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UPDATE 7/26/12: I no longer use Mason jars for my ferments (learn why here). I use anaerobic fermenting jars exclusively and the improvement in the taste and texture of my ferments is unbelievable! I encourage everyone to take a look at the information regarding Mason jar ferments and come to a decision that best fits their family. I will be releasing updated versions of these recipes soon, as it applies to these jars. I recommend the anaerobic fermenting systems from The Probiotic Jar.
Sauerkraut has to be one of the easiest ferments to make. It only requires two ingredients: cabbage and salt. You can, of course, add in other ingredients to suit your tastes, but if you want pure, unadulterated sauerkraut, then just stick to those two ingredients and you won't be disappointed. It is most likely the very first ferment for newbies who are just starting out on their fermenting journey. I know it was for me.
I know some of my ferments may be considered a little boring, but my mission with this series is to master some of the basics and as I gradually increase my confidence, I will branch out into more creative recipes. I also want to keep it simple because I want to encourage people to start fermenting in their kitchen, no matter their comfort level. Just pick an easy recipe and do it. Sauerkraut is a great place to start! BTW, I cracked open a jar of pickled Brussels sprouts yesterday for lunch and they are wonderful, so I highly encourage you to try them if you haven't already!
I have only made sauerkraut a couple other times before and both times, they didn't turn out that great, so I didn't try it again until just a couple weeks ago. After thinking back on what I did the past two times, I decided that the first time I made kraut, I didn't like the texture because I chopped the cabbage finely, rather than shredding it. I much prefer shredded kraut. The second time, I used whey and it had a slimy texture, similar to my first experience with lacto-fermented ginger carrots.
After spending many hours reading and re-reading Wild Fermentation I decided that there was a reason sauerkraut was the first recipe in almost any lacto-fermenting book out there. It's because it's easy and virtually foolproof! So, I embarked on my third kraut making venture and after this round, I can confidently say, I think I have a much better handle on the process! It turned out great — crunchy and tangy — and I know it will only continue to get better with age. I completely forgot to take a picture of my own kraut in time for this post, so a big thanks to my sister and brother-in-law from Mighty Grow Organics for letting me use the picture of their recent sauerkraut batch instead!
Sauerkraut (aka. Sour Cabbage) Facts
- Sauerkraut made its first appearance in China approximately 2,000 years ago, and is suspected to spread to Europe by Genghis Khan.
- Sauerkraut was renamed “Liberty Cabbage” during the World Wars because Americans wouldn't buy a product with a German name.
- Americans consume approximately 387 million pounds of kraut each year.
- Every year, there are around 330 million pounds of cabbage grown in the US.
- Kraut is very high in vitamin C, iron, calcium, niacin, phosphorus, riboflavin, phosphorus, beneficial bacteria, and fiber.
- Cruciferous veggies (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, dark leafy greens, turnips, etc.) have been shown to help fight colon cancer.
inspired by Wild Fermentation
Makes approx. 2 quarts
- 2 large heads of cabbage (white or red)
- sea salt
- 2 wide mouth Mason jars
- 2 glass cups that just fit inside the Mason jar (or something else that you can use for a weight)
- 1 (or 2) large bowls
- Food processor (for shredding … or, you can do this by hand)
Note: I prefer to shred my cabbage like I mentioned above. You can chop, shred, or tear your cabbage for kraut. It just depends on what you like.
1. Pull off the outer layer or two of the cabbage. I bought organic cabbage and chose not to rinse it because I wanted to keep as much of the dirt intact to help start the ferment. Sounds weird, I know. Check out this post for more info. Since I didn't rinse it, I just peeled off the outer layer or two of the cabbage and proceeded to shred. You will, of course, want to be on the lookout for black mold. If you see any, you'll want to trim those sections out.
2. As you shred the cabbage, layer it in the large bowl with salt. I would do a layer about an inch thick, sprinkle some sea salt over it, layer more cabbage, sprinkle more salt, etc. I didn't measure the salt, but I used roughly two tablespoons for the entire batch. My sea salt is super fine grind, so a little goes a long way.
4. After it has sat out for a few hours, you can add whey if you want want to use that as a starter. Add 4-6 tbsp. of whey to your cabbage and stir to mix. I don't use whey as a vegetable starter, but it is perfectly fine if you want to add some in.
5. Next, with very clean hands, start packing the cabbage into the Mason jars. Really pack it in there. I used my fist and packed it as tight as I possibly could. When I first started, I didn't think there would be enough water released from the cabbage to cover it, but by the time I got it all packed in the jar, I had well over an inch of brine on top.
6. You're almost done. The last thing you need to do is take a clean glass (or something else that you can use as a weight) and place it in the jars so that it's pushing down on the cabbage. I used one of our drinking glasses and filled it with water. This ensures that the cabbage stays submerged under the brine during fermenting. Our drinking glasses fit perfectly inside the wide mouthed jar, leaving about 1/32 of an inch around the edge (yes, I actually measured!).
7. Now, you're ready to let nature work its magic. I placed my kraut in an out-of-the-way place on my kitchen counter and covered the jars with a tea towel to keep any dust or particles out. You can store them on the counter, a bookshelf, in a cupboard, etc. Make sure you stick a plate under the jar to catch any brine that bubbles up and out, and keep it out of the sun. Then, I just left it there for 7 days. I checked on it a couple times, just to make sure it was all still submerged, but I didn't remove the glasses because I wanted to limit the amount of oxygen it was exposed to.
8. After 7 days, I moved it to cold storage and let it sit for another full week before trying it. Keep in mind that it's only going to get better the longer it ages.
Now it's your turn! Have you made kraut before? How does your recipe differ from mine? There are so many different techniques that people use when fermenting and I love hearing everyone's tips and tricks, so let's get the discussion started below!
- “Sauerkraut” image from MightyGrow Organics
- “Sauerkraut” Wikipedia
- “Cruciferous Vegetables” Wikipedia
- “Sauerkraut Facts” Bubbies Products