My cabbage is ready for picking and I’m gearing up for my first batch now — and you can join me! New to fermentation? Let me encourage you to give this homemade sauerkraut recipe a try. It’s one of the easiest ferments to get started with, and the results are delicious and packed with boatloads of health benefits (not to mention far superior in taste to store bought brands).
Basic Principles of Lacto-Fermentation
If you’re new to fermenting, it’s all about the lactic acid. Lactic acid is a natural preservative that keeps food from spoiling. It’s the byproduct of naturally occurring bacteria (called Lactobacillus, or “the good guys” as I call them) which consume the starches and sugars in fruits and vegetables.
Not only does lactic acid preserve food, it’s also known to help promote the growth of healthy gut flora throughout the intestine. Food that has been lacto-fermented is easier to digest and has increased levels of vitamins and beneficial enzymes. It also includes antibiotic and anticarcinogenic substances. (Source: Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon)
Lacto-fermentation needs an anaerobic (or oxygen-free) environment in order to thrive and ferments best at 60-70 degrees F.
Because we’re trying to grow GOOD bacteria and eliminate BAD bacteria, it’s important to start your sauerkraut with the highest quality cabbage possible. If you can grow your own that’s always best, but other options are the Farmers Market, or organic varieties from your local grocery store (the fresher your cabbage, the more crisp your final results will be).
Give your heads of cabbage a thorough rinse, but don’t sterilize them. For this homemade sauerkraut recipe, wash and cut up the veggies, mix them with salt, and pound them to release their juices. The salt inhibits the growth of bad bacteria until enough lactic-acid is produced to naturally preserve the food.
Some people like to include whey when fermenting (and it’s recommended when fermenting fruit) as it can offer more consistent results. Whey also allows you to use less salt because it’s rich in lactic acid and lactic-acid-producing bacteria. You can, however, make this recipe without it.
Once fermentation has taken place, it’s halted by storing the ferment in cold storage or the refrigerator at an ideal temperature of 40 degrees F.
Before beginning, it’s important to have a few supplies. You can use good old mason jars paired with these glass fermentation weights and these silicone fermentation lids. I find using these inexpensive products drastically improves the likelihood of a successful batch.
If you’re lucky enough to own a fermentation crock, this homemade sauerkraut recipe will work nicely in that as well.
Homemade Sauerkraut Recipe
(Makes 2 quarts)
- 2 medium cabbage (red or green)
- 2 Tbs sea salt
- ½ cup whey or brine from a previous batch (if not using whey/brine, double the sea salt)
- ½ gallon mason jar or 2 quart-sized wide-mouth jars
- Remove outer leaves of cabbage, core and shred cabbage, and place into a large bowl.
- Add salt and optional whey/brine. Pound with a wooden spoon or mallet for five to ten minutes until juices are released.
- Put cabbage into jars and, using clean hands or a utensil, press cabbage down until juices cover the top of the cabbage.
- Leave 1-inch head-space at the top of the jar (a little more if using glass weights).
- Add optional glass weights and seal lid tightly.
- Keep in a cool location (60-70 degrees) for 3-7 days.
- Once you see bubbling, you can move your sauerkraut to cold storage.
- Sauerkraut can be eaten immediately, or continue to age for even better flavor.
- When making homemade sauerkraut (or any ferment) be sure all equipment and supplies are extremely clean. Sterilization with bleach isn’t recommended; a good cleaning with hot soapy water and a thorough rinse to remove all soap residue is.
- Whenever I finish a batch of sauerkraut, I save the brine in the refrigerator to use in my next batch. This gives your sauerkraut a head start on fermentation because there are already boatloads of lactobacilli in the brine.
- Use the freshest cabbage you can get your hands on. The fresher your veggies, the crisper your final results will be.
- If you don’t have any fermenting weights, you can save an outer leaf of the cabbage and use that as a weight. Be sure it stays completely submerged during the fermentation period. Once fermentation is complete, you can remove the leaf and move jar to cold storage.
- Keep a close eye on the temperature where your sauerkraut is fermenting. If it gets too hot, it will ferment too quickly, resulting in a mushy final product. If the temperature is too cold, it may take weeks on end before it’s ready for cold storage.
- Set your fermenting vessel on a plate or tray. Sometimes, as fermentation occurs, bubbles will cause the brine to spill out over the top of the jar. This makes a big mess unless you’re prepared for it.
- Check your ferment daily to make sure all cabbage is submerged. If any pieces rise above the brine, push them back down and weight them under the brine.
- If you see a white film accumulate on the top of the brine, it’s likely it’s kham yeast. Kham yeast is normal and not dangerous, but you will want to get rid of it. Simply take a clean paper towel and blot it off the surface. Then, take another clean paper towel, dip it into the brine and wipe around the inside edges of the jar. If the kahm yeast reappears, repeat this step as necessary.
- As you’re checking your ferment, keep a close eye out for any fuzzy mold (either white, green or brown). If all cabbage remains submerged and the inside of the jar is clean you should have no problems with mold. But if any appears, you’ll need to discard the batch and start again.
- Because lacto-fermentation is so dependent on climate, this homemade sauerkraut recipe isn’t an exact science. To know if your ferment is successful, you should see tiny bubbles and activity inside your jar.
- I typically allow my sauerkraut to ferment for two months before eating as I prefer the flavor the longer it ferments. This is completely preferential and sauerkraut can be enjoyed immediately after the fermentation period of 3-7 days.