by Sam Doll
Everybody is fermenting! From deliciously tart Kombucha to mouthwatering sourdough, home-fermented foods are the foodie trend du jour. Fermentation projects can be intimidating though. Many require multiple steps, special equipment, and difficult to find ingredients.
So where should you start their fermentation journey? That’s easy: sauerkraut!
What is Sauerkraut?
Sauerkraut is green cabbage that has undergone lactic acid fermentation. Lactic acid fermentation is when lactobacillus, a beneficial strain of bacterium, metabolizes sugars in an anaerobic (without oxygen) environment.
The lactic acid created as a byproduct of this process acts as a preservative and can keep homemade sauerkraut fresh and safe to eat for up to six months.
What will you need?
Ok! Enough with mumbo jumbo. The beauty of making sauerkraut is how easy it is! You’ll need three ingredients:
- One head of Green Cabbage*
- Kosher Salt
- Caraway seeds (optional)
* We love the Flat Dutch Green Cabbage for making Sauerkraut. It matures beautifully in cold weather and it is super easy to grow! If you don’t have the time or space to grow your own cabbage, many farmers markets have beautiful, local cabbages late into winter.
That’s it! The best part is that all the equipment required is probably already in your kitchen:
- Cutting Board
- Chef’s Knife
- Large mixing bowl
- Mason jars with lids
Great! Let’s move on.
How to make Sauerkraut
Sauerkraut is super easy to make, but it takes a little time and elbow grease to make it happen at home. Block off at least 45 minutes to an hour for this project (although you can probably get it done in less than 30 minutes if you are a Sauerkraut making machine).
1. Sanitize Everything
Since we are fermenting, we are creating an environment that is good for microorganisms to live in. The trick is to make sure we are only getting the good bacteria! The good bacteria that will do all our fermentation are already living on the surface of the cabbage leaves, so we don’t have to worry about them.
For everything else, we want to sanitize our equipment and make sure we are working with clean hands. Sanitize your equipment by running it through a dishwasher or washing it thoroughly in hot, soapy water while making sure to rinse off any soap residue. Wash your hands following these CDC recommendations.
2. Prepare the Cabbage
Rinse off the cabbage in cold water. Remove the more wilted or damaged outer leaves of the cabbage. Save a couple of these for later. Slice the cabbage into wedges and remove the core.
Then slice the remaining cabbage into whichever shapes you prefer. Ribbons will be the easiest to work with, but diced cabbage or even larger chunks can give your different and versatile textures.
3. Squeeze the Cabbage
Move the sliced cabbage into a large bowl and add the salt. You want to add about a ½ tbs. of kosher salt for every pound of cabbage. It may not seem like a bunch but remember that you’re trying to create a nice home for the bacteria, not pickle the cabbage. Remember, your homemade sauerkraut will be a lot less salty and acidic than the store-bought stuff.
Now it’s time to get your (washed) hands a little dirty! Grab fistfuls of the cabbage in the bowl and begin massaging and squeezing it. Keep at it for about 10 minutes to get the best results. The cabbage will break down and get limp and watery. This water will be the brine that your cabbage ferments in.
If you like the classic flavor of the caraway seeds, add about 1 tbs now.
4. Begin the Fermentation
Begin to pack the cabbage into your mason jars. You’ll want jars that you can comfortably fit your hand into because you’ll need to tamp the cabbage down with your fist. This releases more juice and helps remove air bubbles.
Add any liquid released from the cabbage into the jar and place one of the cabbage leaves you saved from earlier on top. This will help keep the cabbage submerged, once more juice has been released. Weigh the cabbage down with clean marbles, stones, or specialty fermentation weights (we just used some thoroughly cleaned river rocks).
Cover the top of the jar with a breathable cheesecloth or towel and secure it with twine or a rubber band. This will allow the sauerkraut to breathe, but keep out dust and bugs.
5. The first 24 hours
Make sure that your baby sauerkraut is being stored in a dark, cool place. Too much light or heat can cause off flavors and the growth of things that you do not want in your sauerkraut. Every so often, check on the sauerkraut and push it down with a clean hand or jar that’ll fit into the fermentation container. This will release more juice from the cabbage and should end up submerging the solids.
If your cabbage isn’t submerged after 24 hours, make extra brine by dissolving 1 tsp. kosher salt into one cup of water and adding that to your fermentation jar until it is submerged.
6. The Waiting Game
Store your sauerkraut for 3-10 days, depending on how strong you like the sauerkraut taste. Occasionally, a white film will form on the top. This is a normal part of the fermentation process. Just skim it off and continue.
Sometimes, you’ll even find a little mold on the top of the fermentation jar. Most times, this can be removed without it affecting your sauerkraut. However, if it looks or smells off, don’t be afraid to toss it. Trust your senses.
7. Time to eat!
Once you have your sauerkraut to where you like it, you can go ahead an enjoy it! If you’re not ready to eat right then, seal the jar with a lid and store it in the fridge for up to 6 months.
If you want to store it longer than 6 months, you can go through the canning process. Follow the directions from the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
Grow. Enjoy. Share…the beauty and the bounty!