The brine from pickling shredded vegetables is pure vegetable juice. Remember, this liquid is achieved by shredding your vegetables, often cabbage, and through the further breaking down of the cells with salt and pressing. When these concentrated vegetable juices undergo fermentation they become a rich cloudy elixir containing not only the properties of the vegetable but an increase in vitamins C and B along with the additional beneficial bacteria (probiotics), enzymes, and minerals produced by the process. Kraut juice is also high in electrolytes. Folk remedies in many cultures have found healing in fermented vegetables and the resulting brines.
Brine was a precious commodity when we made small batches of kraut with only a tablespoon or so left over at the bottom of an empty jar, but when our kraut making became commercial, with 10-gallon batches of kraut or kimchi, we were faced with a huge surplus and very little space to store it. It seemed wrong to send it down the drain, so we purchased a couple dozen glass, USA-made shot glasses and took a few bottles of brine to market to see what would happen. Turns out people loved it and it became a mainstay. We happily made a dent in our surplus, 1.5 ounces at a time.
Christopher usually took on the job of bartender and identified four types of shot drinkers.
Usually Eastern Europeans who grew up depending upon sauerkraut brine after a late night at the discos. Given our market was on Saturday, we provided relief to more than a few.
Often it would be the woman of a couple that ventured to taste the kraut, with the man hanging back just at the edge of the canopy, out of the sun but not close enough to commit to tasting anything. Our small chalk written sign that read “Brine Shots $1” proved a siren’s song to these men, eventually pulling them in with a crumpled dollar bill in hand.
Some folks do their homework and understand gut biota. For them a shot of brine is an inoculation, a quick infusion of the healthy microbes. They were the regulars, coming every Saturday and leaving a little lighter.
The Naughty Ones
There are people that want to knock back a shot glass in the middle of the street in the middle of a market. They would often giggle or make a dramatic play of it, convinced they were somehow being mischievous.
This blog is about flavor and the enjoyment of fermented foods, so if your first reaction is still–ick, yuck, no way, really? –or if you simply don’t like brine straight up, try making plain sauerkraut brine into “lemonade”.
1 cup sauerkraut brine
3/4 – 1 cup unrefined sugar or honey
one whole lemon thinly sliced
1 cup warm water
3 – 4 cups cold water
optional variation: grate in a little bit of fresh ginger to taste
Make a simple syrup with 3/4 cup unrefined sugar or honey and 1 cup warm water. Mix until your sweetener is completely dissolved.
Place your syrup into a pitcher and add the sauerkraut brine, cold water and lemon slices. Give the lemon slices a twist to release some of the lemon juice as you are putting them into the pitcher. Add optional ginger at this point.
Let this sit for about a half hour to allow the flavors to mingle.
Serve over ice for a refreshing summer beverage, or serve room temperature for a cozy healing beverage.
Lastly if you are interested in some of the science behind cabbages and their anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties you might want to check these links out.
The Journal of Food Protection in September 2006 published a study that found that the juice from brassica oleracea leaves (members of the cabbage family) was effective in inhibiting the growth of Salmonella Enteritidis, verotoxigenic Escherichia coli O157:H7, E. coli HB producing thermolabile toxin, nontoxigenic E. coli, and Listeria monocytogenes.
Food Chemistry Toxicology published a study in October 2010, wherein researchers found that a “bio-converted product of cabbage” (fermented kraut brine) displayed potential anti-candida effects. It concluded that fermented cabbage juice (kraut brine) has potential therapeutic value of medicinal significance to control Candida species including clinical isolates.