Fermentation is an exercise in transforming food into something completely different and exceptionally tasty. Sauerkraut, sausages, and more are all fermented foods that have undergone a transition into something new. Originally this was done as a method of preservation. Now it lives on through tradition and a culture’s love of taste. Cabbage takes on a completely new flavor and texture due to the fermentation process which is inhibited by the salt and the resulting brine it forms as the water is leeched out of the cabbage. Natural bacterias present in the vegetable are at play here. Don’t worry though, this bacteria is an example of a beneficial microorganism that overpowers any unwarranted bacterias and transforms the raw cabbage into a delicious food. It’s also healthy to boot!
Naturally fermented sauerkraut is loaded with vitamin C and K and also has probiotic benefits due to the fact that is a fermented food filled with beneficial bacteria. This is due to the presence of lactic acid by naturally occurring bacteria such as Lactobacillus Pediococcus. This natural sauerkraut is much tastier and healthier than the store bought variety, which is often cabbage that has been soaked in a salt and vinegar solution. Once you have the formula down you can experiment with making your own type of sauerkraut. We’ve made sauerkraut with kohlrabi, turnips, kale, a spicy version, or even adding carrots to your regular cabbage mixture. Grated raw red beets make an amazing slightly sweet and acidic version that goes great with salmon. Making your own sauerkraut is easy, fun, and delicious!
Back in the old days when preservation was a must households would keep a stoneware crock with fermented cabbage or pickled cucumbers all winter long. You don’t have to go out and buy an expensive crock, although it does look cool in your pantry, it is not necessary. You can buy one of these plastic picklers or if you have a homebrew store near you make it yourself. All you need is a plastic bucket, lid, and an airlock.
Here’s what you need to get started.
A one gallon crock, glass jar, or plastic container
A plate that will fit inside the container
2 medium heads of green cabbage, 1.5 kg or about 3 1/4 pounds total
35 grams or approximately 3 tablespoons of kosher salt, 2.5% of the total weight of cabbage
2 bay leaves
10 juniper berries
A smaller glass jar filled with water to use as a weight
A loose fitting lid
Using percentages is the best way to measure out the salt. The salt should be 2.5% of the weight of the cabbage. Using this method you can use any size cabbage you want. Just take the total weight of the cabbage and multiply it by 0.025. That’s the amount of salt you need to ferment your cabbage.
1. First you need to remove the outer leaves from the cabbage. Usually the first one or two will do. Make sure that it is free of blemishes and clean. Once you have removed these layers you need to take out the core. Cut the heads of cabbage in half, then cut these halves in half again.
2. Now that you have the cabbage quartered you can easily remove the core by cutting it out with a small knife.
3. Next the cabbage needs to be shredded. You can slice it thinly by hand or use a food processor fitted with the grater attachment. Grate the cabbage into a large bowl.
4. Add the salt, bay leaves, and juniper berries and mix well with your hands. Massage the salt into the cabbage so that it starts to release liquid. You want the cabbage to release a lot of liquid in the next 24 hours or so.
5. Once you have this mixed well you’ll want to pack it into your container as tight as possible. I put a little in the bottom and use a potato masher to flatten it down. Keep adding a little more cabbage and push it down until all of the cabbage is in your container. Add the remaining liquid from the bowl.
6. Now you need to weigh it down. The weight helps to draw water out of the cabbage and create a brine, which will keep the cabbage safe from any unwanted bacteria.
7. I received a stoneware crock with stone weights for Christmas and use that but you can just use a small mason jar filled with water and topped with a lid.
8. Place the plate or weight on top of the cabbage and push down really well. If using a plate, top it with the mason jar filled with water. If using a plastic container, place the lid on and keep it a little loose. If you have one with an airlock, tighten the lid and fill the airlock with water. The crock I have is equipped with a channel that you fill with water to prevent air from getting in while allowing gas to escape. You don’t want constant air because the oxygen will inhibit unwanted bacteria that can spoil your kraut.
9. Place the crock or jar in a cool dark place overnight. After 24 hours check to see if it formed a brine and the cabbage is submerged in liquid. If it is not covered then you can take a cup of water mixed with a teaspoon of salt and add it to your crock. Once the cabbage is covered place it in a cool dark spot of your house and let it ferment. This may take anywhere from two to four weeks. Check on it daily to see how it’s doing.
10. Sometimes a little bit of mold or scum will form on top. Don’t throw it away! You just need to take a ladle and remove it and you’ll be good to go. After a few weeks, check to see if fermentation has started. It should smell like sauerkraut. Try a little. If it tastes sour like sauerkraut then you’re ready to go!
11. Remove the kraut from the crock and place in smaller containers in your fridge and enjoy!