Homemade sauerkraut is a great way to add beneficial bacteria or probiotics to your diet and this easy recipe allows first time fermenters to start with some very basic methods and ingredients. Salt and caraway seeds are added to finely shredded cabbage and they are packed into a sterilised, glass mason jar until all of the liquid goodness leaches out of the cabbage, creating it’s own brining solution. The cabbage is submerged in this ready-made brine for around 1 – 2 weeks (depending on the surrounding temperature until it ferments into a yummy, savoury, crunchy, sour condiment, which will increase the nutritional value of any meal.
Fermented foods have a long history in many cultures with sauerkraut being one of the most well-known. Prior to the introduction of ready-made frozen foods and refrigeration, and cheap transport from warmers areas became readily available, sauerkraut was a source of essential nutrients in the colder months. Sauerkraut will keep for several months in an airtight container stored at 15 degrees celcius or below (I store mine in my fridge).
Cabbage leaves have natural, beneficial bacteria called lactobacilli on their leaves and sauerkraut is made by a process of lactic acid fermentation. After fermentation, sauerkraut contains a wide diversity of lactic acid bacteria and is rich in enzymes leading to improved digestion, promotion of the growth of healthy bowel flora and protection against many diseases of the digestive tract. Homemade sauerkraut is superior to manufactured ferments which are heat treated in order to extend shelf life thereby destroying many of the beneficial bacteria and enzymes contained within. Sauerkraut is also a source of vitamins C, B and K, and the fermentation process actually increases the bioavailability of these nutrients making the end product even more nutrititious than raw cabbage. Sauerkraut is also high in calcium and magnesium and a good source of dietary fibre, folate, iron, potassium, copper and manganese.
Sauerkraut can be added to any meal but I think it goes best with traditional European foods and salads. I usually have a bowl of sauerkraut with a source of lean protein such as salmon or tuna and some potato or sweet potato. If you are a meat-eater you can happily add it to pork for a traditional German meal. I also find the juice from the sauerkraut particularly soothing when I experience a little bit of stomach ache. The juice takes the discomfort away quite instantly and sometimes solves the problem completely.
Easy Homemade Sauerkraut
- Cutting Board
- Sharp Knife
- Large Mixing Bowl (I sometimes use large soup pans to give more room to manoeuvre
- 3 liters Mason Jar
- Smaller Jam Jar that fits inside Large Mason Jar
- Clean Stones, Marbles, Rice etc for weighing down the Jam Jar
- 1 medium head Green Cabbage (approx 1.4kg)
- 1 tablespoon Sea Salt
- 1 tablespoon Caraway Seeds (optional, for flavour)
- Clean everything:When fermenting, it's best to give the beneficial bacteria every chance of succeeding by starting off with as clean an environment as possible. Make sure your mason jar and jam jar are washed and rinsed of all soap residue. You'll be using your hands to massage the salt into the cabbage, so give those a good wash, too.
- Slice the cabbage finely: Cut the cabbage into quarters and trim out the core. Slice each quarter down its length, making 8 wedges. Slice each wedge crosswise into very thin ribbons. Keep the outer cabbage leaves – I use them to help keep the cabbage under the brine when it is fermenting.
- Combine the cabbage and salt: Transfer the cabbage to a big mixing bowl and sprinkle the salt over top. Begin working the salt into the cabbage by massaging and squeezing the cabbage with your hands. At first it might not seem like enough salt, but gradually the cabbage will become watery and limp — more like coleslaw than raw cabbage. This will take 5 to 10 minutes. If you'd like to flavor your sauerkraut with caraway seeds, mix them in now.
- Pack the cabbage into the jar: Grab handfuls of the cabbage and pack them into the canning jar. Every so often, push down the cabbage in the jar firmly with your fist. Pour any liquid released by the cabbage while you were massaging it into the jar.
- Weigh the cabbage down: Once all the cabbage is packed into the mason jar, place the whole cabbage leaves on top and slip the smaller jam jar into the mouth of the jar on top of the whole cabbage leaves and weigh it down with clean stones, marbles or rice. This will help keep the cabbage weighed down, and eventually, submerged beneath its liquid.
- Press the cabbage every few hours: Over the next few hours, press down on the cabbage every so often with the jam jar. As the cabbage releases its liquid, it will become more limp and compact and the liquid will rise over the top of the cabbage.
- Add extra liquid (water),If needed – other recipes recommend you do this but I have never had to add extra water.
- Seal the jar Ferment the cabbage for 3 to 10 days: As it's fermenting, keep the sauerkraut away from direct sunlight and at a cool room temperature — ideally 65°F to 75°F. Check it daily and press it down if the cabbage is floating above the liquid. I usually keep mine in the laundry. If it tastes salty, it’s not ready. If it takes pickled then it’s done.
- Because this is a small batch of sauerkraut, it will ferment more quickly than larger batches. Start tasting it after 6 days — when the sauerkraut tastes good to you, remove the weight, screw on the cap, and refrigerate. You can also allow the sauerkraut to continue fermenting for 10 days or even longer. There's no hard-and-fast rule for when the sauerkraut is "done" — go by how it tastes.
- While it's fermenting, you may see bubbles coming through the cabbage, foam on the top, or white scum. These are all signs of a healthy, happy fermentation process. The scum can be skimmed off the top either during fermentation or before refrigerating. If you see any mold, skim it off immediately and make sure your cabbage is fully submerged; don't eat moldy parts close to the surface, but the rest of the sauerkraut is fine.
Store sauerkraut for several months: This sauerkraut is a fermented product so it will keep for at least two months and often longer if kept refrigerated. As long as it still tastes and smells good to eat, it will be. If you like, you can transfer the sauerkraut to a smaller container for longer storage.
This basic sauerkraut recipe can be widely varied by adding other cabbages such as red, napa etc and sometimes I add broccoli, kale, ginger, garlic, beetroot etc. Keep an eye on the blog posts for lots of tasty and nutritious variations.