I am not sure there is a simpler ferment to make than sauerkraut. After all, it is only cabbage and salt. And time. You wait, letting the flavors grow and shift and change until you are left with a humble but power-packed probiotic vegetable. Sauerkraut is full of raw enzymes and probiotics, not to mention that it is a very good source of vitamin C after the fermentation process.
I like to eat more sauerkraut and other lacto-fermented vegetables in the wintertime. We can all use more vitamin C during cold and flu season to support our immune systems. I have read that seafaring people would take barrels of sauerkraut out with them to sea, since fresh produce would be scarce, and the vitamin C would protect against scurvy. I hope that it true, because it’s a great story!
Why make sauerkraut? Sauerkraut is probably the most accessible vegetable ferments, simply because it only has two ingredients and you will probably have the equipment you need on hand. Your health may benefit from the probiotic qualities of sauerkraut, improving your digestive health and immune system function. The rule of thumb with lacto-fermented vegetables, salads, and relishes is to serve them in small amounts alongside each meal. It is claimed to aid in digestion, and to provide more nutrients.
We have already covered the health benefits of water kefir in a previous Real Food 101 post, so try to think of sauerkraut in the same family. As you layer lacto-ferments into your diet, you will be gradually building up your body with what it evolved to eat. You are being kind to your body, so keep up the good work!
Equipment you may eventually want: Once you try it making sauerkraut and find that you enjoy it, you may want to invest in a few small items at first, and maybe even build up to buying a fermentation crock.
- vegetable fermentation valve lids
- fermentation crocks
- large glass jars
- storage caps
- unrefined sea salt
makes one quart
1 large head of cabbage, green or purple
sea salt (buy unrefined sea salt here)
- Cut out the core of the cabbage, pry it out, and discard. Then cut the cabbage in half, and each half into four wedges.
- You can either shred your cabbage with a knife or a food processor. My food processor is not very big, so this is not a great option for me. I use a knife. Start slicing each wedge as thinly as possible with a sharp knife. After each wedge is sliced transfer the pile to a large bowl and sprinkle with salt.
- Repeat this after each wedge, and keep layering: cabbage, salt, cabbage, salt. End with another sprinkle of salt and then leave the bowl alone for at least an hour, but up to 3 hours. The salt will start to draw out the water in the cabbage. Keep checking until there is a generous amount of liquid, at least 1 cup.
- Start mashing the cabbage down with a potato masher, or a mallet. Because you let the salt draw out most of the water, you don’t need to pound this sauerkraut to death. Just mash it enough to break it down a bit. (wow, that bowl was full to the top, but mashed it’s less than half the bowl!)
- Transfer the cabbage to a half gallon glass jar, pressing down firmly to pack the cabbage as tightly in the jar as possible. If there isn’t enough water, top off with water to the brim of the jar.
- Set your jar on a plate to catch any liquid, and set a non-reactive lid loosely (or a valve lid tightly) on top. Try to get the liquid touching the lid if possible. Place in your kitchen somewhere dark, and make sure it is a few feet from any other ferments you have going in your kitchen.
- Every day, check under the lid to see any mold forms. If it does, you simply scrape it off; it won’t harm anything under the water line. Keep doing this for about week, and then start to taste your sauerkraut. You can stop whenever the flavor is as you like it. Usually, I let mine go for 2 weeks.
- When you are finished, simply replace the lid with a new clean one and screw tight. Transfer to the refrigerator and enjoy!