Sauerkraut is probably the most well-known lacto-fermented vegetable. Old fashioned sauerkraut is made with thinly sliced cabbage and salt. Like any traditionally homemade food, sauerkraut can be made in a number of ways with all kinds of custom variations. Check out our Garlicky Kraut, Dill Pickle Sauerkraut, and Southwestern Kraut when you're ready to get adventurous! Whether you add a secret ingredient to your homemade sauerkraut or keep it basic, kraut has a slew of health benefits. It is rich in probiotics, vitamins, fiber, and minerals, which can contribute to better digestion and a stronger immune system. Sauerkraut can also help promote a healthy heart, stronger bones, and weight loss.
While there are as many methods and tweaks to homemade sauerkraut as there are home cooks, we do have a few tips that we've found in our sauerkraut testing.
EASY TIPS FOR HOW TO MAKE SAUERKRAUT
- Use fresh cabbage. The better your ingredients, the better the finished product will be. When you can pull a fresh head of cabbage out of your garden or from a farmer's market, it' makes amazing kraut. But sauerkraut is also forgiving, so even a midwinter cabbage from the grocery store has yielded us some great results.
- Use the right salt. Salt is a traditional ingredient in sauerkraut because it increases shelf life, texture, and flavor but also because it inhibits the growth of unfriendly bacteria, fungus and molds. The amount of salt used can vary according to personal taste preference, but we recommend 1 to 3 Tbsp. per quart of water. When making sauerkraut, it’s also important to choose the right salt. Normal table salt contains iodine and anti-caking agents that can inhibit the growth of the beneficial bacteria we're looking for. We've achieved the best results with unrefined sea salt. The Celtic Sea Salt we sell at CFH is hand-harvested using traditional methods on the French coast. It's completely unrefined, just dried from the ocean, resulting in the salt we need for fermentation, but also a variety of natural minerals and a fantastic bit of extra flavor that you just can't get any other way. That's why Celtic Sea Salt has become our salt of choice. For those that don’t want to use salt, check out our salt-free sauerkraut recipe.
Create an anaerobic environment. This is an absolute essential step in the sauerkraut-making process. The cabbage must be completely submerged underneath a brine and away from oxygen in order for the lactic acid bacteria to proliferate. This is important for protecting your lactic acid fermentation from unwanted bacteria (or mold). The main reasons we see sauerkraut fermentations fail is because of the addition of oxygen to the ferment which can lead to the growth of undesirable bacteria as well as funguses and molds. These can render the entire batch inedible.
After extensive testing, we've come up with a couple of our favorite ways to keep your sauerkraut safe. While you can seal up the jars and burp them daily, these super simple "Pickle Pipes" automatically vent the extra CO2 safely without allowing oxygen in and fit over regular narrow and wide mouth canning jars. For larger ferments, we recommend the half-gallon vegetable fermenter, perfect for a big batch of sauerkraut. You'll also want to use Fermentation weights to help keep your cabbage submerged under the brine so that it doesn't mold. We love these easy-cleaning glass fermentation weights for narrow and wide mouth jars. For larger containers, we use these two-piece ceramic fermentation weights.
- Give it time. You can ferment sauerkraut for only a few days before moving to cold storage, but giving sauerkraut a lower temperature and longer fermentation time can develop the flavor and texture a little better. We suggest letting it ferment for 2 weeks, though experimenting with time and taste is the best way to determine what time frame works best for you.
SUPPLIES FOR MAKING HOMEMADE SAUERKRAUT
When it comes to fermentation supplies, there are a lot of tools out there to choose from, and, honestly, most of them will work just fine. This can be a bit overwhelming you're new to making fermented foods, and just trying to figure out what you need to get started. To make it a little easier, we've created a simple Sauerkraut Kit with everything you need to get started.
But if you want to build your own kit, our tutorial Fermentation Equipment: Choosing the Right Supplies goes into detail about different options, but the reality is having the basics like a good knife, container for fermenting, a fermentation weight, and some sort of lid with an airlock is all you need to get started.
METHODS FOR MAKING SAUERKRAUT
1. SLICING, POUNDING, AND KNEADING CABBAGE
Thinly slice cabbage, salt it, then pound it with a tool such as the Cabbage Crusher or Pickle Packer for about 10 minutes, or until enough juice is released to form a brine and completely cover the cabbage.
Move the cabbage and juice to fermentation containers, weigh the cabbage down to keep it below the brine. Cover with tight-fitting lids, airlock lids, or a tight-weave cloth, secured with a rubber band.
2. WEIGHTING AND PRESSING KRAUT IN A CROCK
Place shredded cabbage and salt in a large fermentation crock or bowl. Instead of pounding, weigh the cabbage down with heavy bowls or pebbles. Press on the weights regularly to draw the natural juices out of the cabbage and submerge the cabbage slowly in the brine.
After a couple of days, with continued pressing, the cabbage will have accumulated a fair amount of liquid at the top, enough to cover the cabbage completely.
3. WHOLE CABBAGE HEADS WITH BRINE
In this method, the cabbage is not shredded or sliced prior to fermenting. Since whole cabbage heads cannot form their own brine fast enough to protect them from mold and unwanted yeasts a brine is generally created then used for fermenting.
While this method is the least labor-intensive, it takes the longest. Four weeks or more are necessary before moving to cold storage because of the size of the cabbage heads.
HOMEMADE SAUERKRAUT RECIPE
Below you'll find our basic sauerkraut recipe. This recipe utilizes the pounding and kneading method. It is a great place to start for anyone just beginning to explore fermented vegetables.
- 1 Medium Head of Cabbage
- 1-3 Tbsp. sea salt
- Chop or shred cabbage. Sprinkle with salt.
- Knead the cabbage with clean hands, or pound with a potato masher or Cabbage Crusher about 10 minutes, until there is enough liquid to cover.
- Stuff the cabbage into a quart jar, pressing the cabbage underneath the liquid. If necessary, add a bit of water to completely cover cabbage.
- Cover the jar with a tight lid, airlock lid, or coffee filter secured with a rubber band.
- Culture at room temperature (60-70°F is preferred) for at least 2 weeks until desired flavor and texture are achieved. If using a tight lid, burp daily to release excess pressure.
- Once the sauerkraut is finished, put a tight lid on the jar and move to cold storage. The sauerkraut's flavor will continue to develop as it ages.
For a more complex flavor add caraway seeds (to taste).
Prior to culturing, you can also mix 1 part other vegetables or ingredients (shredded carrots, apples, etc.) with 5 parts cabbage to vary the recipe. For a non-traditional sauerkraut, try this carrot sauerkraut recipe or a zucchini kraut recipe.
Or try one of these cabbage sauerkraut recipes: