REAL FOOD 101: How to Make Traditional Sauerkraut

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(To buy the REAL FOOD 101 E-book: Traditional Foods, Traditionally Prepared, click here.  Full color photos, step by step tutorials, and more.  Only $14.)

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.

Homemade Sauerkraut
makes one quart

1 large head of cabbage, green or purple
sea salt (buy unrefined sea salt here)

  1.  Cut out the core of the cabbage, pry it out, and discard.  Then cut the cabbage in half, and each half into four wedges.
     
  2. 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.

  3. 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.
  4. 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!)
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. When you are finished, simply replace the lid with a new clean one and screw tight.  Transfer to the refrigerator and enjoy!
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Comments

  1. Thank you so much for posting this recipe in such plain language. I’m a fermentation newbie and have honestly been scared away from most recipes because I just haven’t thought I’d be able to do it correctly. I’ve also been a little worried about food safety issues and fermentation. I do love sauerkraut and think this might be something I could try. Thank you for all the wonderful, informative posts you put up…I love your blog!

    • Oh good, and thank you :) This one is really easy, so don’t worry. Let me know how it goes! (And for the most part, if something has “bad” bacteria in it, you’ll know by the smell.)

  2. I LOVE sauerkraut! I will try this recipe. In your experience, will this taste similar to what is commercially available?

    • It depends what brand you are buying. I buy Bubbie’s (at Sprouts or azurestandard.com or Whole Foods) when I don’t make my own and you can tell that it’s made by the lacto-fermentation process because 1. it needs to be refrigerated, or it will keep fermenting and 2. it doesn’t have vinegar in it (commercial brands use vinegar as a shortcut to give it it’s traditional tang without going through the trouble of actually fermenting it.) If you find a jar of sauerkraut that only contains cabbage, salt, and maybe water, then you have found a lacto-fermented one.

      I personally LOVE the Bubbie’s brand, so you should go buy one and try it. You can eat it in the meantime while you trying making this at home and wait the 1-2 weeks before it’s ready. I thought you might like this one!

  3. Do you have a recipe for lacto-fermented carrots?

    • I have not put one up yet, but I am planning on it soon. (I basically do fermented carrot sticks with filtered water, whey, fresh dill, salt, and carrots fermented in quart jars.)

  4. Hi Kendahl

    So it’s packed in a half gallon mason jar, with one of those glass weights I got through DeDe on top. The liquid is covering it, but it’s about 1/2″ from the top. I have plastic wrap and a loose ring on top. Should I use something else to cover it? I don’t have any plastic lids that fit the wide mouth jars.

    • As long as the cabbage is submerged you should be fine. I fill mine to the top because I don’t have a weight (yet), and have the lid touch the surface to keep air out.

  5. I made my second batch of sauerkraut (added carrots, ginger and dill) and let it ferment for about a week. After several days, it developed strong chlorine smell. I skimmed of the top and added more salty water). It the end of fermentation, the smell was gone, but sauerkraut turned out so soft that was not edible at all. I tried it a couple of days, but the rest went to the garbage.
    Do you have any idea what could have caused it to become so soft? My first batch was delicious and I could swear I did everything the same.

  6. For most of the 2 weeks mine has been going there was no mold. It only showed up a couple days ago. You’re not worried about just scraping it off? Am I scared just because I’m new to this? This is my first fermentation project…

Trackbacks

  1. [...] and whole milk yogurt, grass-fed butter, fresh produce, lacto-fermented veggies (pickles, carrots, sauerkraut), raw cheese, water kefir, beet kvass, elderberry syrup, and some kind of pastured or grass-fed [...]

  2. [...] Glass canning jars (half gallon and quart-sized, plus storage lids): for making ferments like sauerkraut. [...]

  3. [...] Sauerkraut.  I love sauerkraut, usually for it’s lovely salty kick with a meal.  But when I’m sick I really love it for it’s healing properties.  Sauerkraut is claimed to have provided seafaring people with vitamin C on long voyages where fresh produce wasn’t available.  Plus, traditionally fermented sauerkraut has alleged probiotic qualities that can help you fight off an infection. . [...]

  4. [...] I did the GAPS diet, because I gave my body so much nourishment during that time with probiotics, cultured vegetables, broths of many kinds, and quality fats like coconut oil, ghee, and butter, and good quality meats [...]

  5. [...] tasty; my son Miles asks for it!) . I have already made a few fermented foods here, such as sauerkraut, water kefir, and lacto-fermented ketchup and mayonnaise.  But I am looking forward to trying out [...]

  6. [...] fermented sauerkraut juice (recipe) (buy it) -  1-2 tablespoons straight 15 minutes before [...]

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