Making Sauerkraut at Home

Luke here. Every year I look forward to harvesting cabbage from our garden so that I can make sauerkraut and kimchi. I absolutely love making these vegetable ferments! They are fun to make, delicious to eat, and really good for you! Plus, they are a great way to make use of excess produce from the garden.

In this blog post I'll walk you through making sauerkraut and I'll also throw in a link to my favorite kimchi recipe in case you want to get adventurous!

Sauerkraut is incredibly simple to make. All you need is cabbage and salt! You can add other ingredients like caraway seeds, juniper berries, carrots, or beets, but really all you need are those two ingredients. In reality you also need some microbes to make the fermentation happen, but they come with the cabbage so you don't have to worry about them!

In case you're not familiar, traditional sauerkraut is made though a process called lacto-fermentation, where lactic acid bacteria and yeast consume sugars in the cabbage to create by-products of lactic acid, carbon dioxide, and wonderful flavors. It's the microbes that do all the work, but you have to make sure you create the right environment for them to do what they do best!

Here's what you need:
Note that 5 lbs of cabbage yields roughly 1 gallon of sauerkraut

- Cabbage
- Fine sea salt*
- Caraway seeds**

*roughly 1/2 Tbs of salt per pound of cabbage
**optional, roughly 1 tsp of caraway seeds per pound of cabbage

Start by slicing the cabbage as thinly as you can manage and chop into pieces about 2-4 inches long. A vegetable mandolin really helps with this, but I've always just used a large chef's knife. Weigh out the cabbage to determine how much salt to add. Measure out 1/2 Tbsp of fine sea salt for each pound of cabbage. Add the sliced cabbage into a bowl in layers sprinkling each layer with salt to evenly distribute all the salt you measured out.

Next you need to bruise the cabbage by squeezing it or pounding it with a wooden kraut pounder until water squeezes out and the cabbage turns slightly soggy. Now you can mix in the additional ingredients like caraway seeds. I use 1 tsp of caraway seeds for each pound of cabbage because I really like the flavor and it reminds me of rye bread. But you could add juniper berries, sliced apples, beets, or carrots instead. Whatever you think will taste good!

After your cabbage is bruised and additional ingredients are mixed in, pack it into a glass jar by pressing down on the cabbage as you pack to squeeze out all the air bubbles. This is where a wooden kraut pounder really comes in handy to help you press down the cabbage, especially when you use a large jar. You can sometimes find these wooden pounders at antique malls, but we also sell them in our shop. I like to use quart jars for my kraut, but you can use any size. Just make sure the size is appropriate for the amount of kraut that you are making.

Continue to pack the jar until full. Press down the cabbage so that the liquid brine rises above the level of the cabbage. Finally, check for air bubbles in the cabbage and try your best to squeeze out the bubbles or pack the cabbage in tight enough that the air escapes.

Now its time to lid your jar. I am 100% sold on these stainless steel Kraut Source lids that we now carry in our shop. They make this step so much easier and less messy than the alternative. It is rare that I come across a kitchen gadget that is this elegant and effective.

But if you don't have a Kraut Source lid you can still make great kraut! You just need a smaller glass jar or weight that will fit inside the mouth of your mason jar to weigh down the cabbage while your kraut ferments. The key is to keep that cabbage submerged under the salty brine so that mold doesn't grow on the exposed cabbage leaves. This is something the Kraut Source lid does for you, but with a little creativity you can find something in your kitchen that will do the trick. If you do not have one of our lids, a trick is to fill the smaller jar with water so that is is heavy enough to weigh down the cabbage. And I would recommend covering the top with a kitchen towel or cheesecloth so that flies don't get in your kraut.

Now just wait! Let your kraut ferment at room temperature (65-75 degrees F) for 5-7 days or until it tastes just right. I would recommend sampling your kraut every day to taste how the flavor changes over time and to know when it's time to halt the fermentation.

When the kraut is done, just put a lid on it and pop in the fridge. This will halt the activity of the microbes and keep your kraut preserved for as long as a year. But hopefully you'll finish it off before then!

If you can't get enough and need more recipes and fermentation inspiration check out these two books by Sandor Katz. They are the best! I got my kraut and kimchi recipe from Wild Fermentation. His newer book, The Art of Fermentation, includes some great backstories on how these delicious foods were discovered. Michael Pollan has called Katz his "fermentation guru" so that says enough!

And as promised, here is my kimchi recipe taken from Wild Fermentation.

Happy fermentations! Reach out if you have any questions!

- Luke


Emily S said...

Thank you so much for this post! I have wanted to make sauerkraut at home but I've been too intimidated by the process. How much cabbage did you use to make enough kraut to fit in your quart jar?

Luke Freeman said...

Hi Emily, glad you liked the post! I used one 2 lb cabbage to fill the quart mason jar. Have fun!

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