Are you a fan of sauerkraut? Or not so much?
I honestly hated sauerkraut until I made my own! I hated the texture and the flavor. However, I knew how good it was for me (full of probiotics), so I would buy packages of it at the store and try to find ways to add it to foods so I would like it more. But I never really came to enjoy it.
Luckily, I had a very wise friend suggest to me that I try making my own, since its so much better made ‘fresh’ than the stuff you buy at the store. I decided to give it a shot, since this theory has proven true for a lot of things I’ve made on my own!
Lo and behold, it was amazing! And I could eat it by the forkful! The best part was that it didn’t have that slimy texture I disliked, and I could control how fermented it was, and how salty it tasted. All of the things I wasn’t a fan of with store bought kraut, I could easily control by doing my own ferment. I was hooked!
Check out the rest of this article to learn how to make sauerkraut at home!
Isn’t making homemade sauerkraut difficult?
Actually, no! Its surprisingly easy, and you only need two ingredients and a jar. That’s right – TWO!
The process goes something like this:
You thinly slice your cabbage, add salt, and massage and pound it until it releases moisture and creates a salty brine. Then, you place it in a jar to ferment for several days – or to your liking.
Told you it was easy. I was amazed. I expected fermenting to be difficult and to have to do all this extra crap to get it to work properly. Or that I was going to end up with mold everywhere or something. Not the case!
The reason it is so easy is because it is a basic lactic acid ferment.
What is a lactic acid ferment?
Lactic Acid Fermentation is what gives us simple fermented foods like Yogurt, Tempeh, Kimchi, Kvass, Kefir, Pickles, Olives, Sourdough bread, and sauerkraut!
To put it simply, during a lactic acid fermentation, the sugars in whatever you happen to be fermenting are converted into lactic acid. The presence of lactic acid is responsible for the sour taste and for the improved microbiological stability and safety of the food. This is why fermented foods last so long! Its an ancient method of food preservation – which is one reason why it is so simple and fool-proof!
Why is homemade sauerkraut good for you?
One word. PROBIOTICS!
Taken from Darwinian Medicine, “”We found in a 4-6 ounce serving of the fermented vegetables there were literally ten trillion bacteria.” That means 2 ounces of home fermented sauerkraut had more probiotics than a bottle of 100 count probiotic capsules. Translated this means one 16 ounce of sauerkraut is equal to 8 bottles of probiotics.”
Crazy, right? And not only that, but there are billions of different types of beneficial bacteria in every batch of homemade sauerkraut! And each time you make a ferment, you are getting a different variety of beneficial bacteria, which is very important for your digestive system and overall health!
So, you could go to the store and spend an arm and a leg on an expensive bottle of probiotics (like I did for years), and take the same strains of beneficial bacteria day in and out, OR you can easily make your own kraut at home every few weeks and get a wide variety of bacteria for much much less!
Here are a few common issues that can arise When making sauerkraut and how to resolve them:
Your Sauerkraut is too salty
This one happened to me, so you can learn from my experience! If you taste your kraut and it is too salty, there are a few things you can do.
The first thing you can try is rinsing and draining your kraut before eating. Simply rinse it by the forkful, or small amounts in a mesh strainer.
If that doesn’t do it, you can drain the entire jar, refill with filtered water to the top (learn about the best water purifying systems here), and leave sealed in the cabinet for a few more days. The water will draw out the salt that is in the cabbage and re disperse it into the brine, making it less salty. You can do this as many times as you need to!
You can’t get enough brine
If you can’t get your kraut to release enough brine after letting it sit and massaging it for a long time, press it into the jar you are using and then fill with 1 tablespoon salt dissolved in 2 cups filtered water. Thinner sliced and fresher kraut also tends to create more brine, so keep that in mind!
You notice mold or yeast growing
This can happen for a few reasons. Your kraut is too warm (I recommend a temperature around 65-70 degrees – in Summer you can try placing the jar in the basement, or in a cooler location in your house). This can also happen when air gets in – especially if your cabbage is exposed to the air and is not covered in brine. This can also happen if your brine is not salty enough. You can toss out the entire jar, but typically all you need to do is scrape off the molded part and keep fermenting!
Your Sauerkraut is too slimy or crunchy
This has to do with salinity, and time. Higher salt levels slow down fermentation, lower levels cause it to happen more quickly. And as you can guess, fermenting for a shorter amount of time leads to a crunchier kraut and a longer ferment leads to a slimier kraut. I recommend testing your kraut after 7 days, and then taste test it again every day or every other day. I don’t like a slimy or limp sauerkraut, so I prefer to allow the kraut to ferment for less time than someone else might — it is easy to customize!
The most important things to remember when making sauerkraut
◊ Ferment at the right temperature (65-70°)
◊ Use the right amount of salt (If unsure – Use more rather than less)
◊ Keep your cabbage under the brine
Things you need to make your own sauerkraut
- 1 Quart Jar & Lid (Cleaned well with dish soap and hot water – does not need to be sterilized)
- Large Bowl – for massaging the cabbage & salt
- Cutting Board & Knife
- 1 Small Head of Cabbage – preferably organic & in season (makes the best brine)
- Salt (I suggest a salt with a high mineral content like this Pink Himalayan Salt. Make sure your salt does not have iodine or anti caking agents)
- A plate or small bowl your jar will fit in as it ferments just in case it overflows while the cabbage expands
- Tablespoon measure
How to make Sauerkraut
how to make sauerkraut
1 Small to Medium Size Head of Cabbage (preferably organic & in season)
1-3 tablespoons Himalayan Salt
Essential Materials & Tools:
Cutting Board & Large Knife
Large Glass Bowl
Large Glass Jar with lid (preferably quart sized) – washed with hot water and soap and air dried
1. Prepare your Cabbage
Thinly slice your cabbage. The thinner – the better! More thinly sliced cabbage produces more brine. It will look like it will never all fit into the jar, but as you massage it with the salt, it will break down and condense. Don’t worry! Put all of your sliced cabbage into the large bowl.
2. Measure the Salt
Now, figure out how much salt to use. The correct measurement is 2% of the weight of the cabbage (if you have a kitchen scale, you can figure out the math on that easily). If you do not have a kitchen scale, estimate it. It is going to be roughly 3 tablespoons per medium – large head of cabbage. For one of my batches, I used half of a large head of cabbage, and 3 tablespoons of salt – but it was far too much salt! It would have been better with probably around 1.5 tablespoons. When in doubt, use more rather than less. Using more salt will help to inhibit the growth of mold or yeast, and will slow down the fermentation process. As it ferments, it will loose some of the salty flavor. But if it is too salty after fermenting there are things you can do to bring down the salinity of the brine (see my troubleshooting guide above).
3. Make the Brine
Pour your salt on the brine and begin to massage, pound, beat, and get all of your frustration out on this cabbage! You want to work the salt into the cabbage so that the cabbage begins to wilt and release a brine. This may take 10-15 minutes. As you go, you can begin to squeeze handfuls of cabbage and see the brine coming out. There should be a salty brine at the bottom of the bowl. Your cabbage will have condensed a lot. See photos above for reference.
4. Fill The Jar
Once your cabbage is ready, begin pressing it into the bottom of your jar. You want to really condense it, so that the brine comes over the top of the cabbage. Remember: always keep the cabbage under the brine! You can use your fist or some kind of tool to press the cabbage down as much as possible. Continue doing this all the way to the top. You want the jar to be about 80-90% full of cabbage. It will expand again as it ferments.
Make sure your cabbage is fully submerged in the brine. If there is any brine left in the bowl, pour it into the jar to top it off. I typically leave only a small amount of air in my jar, and allow the brine to leak out of the top as it ferments because I don’t want any air pockets or room for mold or yeast to grow – however this is pretty unnecessary. If you are worried at all about your cabbage not staying under the brine, you can use a glass weight (I linked to one above), or a smaller glass jar that fits inside the opening of your quart sized jar. Screw on the lid.
5. Start Fermenting!
Place your sauerkraut in a cool, dark place away from sunlight to ferment. If it is winter, or cool weather, you can easily place it in a cabinet. If it is in the summer months, you may want to opt for finding a cooler place in your house (like in the basement). The ideal temperature is somewhere between 65° and 70°. You may also wish to place your jar on a small dish to catch any brine that may begin to creep out of the inside as it ferments.
Now the waiting begins! Over the next few days, check for signs of fermentation. There should be some champagne-like bubbles creeping up the sides. The jar lid may feel taught, like air is trapped underneath, and your brine may be coming out of the top if you filled the jar up very high. Your cabbage will also begin to turn yellow from green. If there seems to be a lot of air pressure built up, you can loosen the jar lid slightly to ‘burp’ your ferment and let a little gas and brine escape. Just screw it back on tightly after.
6. Taste Test
After about 5-7 days, you may want to taste test your sauerkraut. Look for saltiness, crunch, and a sour taste. If it isn’t sour enough, is still very crunchy, or super salty, let it sit for 2 more days and taste test again. It will take anywhere between 7-21 days for your sauerkraut to finish fermenting depending on temperature, amount of cabbage, amount of salt, and your personal preferences. For my most recent batch, I let it ferment for 9 days. Once finished, store in the refrigerator.
Sauerkraut will keep in the refrigerator for over a year!