ANYBODY can make homemade sauerkraut as it is easy and no special skill or equipment is needed. Cabbage and salt are both affordable and easy to get in any grocery store and these two are really all you need to produce the most delicious, healthy, fermented sauerkraut. I like to flavour my sauerkraut with garlic, bay leaf and peppercorns, but dill, mustard seeds, juniper and cumin or caraway seeds are also very popular choices of seasoning.
Cabbage is a staple vegetable in Eastern Europe (this is where I am from!) and pretty much everybody knows how to make homemade sauerkraut. It is not only healthy and tasty, but also really affordable and keeps well for months!
You will find it to be the star ingredient of traditional dishes like 14th Century Sauerkraut Hunter’s Stew, Pierogi with Sauerkraut and Mushroom Filling, and many salad and condiment recipes used throughout the year. Homemade or not most people love sauerkraut and in some form a jar of it is likely to be found in most fridges or cellars of the Eastern – European households.
Apart from great flavour, homemade sauerkraut is one of the healthiest natural probiotics out there and your gut’s best friend. It is made in a process called lacto-fermentation wherein oxygen free environment common bacteria called Lactobacillus converts sugars present in vegetables into lactic acid. Lactic acid prevents the growth of harmful bacteria. This preserves the cabbage so it stores well and is safe to eat for longer.
How to make homemade sauerkraut in a glass jar or plastic container
You can make Sauerkraut out of any cabbage, with or without a crock. I made my sauerkraut with purple cabbage this time, because why not?!
Plastic container, mason jar or any other glass jar will do just fine. Depending on how much cabbage you want to preserve and turn into sauerkraut the fermenting process can take from as little as one week to as long as a few months. I used 2 smallish cabbage heads (1.7 lb/770g each with the core in), which after about 7 days transformed into 2.8 lb/1kg & 270g of the most delicious and flavorful sauerkraut.
As mentioned to make sauerkraut in your own kitchen you’ll only need cabbage and salt, plus some sort of container to ferment it in.
Water content in cabbage can be as high as 93 percent. Add some salt and you’ll have a great base for a natural brine. To produce this natural fermenting brine I sprinkle about 1 tablespoon kosher salt per every 1000g (2.2lb/1kg) of cabbage. I wouldn’t recommend more than that as it will affect the final flavour.
I have a very thick glass dish with no lid, which is a bit wider in the rim area than at the base. This leaves enough space to place a little plate over the tightly packed cabbage with some weights on the top. I use a small glass jar filled with water, but you can weigh it down with anything that’s clean and has a bit of weight.
Within a day you’ll see juices raising to the top. The only thing to keep an eye on is that the cabbage is completely submerged in the brine to prevent air access, which makes cabbage go bad. You can apply more weights as necessary.
How to store your homemade sauerkraut
While the cabbage is fermenting keep it at room temperature of around 70F (20C). The fermentation process is slower in lower temperatures and faster in higher ones. Don’t go over 75F (24C) to avoid mold forming and your cabbage going off instead of fermenting healthily.
After about 7 days check the flavour and if you’re happy place the container in the fridge (unless you have a cellar, which works fine as well, at about 55F (12C)). You can store your sauerkraut safely in these conditions and enjoy the lovely flavour for months! You can also leave it to ferment for a little longer before placing it in storage for deeper flavour.
Fermented sauerkraut troubleshooting – A few things to watch out for when you make the fermented sauerkraut at home
- No juices come up to the top after 12h. If your cabbage is not submerged properly, after 12h it is more than likely that, with the air access the cabbage will go off very soon. It is possible that the cabbage hasn’t been pounded down enough to give up enough juice or not sufficient weight has been put on the top to help this process. To fix it increase the weight on the top of your cabbage. If for whatever reason this cannot be done, in a separate bowl/bottle, completely dissolve 1 teaspoon of salt in 1 litre of cool water. Top your cabbage up with this solution, but pour only just enough to get the cabbage under the liquid level with the weights placed on the top. Discard the remaining salty water in the sink.2.
- Spots of mold on the top of your jar. If the room where you ferment your sauerkraut in is too warm (the optimal temp is 70F/20C -75F/24C) or if there are bits of the cabbage floating on the top of the brine you might observe spots of mold emerging with time. Simply remove the floating cabbage and the mold with a spoon. Your sauerkraut is still safe and suitable to eat when ready. Move the container to a cooler room, watch out for more escapee-bits and remove them as soon as you see them.
- Bubbles or white foam on the surface of the sauerkraut’s brine. These are signs of normal fermentation. Scoop it out before transferring your sauerkraut into the fridge for the final storage.
- And the most important thing? Trust your senses. You want freshly sour, zesty, firm and crunchy, healthy tasting fermented sauerkraut. If you follow the instructions nothing should go wrong, but if at the end of the fermentation the sauerkraut is limp or mushy and doesn’t taste right or moldy, bin the batch and start again.
- 2 small cabbage heads (about 1.7 lb each)
- Kosher salt
- 2-3 garlic cloves - minced
- 3 bay leaves
- 10 peppercorns (any colour)
- 1 teaspoon of mustard seeds, juniper, cumin or caraway seeds or dill (you can use fresh dill as well as dry), peeled and freshly grated carrot or apple (core removed)
- Remove damaged or bruised leaves from the cabbage, halve or quarter it and using a sharp, pointed knife cut out the cabbage's core. Slice the cabbage into long, thin ribbons about ⅛ inch wide and 2 inch thick.
- Place your shredded cabbage in a big bowl and toss with salt salt. Leave to rest for 30 minutes, then massage the salt deeper into the cabbage with your hands. This helps with releasing the juices, which will later form natural brine.
- When the cabbage has become limp and has released ample juice, it is time to add seasoning of your choice like garlic, peppercorns, bay leaf, etc. Mix it all in and then start to transferring your cabbage in batches into the sauerkraut fermentation container like a crock, glass or plastic container. Always choose a larger container than you think you need as the juices will come up to the surface of the cabbage and the fermentation process might create a foam gathering on the top - you don’t want anything to overflow and make a mess.
- Little by little pack the cabbage into the container pounding each batch with either a tip of a meat tenderiser (or similar) or simply your fist. The aim is to pack the cabbage as tightly as possible, which will help to release more juice and remove as many air pockets as possible.
- When all cabbage is in the fermentation container, place a small plate on the top and top it up with some weights. This will ensure juices rising and keeping the cabbage bits submerged.
- Leave your container at room temperature (65-73F/ 10-22C is ideal) for a week undisturbed. After that time taste your sauerkraut and if you’re happy with the flavour you can transfer it to it’s final airtight container and store in a cellar at (about 55F/12C) or refrigerated for as long as it tastes right (about 9-12months).