Sauerkraut juice: a healthy habit for 2020

The juice (brine) in sauerkraut is where lactic acid bacteria (LAB) live and where fermentation occurs. When I see people dump out remaining brine after coming to the bottom of a kraut jar, I say, “NO! This is nutritional gold.” 

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. Taking a daily shot is medicine for the gut and health for the body.

The key stars of sauerkraut collected in the juice:

  • Glutamine, an amino acid, and fuel source for cells lining the small and large intestine (enterocytes and colonocytes, respectively). Glutamine helps to enhance and maintain gut barrier function by stimulating proliferation of intestinal cells, thus, preventing breakdown of the lining.
  • Indole-3-carbinol, the active form of glucosinolate glucobrassicin, is clearly shown to exhibit 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, reduce oxidative stress.
  • Sulforaphane, the active form of glucosinolate glucoraphanin, and also known for anti carcinogenic effects and stimulator of phase II detoxifying enzymes.
  • Vitamin C and E, antioxidants, needed to counteracts the effects of oxidative stress, which is the cause of accelerated aging and degenerative diseases.

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. 

Pressing sauerkraut to extract the juice is an option, but it generates a lot of waste. Additionally, it is hardly worth the effort to shred and pack cabbage during the harvest only to discard the majority of the product upon fermentation completion, 10-12 weeks later. 

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 rather than sauerkraut. These two products differ slightly in ingredients and technique. Both require salt and cabbage, but differ in how salt is added. In the case of sauerkraut juice, salt is added to finely ground cabbage as a brine, and, in the case of sauerkraut, as dry salt to shredded cabbage. The former is a brine-pickling technique, and the latter, a self-brining technique. Adding brine to cabbage yields a fermented product with more liquid (i.e. juice) than sauerkraut. When fermentation is complete, the mealy cabbage fibre is strained from the juice and discarded. The juice is transferred to a swing top bottle. Alternatively, the pulp can remain in the juice and be eaten like applesauce – whichever you find more palatable and appealing.  

Taking two teaspoons of sauerkraut juice before each meal (1 ounce per day) provides a concentrated dose of all the goodness from fermented cabbage – nutrients, phytonutrients, and good microbes, some of which are probiotics.

Gut Shots in grocery stores

Does sauerkraut juice sound like something you’ve seen in a health-food store or grocery store?

Sauerkraut juice is sold commercially by companies under the guise of gut shots. Don’t be fooled by fancy packaging and labelling: gut shots and sauerkraut juice are the same thing – a raw, vegan, fermented veggie drink that contains billions of belly-balancing microbes, nutrients, and phytochemicals without added sugar. It makes for an ideal gut-healing, anti-candida, keto-friendly probiotic drink compared to other fermented drinks like water kefir, kombucha, and ginger soda. 

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 – the only difference being distilled vinegar. Lacto-fermentation of sauerkraut, brine pickles, and veggie drinks, including sauerkraut juice, naturally reach safe acidity and pH without added vinegar. Sauerkraut juice doesn’t require vinegar, but Farmhouse Culture may have added it for flavour. 

Homemade sauerkraut juice for less than $1.20

In Canada, a 473-millilitre bottle of Farmhouse Culture Gut Shot sells for $8.99 on Spud.ca, maybe more in urban grocery stores. My sauerkraut juice recipe yields 1750 mL, 3.7 times more than one bottle of Gut Shot, and costs only a fraction of the money to make. 

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 of homemade sauerkraut juice is, at most, $1.20. 

The cost savings by making sauerkraut juice at home instead of buying Gut Shots are substantial, especially if more than one or two people in your family are having a daily shot. A family of four, taking a 44-mL (1.5 oz) shot daily (the portion Farmhouse Culture recommends), would need three bottles a week. Buying it in a store would cost $26.97 per week while making it at home would cost around $3 to $4.50. Multiply that by a few weeks, and the fermentation equipment you need – 3-Litre Airlock Fermenter, 2 swing-top bottles, and a kitchen food scale – actually keeps money in your pocket. 

Advantages beyond keeping money in your wallet

More than saving money, making sauerkraut juice at home ensures better quality and control. You, the artisan, can to choose to use fresh, organic cabbage, unrefined sea salt, and whole organic spices. As the artisan, your imagination is the only limiting factor to the variety of flavours you can develop. Flavouring sauerkraut juice is similar to flavouring sauerkraut: add a combination of either whole spices, ginger, turmeric, herbs, beets, or aromatic vegetables for accent flavours. The staple ingredients, however, in any sauerkraut juice are cabbage and salt. Flavours and therapeutic properties from the ingredients will infuse into the juice.

Making sauerkraut at home instead of buying Gut Shots also ensures it ferments in an anaerobic fermentation vessel (i.e. Airlock Fermenter). Commonly used fermentation vessels are not airtight for true anaerobic fermentation. This matters because oxygen that leaks into the vessel stops fermentation at stage two. Stage three and four are where histamines are degraded and complex carbohydrates are further broken down. Ferments are better tolerated and have increased therapeutic effects when fermentation stages one through four are complete. There is no telling what type of fermentation vessel gut shot manufacturers use and the duration ferments are left to ferment. This may be more important for people with histamine sensitivity, people with digestive issues, or people focused on therapeutic effects.

Swing top bottles to extend shelf life

After bottling, oxygen further limits the shelf life of sauerkraut juice. Farmhouse Culture recommends consuming Gut Shots within 10 days of opening to ensure microbial viability in every shot. Once the seal on their bottle is broken, it can’t be resealed. 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) after fermentation is complete removes the fuel source. Consequently, LAB count 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. Fermenting the juice with the pulp and a brine added is fine as an alternative to processing vegetables in a food processor. Either way, wild lacto-fermentation requires fibre (food) for microbes, thus, requires vegetable fibre be present during fermentation.

When and how to take sauerkraut juice

The best time to take sauerkraut juice is before or with meals. 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 in the intestine by breaking 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 (see recommendations, below, for people with hypertension). 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.

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).

Sauerkraut juice and high blood pressure

It is no secret that 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 a concentrated form of kraut. 

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 provided your portion size is a few teaspoons a day while limiting other food sources with sodium.

A whole-foods diet – unprocessed meat, homecooked 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. (I am planning a blog post in the coming month to demonstrate how to use ferments when following a sodium restriction. I am waiting on the results from nutritional analysis on some of my ferments).

Who is sauerkraut juice for?

People may need to adjust their diets to incorporate it; 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. Even yogurt found at the grocery store has sugar. 
  • People with gastric and duodenal ulcers (more on that in another blog). 

Sauerkraut juice and hypothyroidism

People with hypothyroidism need to drink sauerkraut juice sparingly, that is, at least until I can find sufficient evidence to prove otherwise. Cabbage, like all cruciferous vegetables, contains goitrogens, which interfere with iodine absorption. Iodine is needed to synthesize thyroid hormones. Steaming, boiling, or cooking cruciferous vegetables can nullify the goitrogenic effect; however, because fermentation requires raw cabbage for sauerkraut juice, it is presumed that unpasteurized sauerkraut (the type that still contains probiotics and enzymes) can have a goitrogenic effect. At the time of writing this article, evidence isn’t accessible to substantiate that fermentation reduces or eliminates the goitrogenic effect of cruciferous vegetables. I will continue to investigate this and post my findings. 

Bottom Line

There is certainly a place for sauerkraut in your diet as a valuable health food. It is one of the first fermented foods I recommend to people wanting to improve their gut health. Sauerkraut juice, in contrast, is more concentrated in nutrients and LAB, and is quicker to consume than sauerkraut. It makes for an excellent, readily accessible, therapeutic gut shot, especially for people who need gut healing. Making sauerkraut or sauerkraut juice is merely a matter of preference and determining how you plan to use it. 

If you love the texture and taste of sauerkraut and if you have enjoyable ways of incorporating it into your meals and snacks, make a few kraut batches in autumn. Besides, what would bratwurst sausages be without sauerkraut or a Rueben sandwich be without those tangy shreds.

If you have therapeutic needs for gut healing and want a concentrated dose of the best part of sauerkraut, make the Sauerkraut recipe by clicking to the link HERE. Either way, you don’t have to choose to make one or the other. There are multiple sizes of Airlock Fermenters to ensure both are accessible for you and your family throughout the year. If you need an Airlock Fermenter to get started on Sauerkraut Juice, head on over to the store HERE.

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COPYRIGHT © 2020 SARAH PARSONS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.