Want to know how to make sauerkraut at home? Well, our LJ Active Chef Michelle is back for the Fun with Fermenting series, and this one is all about sauerkraut!
If there is one kooky, crazy, thing you should try right now, it’s fermenting. And if there is one fermenting method you should try, it’s sauerkraut. When life gives you cabbage, make sauerkraut — and homemade sauerkraut is a world apart from the stuff that you’ll find in the grocery store. It’s delightfully crunchy and sour, perfect for topping on a big kale salad or layering on your sourdough sandwich.
Sauerkraut is one of the first fermentation projects we recommend to curious DIY-ers, and with good reason. It’s beyond easy to make, requires very little equipment, and the results are delicious. All you need to do is combine shredded cabbage with some salt and pack it into a jar – easy as 1, 2, and 3! The cabbage releases liquid, creating its own brine. Submerged in this liquid for a period of several days or a week, the cabbage slowly ferments into the crunchy, sour condiment we know and love as sauerkraut. If you don’t believe just how simple it can be, we’ve made a video to prove it…
Similar to our lovely friend Kombucha, sauerkraut is made by a process called lacto-fermentation. To put it simply, there is beneficial bacteria present on the surface of the cabbage, and when submerged in brine, the bacteria begins to convert sugars in the cabbage into lactic acid (a natural preservative that inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria) which starts the fermentation phase.
The word pro-biotic actually means
‘pro-life’, so where possible, choose the foods that are life-giving to your health.
You’ve probably heard it before, but sauerkraut works wonders for our digestion. It produces amazing amounts of lactobacilli, a healthy probiotic that helps with digestion and a healthy immune system. The fermentation also produces isothiocyanates, compounds shown to prevent disease. The cabbage itself contains similar anti-carcinogenic phytochemicals as broccoli and brussels sprouts, and is also a good source of vitamin C, K, and folate.
Now let’s get krauting!
Fun With Fermenting: How To Make Sauerkraut At Home
Total Time: 20 minutes
Servings: Serves 4
- Cabbage (purple or green)
- Himalayan or Celtic sea salt
- 1 litre glass jar with a tight fitting lid
- Cutting board
- Mixing bowl
- Wooden spoon
- Wash and drain the cabbage well. Cut off any outer leaves that don’t look so good. Cut off and save one of the nicer looking outer leaves and put it to one side. After you’ve made and packed all the sauerkraut in the jar, you’ll fold up this leaf and put it on top to help press down the cabbage to keep it under the brine.
- Finely slice cabbage. Slice the cabbage as finely as you can. You can also use a mandolin or food processor to slice the cabbage as finely as you can. The reason you want to slice it so finely is to maximize the surface area. This will make it easier to massage and quicker to ferment.
- Add the sliced cabbage to a large mixing bowl, along with the salt and caraway seeds (if you use them). Using your hands massage the salt into the cabbage by grabbing handfuls of the cabbage and squeezing it like you would squeeze out a large sponge then let go and drop the cabbage back into the bowl. Grab another handful and do the same. Repeat this until the cabbage starts to get soft.
- As the cabbage softens you’ll notice more and more juice in the bottom of the bowl. The juice will dissolve the salt, which will in turn draw more juice out of the cabbage. That’s exactly what we want. Don’t drain the juice off, it’s the brine that will allow the cabbage to ferment without going ‘off’. You’ll also notice that the volume of cabbage gets smaller as you massage it.
- Keep massaging until the cabbage is quite soft and limp, almost the consistency it is after being stir-fried or steamed. You want to keep massaging until the volume of the cabbage is reduced by about half. If you used coarse sea salt, it should all be dissolved. If you taste a bit at this point, you’ll notice that the cabbage has lost that sharp, pungent taste that raw cabbage has. I love the cabbage like this, even before it’s fermented. I often use this technique for cabbage and kale when I’m making a salad, sometimes adding a bit of olive oil and massaging that in as well.
- Now it’s time to pack the jar that you’ll ferment your sauerkraut in. Grab a few handfuls of cabbage and put them into the jar and add a bit of the brine, just to the top of the cabbage. Reach in with your hand or a wooden spoon and press the cabbage down into the bottom. You want to release any air pockets and pack the cabbage in as tightly as you can. Continue to pack the cabbage into the jar in this way, a few handfuls at a time until you nearly reach the top of the jar.
- Add more brine if you need so that all the cabbage is under brine. This prevents bad bacteria from forming during the fermentation process. Take the outer cabbage leaf you saved at the beginning and fold it up so that it will just fit inside the mouth of the jar. You want to use it almost like a lid to keep the sliced cabbage pressed down underneath the brine.
- Put the lid on the jar, and leave it out at room temperature for about 4 days. Your fermentation time may vary depending on the temperature and how fermented you like your kraut. Keep out of direct sunlight.
- Take off the lid once a day to release any gasses that may build up from the fermentation process. Use a wooden spoon to press the cabbage down and release any gas bubbles that have formed. That helps it ferment better and ensures that the cabbage is kept under the brine level and helps prevent the brine from overflowing your container.
- You’ll notice the colour of the cabbage has changed after massaging it, and it will keep changing over the next few days as it ferments. I always do a taste test starting at day 3, and then daily after that. Once the sauerkraut gets to the point that you like it, put it in the fridge to slow down the fermentation process. I’ve had some last for about 2 months before I ate it all, and it just kept maturing and getting better.
Don’t forget to watch our How To Make Kombucha video, another awesome fermenting exercise.
Comment below if you have any questions regarding fermenting at home, I would love to hear how your experiments go.