Fermented foods have been popular for thousands of years. Not just because of their unique taste, but also for improving your health by supplying good bacteria and probiotics to your gut. Fermented cabbage, which is also known as sauerkraut, is one of those foods. And homemade sauerkraut is always preferable to store bought ones, due to their freshness and unforgettable taste.
To make sauerkraut, all you need is cabbage, salt, and a jar. Then follow these 5 simple steps:
- Shred the cabbage
- Mix the cabbage with salt
- Put the cabbage in a jar
- Ferment for at least three days
- Check the taste of your sauerkraut after 3 days; ferment for longer if desired
Sauerkraut is commonly fermented for between 14 and 21 days in order to develop better flavor and health benefits. But it can be fermented for up 3 months if desired.
It can be eaten plain, or with burgers, wraps, salads, etc. and is known for its probiotic and nutrient content. And in this article, I’m going to go through how to ferment it in order to get the best probiotic and nutrient profile, as well common mistakes to watch out for when making, and things to bear in mind…
How to Make Sauerkraut at Home: 10 Easy Steps
Sauerkraut is an easy DIY project, so long as you have the right knowledge. There are hundreds of ways to make sauerkraut, with variations in ingredients, flavors, and preparation methods.
This article has all the information you’ll need to make delicious homemade sauerkraut. This recipe is very basic, with only cabbage, salt, and water needed.
What You Need To Make Sauerkraut
- 1 medium-sized cabbage
- 12-15 sea salt
- Other herbs or vegetable e.g., carrot, garlic, mustard seeds, etc.(optional)
- Cutting board
- Sharp knife
- A large bowl
- Mason jar
1. Weigh The Cabbage
The weight of the cabbage you’re using for the sauerkraut will determine the correct amount of salt you need to use.
Place the cabbage on a digital scale and record the total weight. You may want to do get the weight in grams for accuracy.
This kitchen scale from Amazon is a great tool to keep handy if you’re planning to make fermenting food a hobby. It’s made of stainless steel and tempered glass and it has four built-in high-precision load sensors for quick and accurate weight readings.
2. Measuring The Salt
When making sauerkraut or fermented foods, it’s important to understand that what matters is the percentage of salt to the weight of the food, not the volume of salt.
REMEMBER: Too much salt will kill the beneficial bacteria and stop your sauerkraut from fermenting properly!
Sea salt is typically better to use in fermented foods. The key is that you add just the right amount and it’s best to use a digital kitchen scale to measure accurately. As much as possible, avoid using iodized salt because iodine can inhibit fermentation.
3. Shred The Cabbage
Trim the cabbage and remove the outermost leaves. You can save these for later when you need something to hold the shredded cabbage down inside the jar.
TIP: The smaller the pieces, the easier it will be for the bacteria to ferment the cabbage. Plus, the smaller the pieces, the more surface they have for the beneficial bacteria to grow. It will actually help your cabbage to ferment faster! Check out my article here if you’d like more tips on getting a faster ferment without compromising quality.
4. Add Salt and Spice
Put all your shredded cabbage into the fermentation crock or mixing bowl and sprinkle salt on it. Mix the shredded cabbage and salt intermittently as you fill the bowl up.
5. Knead and Squeeze
Squeeze and knead the cabbage and salt mixture for about 5 minutes, over the course of about 15 minutes to allow the cabbage to release more brine. (You can use your hands, but if you like, the end of a rolling pin like this one on Amazon works great too!)
It’s important that the brine doesn’t evaporate so you may want to cover the mixture while it stands. You can use any lid or plastic wrap.
Depending on how much brine your cabbage mixture makes, this process could take 1-4 hours until you have enough brine that would cover all the cabbage when you compress it in a mason jar.
At this point, feel free to add spices like caraway seeds or juniper to add a more German or Alsatian flavor to your sauerkraut. Plain with nothing but salt works great too though!
FUN FACT: When salt is in contact with the cabbage, a chemical reaction begins breaking down the cabbage walls to start the fermentation process. This means that if you simply added salt, and skipped the kneading and squeezing step altogether, it would still produce brine! (you’d simply let it sit for longer).
6. Put Your Mixture In a Jar
Once your cabbage has enough brine, you can now transfer it to a mason jar. During the fermentation process, contents of the jar will bubble up, and gases will be produced that need space to expand, so make sure not to pack the jar too full. You’ll need a third of the jar as empty space (or at the very minimum an inch) to avoid overflowing or worse, a cracked jar.
I really like wide mouth mason jars like these on Amazon for fermenting, because you have a good amount of space to add the ingredients and secure it down with weights. I’ve found that it can get a little tricky with traditional narrow mouthed jars.
7. Weight It Down
Compress the cabbage inside the jar as this helps bring the brine up, covering all of the cabbage. It would be best to have the brine go up about an inch above the cabbage. This will ensure that none of the cabbage will come up above the brine.
QUICK TIP: You can use the outer cabbage leaves from earlier to cover up the cabbage and keep it submerged in the brine. In addition, using weights (like these on Amazon) is a great way to be sure the ferment remains submerged and mold free.
8. Add More Brine If Needed
On some occasions, depending on the cabbage you used, you won’t be able to squeeze out enough brine from the shredded cabbage. This is when you have to make extra brine.
On a side note, I’ve never had to do this. As long as you let it sit for long enough, I have found that the brine eventually increases enough. But if you need to, then here’s how to make extra brine…
Here are the 3 simple steps to make extra brine:
- Fill a cup with water
- Add the right amount of salt, which is 2 grams for ever 100 grams of water
- Mix the saltwater and pour it to the mason jar until all the cabbage is covered
9. Seal And Store Your Sauerkraut Jar in a Cool and Dark Place
Perfectly seal your jar of sauerkraut and keep it in a cool and dark place. A good temperature for a sauerkraut to ferment properly is around 65 to 70°F (18 to 21°C).
Aside from temperature, light also affects food over time so if you’re using clear mason jars, make sure that they are kept in a dark or shady area.
10. Waiting Time
In 2 or 3 days, lactobacillus becomes the dominant microbe in your sauerkraut and you will observe some bubbling and fizzing.
It would be wise to put your jars, especially the ones that are filled to the brim, on a tray as they may leak at some point.
The first phase of the fermentation process will settle down after a week. During this time, you can open your sauerkraut jar and do a taste test if you wish. The alternative is to keep it fermenting for a longer period of time, especially if you want more probiotics and nutrients in your sauerkraut.
How Long Should I Ferment Sauerkraut for Maximum Probiotic Benefit?
For maximum probiotic benefit, the sauerkraut should be left to ferment for a period of at least 2 months. Prior to that, there will still be plenty of probiotic goodness, but 2 to 3 months of fermentation will ensure the probiotic profile will reach its peak.
However, do bear in mind that the longer you ferment it for, the stronger the flavor becomes too. So its important to balance it according to what you like eating. After all, there is no point fermenting it for 3 months if it is then too strong for you to enjoy!
Do bear in mind that you can get used to the stronger flavor over time too. I now happily leave my sauerkraut to ferment for 3 months and love the flavor it produces and enjoy the benefits of having a maximum amount of probiotic ‘bang for your buck’, but as a beginner, this flavor profile would have been too strong for me.
Things To Keep In Mind While Your Sauerkraut Is Fermenting
If you’re new to fermenting foods, there a few things to bear in mind to ensure a successful ferment. Here’s a list of things to make note of:
- Opening a fermenting jar increases the chance of mold, so make sure that your hands and the utensils you’re using to taste the food are clean.
- In the event that you notice mold on your jar, simply wipe it off.
- If the shredded cabbage is starting to emerge above the brine, simply push it down until it’s soaked again.
- If you notice that there seems to be not enough brine in the jar anymore, simply make more brine with the same formula mentioned above and add it to the jar.
It’s super important to make sure the cabbage is always submerged fully under the brine (more on this later).
In 3 weeks, you can do another taste test and your sauerkraut should already taste sour during this period. You can decide to let it ferment for another 3-6 weeks and then taste again.
It’s also a good idea to move your sauerkraut jars to the fridge at this point. The high acidity and cold temperature will then slow the fermentation process here and you can decide whether its time to eat them or you want to keep fermenting for an even longer period of time.
Most Common Mistakes When Fermenting Cabbage
Even though the recipe is easy, a few mistakes can still be made, especially by beginners who are trying fermenting food for the first time. Some small mistakes can botch the entire recipe, so here are some helpful tips to keep in mind for a successful first DIY sauerkraut.
Mistake #1: Using the Wrong Salt
The quality of salt used in fermenting food like sauerkraut is of utmost importance. Using the wrong kind of salt can inhibit the growth of beneficial bacteria in your sauerkraut.
Avoid using iodized salt and other salts that contain additives. (e.g. table salt is iodized). These kinds of salts have been stripped out of all their minerals and put under high temperatures and chemicals during processing. They also contain anti-caking agents and other additives that can negatively affect the fermentation of your sauerkraut.
A better choice of salt for fermentation would be:
- Natural sea salt
- Himalayan/pink salt
These salts are processed in a much more natural way, without added chemicals/anti-caking agents.
Mistake #2: Letting Air Access The Fermentation
Air, to be more specific, oxygen is the greatest enemy of Lacto fermentation. It’s important that the sauerkraut jars are perfectly sealed to make sure that no air comes into the container.
Removal of oxygen in fermented food stabilizes ascorbic acid, preserves the color of the vegetables, and prevent microbial contamination.
Now this doesn’t mean you have to vacuum pack the jars, it simply means the cabbage MUST REMAIN UNDER THE BRINE, so that it doesn’t get access to the oxygen in the jar. This is one of the biggest reasons mold develops too.
Mistake #3: Not Waiting Long Enough
Although you can start eating sauerkraut after 3-4 days of fermentation, it is recommended to give your sauerkraut more time to ferment. It takes at least a month to be fully fermented. The more fermentation, the more nutrients.
If you don’t want to wait that long, ferment it for at least seven to ten days. Or follow this helpful guide I wrote about the different ways you can ferment food faster.
Things To Watch Out for When Making Sauerkraut
Here some of the fundamental things to watch out for throughout the process:
You will see in many recipes; the proper temperature is not given enough importance. It is because the room temperature is good enough.
But it’s worth knowing in case the environmental temperature is too hot or too cold. Remember that the temperature shouldn’t be more than 80 degrees Fahrenheit and less than 60 degrees.
Below 60 degrees, the cabbage will not ferment. Above 80 degrees, the texture will be spoilt.
Shredded cabbage is very lightweight. So, in time it will be lifted off the salt brine. While many people know that it should be pressed down to remove air pockets, many are oblivious about the importance of salt brine. Don’t be afraid to add more brine if needed.
Using Late Cabbage
Choice of cabbage plays an important role in making sauerkraut. Cabbages that are cultivated late in the season usually have fewer sugars to be fermented.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t use them at all, but it’s better to use cabbage with high sugar content for better results. Try looking for early and fresh cabbages.
When it comes to fermenting food, simple changes can make great differences and these small changes can make or break your homemade sauerkraut project.
If you’ve been looking for a way to get more probiotics in your diet, or you want to try a delicious fermented food, making sauerkraut is an easy and tasty way to do it. It’s an excellent beginner friendly choice. It’s the first food I ever fermented and it started me off fermenting all sorts of foods thereafter!
Fermenting cabbage is one of the easiest ways get your daily dose of probiotics that helps support a healthy immune system. I hope this article inspires you to start this process in your home.
Fermenting food is a process that is a little different from a lot of other food preparation, but once you get the hang of it and notice its many health benefits, you will love it!
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