Sauerkraut is one of the easiest things to ferment. It is a wonderfully reliable ferment, and can sit in a closet for several months without a problem. It is a great source of probiotics. But the biggest reason to DIY some sauerkraut is that homemade sauerkraut is so much BETTER than the stuff you find in a jar at your local grocery store.
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 to 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.
I usually use a fido. You could also use a mason jar with an airlock or pickle-nipple lid. Or if you want to go low tech, just use a mason jar with a weight to keep the vegetables below the brine. If this is your first time fermenting something I recommend reading the Basic Fermentation Rules.
- 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 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 purple kraut in the photo is 3 weeks old, and the green kraut is in the first few days. The little pieces of cabbage are being pushed up around the sides of my weight by the carbon dioxide bubbles, and I have them sitting in bowls in case of overflow.