Sauerkraut: the stereotypical fermented food, with a bad rap. In reality, it’s so much more than a topping at a hot-dog stand, and I’ll admit it, I love the stuff! For example, after I finished taking photos of the bowl of ‘kraut above, I ate the whole thing, as is–I even used the pretty little fork! There’s just something so delicious about the tang of naturally fermented foods, and knowing that it’s so good for my gut. If Shakira dances the way she does after eating a bowl of yogurt, then I’d love to see what she does after a bowl of sauerkraut!(Activia yogurt commercial reference).
For someone in their 20’s, I’ve made A LOT of sauerkraut–I even made my grandma a jar for christmas! Now before you go feeling sorry for her, know that she was thrilled! She’s one of the few people that can truly appreciate it, because back in her day, fermenting food was very common. Now-a-days, it’s become a lost cooking technique, replaced by preservatives, and people are no longer used to the sour taste of fermented food.
If you’ve read my post on The Very Basics of Fermenting Food, then you already know that fermenting has become a hobby of mine, and why I get excited when I talk about it (don’t judge, I used to be “cool,” but I now have a daughter and “partying” isn’t considered and appropriate hobby anymore.) One of the reasons why I love making sauerkraut is because, like other lacto-fermented foods, homemade sauerkraut is rich in probiotics (beneficial organisms that aid in digestive health) and high in nutrients, such as iron, calcium, and vitamins A, C and K. It’s also very inexpensive and easy to make, and keeps for months and months.
Store-bought sauerkraut is NOT the same, and is most likely not even fermented! It’s mainly pickled, which in no way compares to homemade, fermented sauerkraut in terms of nutritional value and probiotics. However, if you don’t have the time nor desire to make it, look for store-bought ‘kraut that is naturally fermented, non-pasteurized, and contains no added sugar of preservatives–the ingredients list should literally be “cabbage and salt.”
There are many different techniques to making sauerkraut, but like most, I’ve developed a method that works for me, using tips and tricks that I’ve read here and there along the way. Many use a crock and several cabbages to yield a large amount, but since it’s just my daughter and I that eat it, I’ve stuck with a recipe that’s a fridge-friendly size.
To make your own traditional, homemade sauerkraut you’ll need a:
- Large jar, approx 2 Litres
- Large mixing bowl
- Potato masher
- Food processor or sharp knife (and patience)
- Food-safe, zip lock bag
- Plastic lid from a yogurt or sour-cream container, cut to the same diameter as the jar
- 3 lbs cabbage
- 1.5 Tbsp non-iodized salt, kosher is fine (*important* iodized salt prevents the beneficial bacteria from growing, and therefore prevents fermentation.)
Optional Additives: For some extra pizazz, try adding some purple cabbage, a grated carrot, a teaspoon of fennel seeds, a clove of minced garlic, grated ginger, or an apple!
Before you begin, make sure everything that you’re working with, and every surface that you’re working on, is extremely clean and sanitized. This is very important when fermenting food, as it is with canning, as you don’t want to encourage the growth of bad bacteria.
First, gather your list of materials and ingredients–clean and sanitize. Buy an organic, green cabbage that’s about 3 lbs (use the scale at the store to help you.) I find that this size makes a good-sized batch of ‘kraut. Peel off the outer layer if it’s looking a bit rough.
Next, cut the cabbage into small pieces so that it can fit in the food processor. If you’re cutting by hand, use a sharp knife, and don’t rush–cut the cabbage finely, less the 1/8 of an inch thick.
After you’ve shredded the cabbage, transfer it to a large bowl, and cover it with 1.5 tablespoons of non-iodized salt. Thoroughly mix the cabbage and salt together and let it sit for 10 minutes. The salt will pull some of the water out of the cabbage.
Next, pound the cabbage with a potato masher to further help pull the water out of the cabbage. Then let it rest again. Then come back and pound it….and I repeat this for an hour or two, coming over to mix/mash when I remember.
You’ve finished beating the cabbage when it’s reduced by about half in size, and there’s liquid surrounding it.
Next, transfer the cabbage and all of the liquid to a large jar. The plastic lid that I’m holding has been cut to the same diameter as the jar and I use it to submerge the cabbage below the liquid.
Like shown above, push all of the cabbage blow the liquid using the plastic lid. This is done so that lacto-fermentation can occur. Lacto-fermentation is an anaerobic process, which means, in the absence of oxygen.
Because cabbage contains a lot of water that can be drawn out, you can achieve lacto-fermentation by just adding some salt directly to the cabbage. For other vegetables, like pickles, which you wouldn’t want to mash-up, you’ll have to make a basic brine to pour over top.
Next, fill a large, clean, ziplock bag with about 1-2 cups of water. Seal the bag and push into the jar. The water-bag is used as a weight to prevent the lid and the cabbage from floating to the surface.
Lastly, fit the jar with a lid, and store in a warm area of your house, away from direct sunlight, for a LEAST 3 weeks (although I’ve heard that the best tasting ‘kraut can take up to a year.) You’ll know that the cabbage has started to ferment when you see small bubbles rising up the side of the glass. Every couple of days, open the lid to release any pent-up gases (and thus preventing the jar from bursting.)
After a minimum of 3 week, you will have traditional, homemade sauerkraut. It should have a pleasant sour odor, and look a pale yellow-y/gold. A sign that your sauerkraut didn’t work, would be if it had a powerful, rotten odor, or had a pink tinge, both of which would mean that bad bacteria gotten a hold of it before you did. Just trust me, you’ll know a good smell from a bad one–this recently happened to my sourdough starter, and there was no questioning that it had gone south.
Best of luck with your in your fermentation journey! Using techniques that you learned from this post, you’ll be able to experiment with fermenting many types of vegetables!