I have long had a love affair with Sauerkraut but always thought you needed to live in Eastern Europe and have a tonne of cabbage to make it yourself. I was wrong. It is simple to make sauerkraut at home with very basic implements. Best of all homemade sauerkraut is full of goodness most bought products have lost. And, if the spare cabbage you have is not the white hearting cabbage usually recommended for krauting worry ye not!
What is Sauerkraut?
First of all, sauerkraut is not pickled cabbage. Sauerkraut is a fermented food. The vegetables are tightly packed into a weak brine solution and left to ferment.
As air is excluded from the kraut the fermentation produces lactic acid (what gives the kraut its taste). This lactic acid, plus the salt in the brine should stop any harmful bacterial growth.
The resulting liquid is not too salty so it too can be consumed, though some people do prefer to rinse the sauerkraut before eating. Krauting preserves more vitamins than either pickling or chutney making.
Indeed sauerkraut was one of the first foods used to prevent scurvy on board ships as it contains so much vitamin C. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut also contain lots of probiotic micro-organisms and enzymes like natural yogurt. These tend to be lost through the processing of commercial products to increase shelf life. Also krauting is a cheap way of preserving foods as you need use no energy to cook it.
What Vegetables to Make Sauerkraut?
Traditionally dense, white hearting, cabbages are the vegetable of choice, with which to make sauerkraut. That’s in Europe anyway. In the Far East a similar method of fermenting foods is an old tradition with radish and turnip as its main ingredients.
Krauting can be carried out with other things too. Turnips, radish, beans, green tomatoes, lettuce, kohl-rabi and any type of cabbage can be fermented into sauerkraut.
In the spirit of making the most of the veg plot, this year I turned a batch of dark, green, winter cabbage into sauerkraut. I wasn’t sure how well it would work as its not the white, densely hearted stuff the books all recommend. I am pleased to report that dark green, looser leaved cabbages make a very fine sauerkraut indeed. The colour is dark as you’d expect, so it looks different to the shop bought stuff. But more importantly it tastes lovely, sour, acidic, salty and cabbagy. All the things a good sauerkraut should be.
How to Make Sauerkraut at Home
Recipe for Homemade Sauerkraut
- Rinse cabbage and slice finely. Work in 5lb batches.
- Mix 5lb of cabbage with 3 tbsp of salt and leave to settle for 20 mins while you rinse and slice the next batch. This softens the cabbage and starts drawing out the juices.
- Add 2tsp of caraway or dill seeds to each 5lb batch (optional).
- Pack the cabbage into your chosen clean krauting vessel (crock/pot). Press down firmly to draw out juice and remove any air pockets.
- Top off the kraut with a large cabbage leaf, followed by a large clean cloth. Cover with a large plate to keep the air out.
- Weigh down the plate to compress the kraut.
- Cover the whole lot with a lid or cloth to keep out dust.
- Check after 24 hours. The juices should have now risen above the level of your cabbage leaf and cloth cover. If not top up the container with 2.5% brine (0.5 oz salt per pint water).
- Leave the kraut somewhere warm until fermentation stops.
Throughout the whole process of fermentation make sure you check on the crock regularly. Skim off any surface scum and clean the cloth if necessary.
That’s all you need to do – making sauerkraut is a waiting game really. There’s not much effort on your part at all.
How Long for Sauerkraut to Ferment?
This depends mostly on temperature. Generally you can expect fermentation to last 5 to 6 weeks at room temperature. In a warmer environment fermentation could be reduced to as little as a fortnight but the risk of spoilage will greater.
As fermentation slows down the level of juice can drop considerably. If so, top up the crock with more 2.5% brine.
You can tell fermentation is complete when there are no bubbles on the surface of the juice.
What to do with the Fermented Sauerkraut?
Once the sauerkraut has finished fermenting it is ready so you have three options:
- Eat it – my first choice as always.
- Cool Store it – if you have somewhere dark and cool (though not a deep freeze) you can store the whole crock taking out batches to eat as and when desired. You will need to take care of the crock, keeping it well sealed and checking regularly for spoilage. This is the preferred option if you would like to maintain the high levels of enzymes and probiotics in your sauerkraut.
- Can it – useful if you have no cool storage but you will destroy some of the nutrients. I would only do this when its too warm to safely store the excess sauerkraut.
Canning sauerkraut is straightforward, using the hot water bath method described previously. Once the water is boiling I would leave the jars to simmer for 50 minutes as they will be so tightly packed. Be aware though that canning sauerkraut does reduce its nutritional value somewhat (though not entirely as cabbage contains such a lot of vitamin C we don’t seem to destroy it all).
Throughout the whole process, including cold storage top up with 2.5% brine if the liquid is not covering all the kraut.
Krauting Small Batches of Cabbage
You can make sauerkraut in smaller batches in exactly the same way. I’ve recently made some with some spare loose leafed green cabbage using 2 litre jars. As the kraut compresses you may wish to use one fermenting kraut jar to top up the others. That’s okay, just don’t ever top up the fermenting kraut with fresh vegetables.
Compress the contents of the jars with weights (I’ve used glasses of water, or plastic bags filled with brine) and put the lids on loosely. You need gas and juice to be able to escape.
When fermentation ends you can heat process the jars as they are, or decant the kraut to smaller ones first. The canned kraut will need to be processed for 50 mins using the hot water bath canning method.
You can see from the pics how much the cabbage compresses during the whole process.
You can get specialist krauting boards for cutting sauerkraut. And, iideally the kraut would be cured in an authentic earthenware crock, stone jar or barrel for making sauerkraut. But so long as you keep everything you use scrupulously clean and non-corrosive it doesn’t really matter if you have the ‘correct’ utensils or not.
The container for curing the cabbage should be roomy, easy to seal and made of a non-reactive material. So large enamel casseroles or food-grade plastic buckets are suitable as sauerkraut crocks. Small batches are best made in large glass jars.
So as you can see, plant a few extra cabbages and you can be self sufficient in homemade sauerkraut! Simple.
For a more self sufficient future