentation requires raw cabbage for sauerkraut juice, it is unpasteurized sauerkraut (the type that still contains probiotics and enzymes) will have goitrogens.
However, goitrogen levels in sauerkraut reduce during storage (5). This is one of many reasons why fermentation of kraut and sauerkraut juice should be for 11-13 weeks before consuming, rather than seven days, as many internet websites recommend.
Read “Does sauerkraut harm the thyroid?” for more information on connection between cruciferous vegetables, fermentation, and thyroid health.
Who should drink it then?
People may need to adjust their diets to incorporate sauerkraut juice; some people will consume more than others without side effects; but everyone can still have a little of this powerful juice. It is particularly valuable for:
- People following a gut-healing diet like the introductory phase of the GAPS diet. One to two teaspoons of fermented vegetable juice per day is recommended during the introductory phase.
- People who have candida and need to follow a sugar-free diet. Common fermented drinks like kombucha, water kefir, and ginger soda have sugar and yeast.
- People with gastric and duodenal ulcers.
There is certainly a place for sauerkraut juice in everyone’s diet.
Sauerkraut juice is more concentrated in nutrients and lactic acid bacteria, and is quicker to consume than sauerkraut. It makes for an excellent, readily accessible, therapeutic gut shot, that should be a staple for people who need gut healing.
But, if you love the texture and taste of sauerkraut, make a few kraut batches when cabbage is in season. Besides, what would bratwurst sausages be without sauerkraut or a Rueben sandwich be without those tangy shreds.