The Definitive Guide to Homemade Sauerkraut
Growing up sauerkraut was a staple in our household. At least once a week we would feast on “kraut and kielbasi” in all its savory-sour delight. If there were hot dogs or wursts to be served, then you could bet there would be a bowl of sauerkraut beside it on the platter. This inexpensive and nutritious sidedish/condiment was loved for both its tastes and versatility. It is so loved by me, in fact, that I decided to give a crack at making my own, unpasteurized, probiotic kraut!
Interested in learning how to do so, I ventured to the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, NC lured by a workshop to be given by Rachel Armistead from The Sweet Farm in Woodsboro, MD on making your own ferments. It was a great primer in creating homemade fermented goodies from scratch, and not only did they provide enough information to get your own kraut cooking but also had some OUT OF THIS WORLD sauerkraut for sale at their booth. You ought to check them out!
Now to get to the fun part. I am going to share with you today all the same information (with my own commentary) that I learned that day on how you can make your own sauerkraut! You probably have everything you need already! Let’s get started:
- Cabbage (any will work)
- Coarse Salt
That’s it! Now today I will be showing how to make bavarian-style kraut. The ingredients for that are:
- Coarse Salt
- Carraway Seeds
Still pretty easy, right? If you do not have/do not like carraway seeds, then don’t sweat —it will taste just fine plain!
Also feel free to add in other veggies and spices. You will often find carrots, radishes, onions, and other goodies as well as some curry or spicy pepper powders in many of my concoctions. That is the beauty of making your own fermentations — you can make them exactly how you want! Go ahead and experiment!
Your work environment should include the necessary ingredients (listed above), a knife, a cutting surface, and a large mixing bowl (not pictured). You will also want to have a fermentation vessel at the ready for after your cabbage has been processed. For this I am using a wide-mouth mason jar, but you can use any container as long as it can be sealed shut and is air-tight.
The Fun Part — Prepping the Cabbage
Take your cabbage and slice it into your preferred style cut. Traditional sauerkraut is comprised of thin strips that are up to several inches long. I cut mine into larger rectangular chunks in this instance, but either way works.
I leave out the heart of the cabbage since it will not become quite as tender as the rest of the plant will and may be an unwieldy nuisance if this kraut will be used to top a bratwurst or the like. Feel free to leave it in, however, because it will still be as tasty as the rest!
Next we are going to add some coarse salt to our cabbage. I add about 1 tablespoon for each head of cabbage. This will create a hypertonic environment on the surface of the cabbage and will draw out moisture from the cell vacuoles. This water is going to be very important down the road, so don’t drain it!
The salt will also help prevent the growth on unwanted bacteria and give our lactobacillus friends the leg up. The fermentation that produces sauerkraut is lacto-fermention where various types of lactobacillus convert plant sugars into lactic acid. These little critters are found almost everywhere — including on and in our bodies! They thrive in environments with slightly elevated salt contents, such as on our skin, where other types of bacteria fail. In order for our cabbage not to spoil, we want the lactobacillus to take over the entire container as soon as possible to crowd out any competitors.
Next we mash our cabbage in our hands. Separate any large pieces that you may find and squeeze the cabbage to break open the cell vacuoles to allow the water inside to flow to the outside of the leaves and settle on the bottom of the bowl.
Oh, I almost forgot! I am making bavarian-style sauerkraut so I will add some carraway seeds. I like around 2 teaspoons per head of cabbage.
Now.. We Wait
After salting and mashing your cabbage you will want to wait 45 minutes to an hour to allow time for the water to draw out of the leaves. This water will be used to cover the cabbage in the fermentation vessel.
Covering your cabbage is very important. Lacto-fermentation is an anaerobic reaction, which means it requires an oxygen-less environment for it to work. Oxygen can allow aerobic reactions to take place which will rot your cabbage and allow mold to grow. So keep that cabbage covered!
Time to Pack!
When you can tip the bowl over and see a good amount of water below the cabbage, you can then proceed to placing your kraut-to-be in it’s vessel.
Before placing anything into any jars, be sure to taste a piece of cabbage. This is be very indicative of what it will taste like after fermentation. Add salt or any other ingredients as necessary to meet your taste preferences.
It is important that the cabbage be packed tight. To accomplish this I use a bamboo tamper to push the cabbage down and get out any air bubbles.
If something is going to go wrong along the way dealing with rot or mold it will most likely occur near the top of the jar. I sprinkle a bit of extra salt on top as a bit of additional insurance to ensure that everything goes smoothly.
Once your jar is assembled it is time to wait — the lactobacillus will do the rest from here.
You can expect some serious action to start becoming apparent within the first 24–36 hours. If you do not have a fancy airlock lid or are not using a crock then you will have to “burp” your jars to prevent them from exploding. You see, a by-product on the fermentation process is carbon dioxide, and if it cannot espace the jar then the pressure inside will become so great that it will burst.
Burping your jar is very easy to do. Simply loosen the lid to allow the gas to escape and then tighten it again once you can no longer hear the hissing of CO2 being released. Be careful doing this — especially during the first few days! The pressure of the contents inside can make the “kraut juice” inside fizz out and make a very large mess. This is the reason why I keep a bowl underneath my vessel.
I recommend burping your jar twice a day after the first 24 hours until you notice that very little gas is being released during each burp, and then increase the spacing between burps to once every several days or even once a week if the activity has slowed enough.
“How do I know when it’s done?”
Knowing when your sauerkraut is complete is going to be entirely up to you. The fermentation is going to largely slow down after the first 5–7 days, but will continue slowly for many more weeks after that making it more sour over time. When fermenting your first batch I recommend that you take a sample of your kraut every seven days so you can find your preference.
I find that I like my sauerkraut to sit for a minimum of 4–6 weeks, and prefer it most after giving it 8 weeks to sit.
Once you have your sauerkraut at your preferred state, simply store in a refrigerator to all but stop the fermentation process and secure it where you enjoy it most. It will store in the fridge for up to 6 months at peak enjoyment, and depending on how much salt you added perhaps even longer than that!
I hope that with this information you can go out into the kitchen and make your own fermented goodies for years to come! See how easy it is?
This delicious treat which is rich in dietary fiber, Vitamins A, B, C, and K as well as iron is a healthy treat that also has probiotic properties for promoting healthy gut flora. Not only can it be a nice addition to your diet but also for your overall well-being. So eat up, friends!
I appreciate you reading this article and hope it has a lasting impact on your life, as small as it may be. Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter (at)AstuteNewt with any questions or comments as I would love to hear from you!
Good luck in the kitchen!