Sauerkraut is a truly wonderful addition to anyone’s diet. It is cheap and relatively easy to make at home and provides a rich source of probiotics and digestive enzymes superior to pretty much any product available in supplement form. It is also very delicious – my family enjoys it as a condiment, in salads, with omelettes and on burgers – to name just a few.
It is very shelf-stable due to the lactic acid produced by the probiotic bacteria which is a natural preservative. It is best made when the temperatures are cooler, in our warm summers the higher temperatures produce a slightly different community of bacteria which result in a mushier and not so delicious kraut. Cabbage is also in season and thus cheaper and more easily available in the cooler months. For this reason I make my family’s kraut in the winter. Once bottled it stands in our pantry and we use it throughout the year. We are still enjoying last year’s kraut.
Here’s a basic tutorial on how to make Sauerkraut at home. It is imperative you start with organic cabbage, not sprayed with pesticides. The pesticides kill the natural bacteria on the cabbage, which is what you need to ferment the kraut for you. For this reason, pesticide-sprayed cabbage may cause your kraut to fail. You can use anything from simple mason jars to very fancy fermentation crocks to ferment your kraut. I have had the best luck with good old-fashioned mason jars, so that is what I use.
It is very important when making sauerkraut, or any fermented foods to work very cleanly. This prevents contamination from undesirable microbes. Clean all your surfaces with a cloth and warm soapy water before you start working. Make sure all your equipment is clean and wash your hands with soap and running water before you begin.
1. Prepare the Cabbage for Shredding
Peel off the outer leaves of the cabbage and rinse off any sand / soil as needed, so the cabbage is ready to be shredded. Cut out the stems of the cabbage and weigh your cabbage so you know how much salt you will need. You should use 2% of the weight of your cabbage in fine Himalayan salt. As I have become more experienced I have stopped weighing my cabbage, I can guess the salt pretty well now and I can taste test the final mixture to see if I have the salt right. However, in the beginning it is a good idea to make sure you get your salt ratio right.
2. Shred the Cabbage
You can do this whatever way you prefer – using a knife, mandolin, grater or a food processor. You can shred it fine as on a cheese grater or coarser as on a slicer, it all depends how you prefer your sauerkraut. As you shred the cabbage, place it in a bowl and sprinkle Himalayan salt over it as you go. When you’re done you should have a large bowl (or in my case pot as my bowls were too small) of cabbage with the Himalayan salt interspersed throughout the cabbage. It is important to use all the Himalayan salt you weighed out in step 1. It will look something like this:
3. Stir the cabbage and let it stand
Gently stir the cabbage to ensure the Himalayan salt is evenly distributed through it. Then cover it and leave it to stand at room temperature for a half an hour or so to allow the salt to start extracting the juice from the cabbage.
4. Pound the cabbage
Now you need to pound the kraut to get the juice out. We use our marble rolling pin with the handles removed, but any implement that works for you is good. In olden times they used to stamp the barrels of kraut with their (hopefully well-washed) feet. You need to keep pounding the cabbage until it has released enough juice to cover the shredded cabbage. You will need to compact the cabbage down to see if the liquid covers it. If you get tired, compact the kraut, cover it and let it stand a little while you rest. The salt will pull out more water as it stands. The kraut is ready for bottling when the liquid well covers the shredded cabbage like in the photo below:
5. bottle the Sauerkraut
Now it’s time to bottle your kraut. You can use whatever glass or other non-reactive containers you prefer. My favourite is glass mason jars. You can use lids with air-locks if you have them and would like to. I personally have had the best results with mason jars so that is what I use. Ensure your jars are clean and sterile, running them through the dishwasher is a great way to do this. Fill each bottle with kraut no fuller than about 5cm below the top. The kraut will expand as it ferments and you need space to accommodate this. Pack the kraut down tightly and ensure that the liquid well covers the cabbage in every bottle. Make sure the insides of the bottles above the level of the liquid are clean, with no bits of cabbage stuck to them. Screw on the lids. This is what your jars should look like:
6. Ferment the Sauerkraut
Now place your bottled sauerkraut in a cool dark place to ferment. It is a good idea to place it in a tray or shallow cardboard box that can catch the mess if one of your bottles overflows during fermentation. Check your kraut every couple of days and release any built-up gas in the bottle by slightly loosening the lid (called burping the bottle). If needs be, pack the cabbage back down under the liquid. If one of your bottles has too little liquid for some reason, you can fill it up with 2% brine until the cabbage is once again well covered. For the first week or two your kraut will expand and bubble. After that it should stabilise and remain under the liquid. It reaches its peak probiotic content around 5 to 6 weeks and the taste just gets better and better. When you open a bottle of kraut to use, always dish it out with a clean spoon or fork and keep it in the fridge once opened.