Homemade sauerkraut is one of the easiest things to ferment. It is wonderfully reliable at turning out, it doesn’t take any special skills or ingredients, and it can sit in a closet for several months without a problem. Sauerkraut is a great source of probiotics. However, the biggest reason why you should make sauerkraut is that homemade sauerkraut is so much BETTER than the stuff you find in a jar at your local grocery store.
Sauerkraut is so easy to ferment
Sauerkraut is a good go-to ferment for any fermentation newbie because cabbage naturally has lactic bacteria on it. So all that you need to do to make sauerkraut is grate it! Luckily I have a pretty good mandolin and a food processor with a grating attachment. A box grater would work too, though it would take more time to grate a head of cabbage by hand.
However, when I first started fermenting I used the low tech method for making sauerkraut. I packed my kraut into mason jars and kept the vegetables below the brine with a weight. Cabbage (especially if it’s organic) has such naturally good culture that I have only ever had one failure with the low tech method.
(I taught my daughter’s preschool class to make sauerkraut. They filled several jars, and one of them went off. I suspect that it was mostly due to the fact that the preschool class room was too warm and bright. They just fermented it on a bookcase next to a window… which is less than ideal for sauerkraut.)
If this is your first time fermenting something I recommend reading the Basic Fermentation Rules. It goes into detail about about cleanliness, ideal temperature for fermentation and more.
- 1 head of cabbage (approx. 2 lbs.)
- 1-2 tsp pickling salt (to taste)
- flavours (see note)
- Grate the cabbage and any other vegetable or fruit additions.
- Toss it with spices and salt.
- Pack it into a wide mouth mason jar(s) leaving at least 2" of head room. Use a spoon to really pound all the cabbage into the jar. If you pack it down enough, liquid will be pressed out of the cabbage, and you want enough to cover the cabbage. It's important to fully pack the cabbage into the jar, air bubbles increase the risk of contamination. Don't worry if you don't have enough liquid right away, it should produce it within 24 hours. So you can to leave your cabbage to sweat a bit then pack it down again.
- Leave the jar to ferment at room temperature (around 18 C if possible) and out of the sun. The goal is to have the cabbage kept from the air (by weights, fido or airlock), but still allow for the release of CO2. Even if I am using a weight I keep my jars loosely covered to prevent bugs from getting in.
- The first three days the cabbage will bubble and liquid may over flow from the jar (so put a tray underneath).
- Sauerkraut is ready when you decide it is done (anywhere between 5 days to 7 weeks, though I often just permanently leave my kraut in a cupboard since I'm short on space in my fridge).
- Store it in the fridge to stop the fermentation.
-Adding a cup of grated apple, fennel, cranberries or carrot will sweeten the kraut. Onion and garlic are savory additions. For a spicy kraut add hot pepper slices.
-Whole spices are another way to change the flavour. My favourite spice combination is: 1 tsp caraway seed, 1 tsp mustard seed and 10 juniper berries. Some other popular combos include: 2 bay leaves and 5 black peppercorns; 2 tsp of mixed Indian curry spices; 1 tsp dill seed (for a pickle flavour).
-There’s a whole science to how the “flora” in sauerkraut changes over time. However, it should never be moldy, yeasty or smelly. Keeping everything clean is necessary for a good ferment.
The photos are from when I just started fermenting. The mason jars were stashed in one of my kitchen cupboards. (Now I have a whole closet devoted to ferments!) You may be able to see that I used jelly jars as my weights, and I had metal lids floating over top of the jars to keep bugs out.
The purple kraut in the photo was 3 weeks old, and the green kraut was in the first few days. The little pieces of cabbage were being pushed up around the sides of my weight by the carbon dioxide bubbles, and I had them sitting in bowls in case of overflow. Once they finished bubbling, I would have used a clean spoon to push them back down under the weight.
Now that I use fido jars I don’t bother with weights or pushing down the cabbage that’s come above the liquid. I just pack the cabbage into the jar and ignore it for two months.