How to Make Sauerkraut

How to make sauerkraut

Red Cabbage Sauerkraut

I love sauerkraut (well I love cabbage in general, but that’s another story), and I know that ‘real sauerkraut’, i.e. homemade sauerkraut, is full of not only all the nutrients and phytochemicals that make cabbage a superfood but it contains probiotics as well. It tastes great and it helps with digestion too, well that’s what I notice anyway. The store-bought variety may in some cases taste good, but it’s not that healthy for you, and it’s expensive. It usually has way too much salt, not necessarily good salt at that. And in most cases it’s pasteurized, which means all the healthy probiotic bacteria that make sauerkraut so much more awesome and easily digestible than just plain cabbage have been killed off. Along with most of the nutrients I imagine. Mind you, you could do far worse as far as food choices go. But why settle for mediocre? Why not choose awesome? You’re worth it.

For a very long time I have wanted to make my own sauerkraut. I talked to people who made their own, I read about how to make sauerkraut and watched some videos. It sounded so complicated. I thought it was difficult to make, that there was some ‘knack’ to doing it, and if I didn’t get it right the result would be a mushy, smelly disaster. Well, I finally got up the courage to try, and found out that making sauerkraut is so easy! It’s got to be one of the easiest things to make. It takes a bit of time, not too much considering what you get in the end though. And I chop all the cabbage by hand, so if you use a mandoline* or food processor it won’t take that long at all.

My sauerkraut came out beautiful the first time, using green cabbage. The second time I put in too much salt, but I made both white and red cabbage sauerkraut, and the red cabbage kraut is such a cool color that’s all I want to make. It’s more nutritious too because of the anthocyanins in the red cabbage. So last time I made it, I wrote down the recipe, and I think I got the salt just right.

Now don’t let the length of this recipe scare you off. The process is really easy, it’s just that it looks like a lot because I’ve tried to explain the process really thoroughly. If you have any questions just ask them in the comments area below. And if you want, skip down to the bottom and watch the video by Sandor Ellix Katz, author of one of my all-time favorite recipe books, Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods

Ingredients:

8 cups finely chopped cabbage (red/purple or green)
1 tbsp Himalayan or Celtic sea salt **

** I like to use coarse sea salt, during the process of massaging the cabbage the grains of salt will break down. I usually put on some good music, or listen to an audio book while I’m doing it and I know I don’t have to pay much attention until all the grains of salt have dissolved. It should work just as well with finely ground salt as well.

Here’s a tip if you’re using red/purple cabbage, as you’re massaging the cabbage your hands will get stained purple. An easy and effective way to get the stain off is to rub a cut lemon on your skin where it’s stained and then rinse your hands. So if you don’t want to have slightly purple hands, be sure to have a lemon on hand (no pun intended) if you’re using red/purple cabbage.

Special Equipment:

You’ll need a 1 litre (1 quart) glass jar with a tight fitting lid. I like the jars with a glass lid and rubber seal that clamp down. A canning jar with a tight fitting lid will work fine too.

Instructions:

Wash and drain the cabbage well. Cut off any outer leaves that don’t look so good. Cut off and save one of the nicer looking outer leaves and put it to one side. After you’ve made and packed all the sauerkraut in the jar, you’ll fold up this leaf and put it on top to help press down the cabbage to keep it under the brine.

Finely sliced red cabbage

Finely sliced red cabbage

Slice the cabbage as finely as you can. You can also use a mandoline*  or food processor to slice the cabbage as finely as you can. The reason you want to slice it so finely is to maximize the surface area. This will make it easier to massage and quicker to ferment.

Add the sliced cabbage to a large mixing bowl, along with the salt. Using your hands massage the salt into the cabbage by grabbing handfuls of the cabbage and squeezing it like you would squeeze out a large sponge then let go and drop the cabbage back into the bowl. Grab another handful and do the same. Repeat this until the cabbage starts to get soft.

As the cabbage softens you’ll notice more and more juice in the bottom of the bowl. The juice will dissolve the salt, which will in turn draw more juice out of the cabbage. That’s exactly what we want. Don’t drain the juice off, it’s the brine that will allow the cabbage to ferment without going ‘off’. You’ll also notice that the volume of cabbage gets smaller as you massage it.

Homemade sauerkraut

Homemade sauerkraut

Keep massaging until the cabbage is quite soft and limp, almost the consistency it is after being stir-fried or steamed. You want to keep massaging until the volume of the cabbage is reduced by about half. If you used coarse sea salt, it should all be dissolved. If you taste a bit at this point, you’ll notice that the cabbage has lost that sharp, pungent taste that raw cabbage has. I love the cabbage like this, even before it’s fermented. I often use this technique for cabbage and kale when I’m making a salad, sometimes adding a bit of olive oil and massaging that in as well.

Now it’s time to pack the jar that you’ll ferment your sauerkraut in. Grab a few handfuls of cabbage and put them into the jar and add a bit of the brine, just to the top of the cabbage. Reach in with your hand or a wooden spoon and press the cabbage down into the bottom. You want to release any air pockets and pack the cabbage in as tightly as you can. Continue to pack the cabbage into the jar in this way, a few handfuls at a time until you nearly reach the top of the jar.

Add more brine if you need so that all the cabbage is under brine. This prevents bad bacteria from forming during the fermentation process. Take the outer cabbage leaf you saved at the beginning and fold it up so that it will just fit inside the mouth of the jar. You want to use it almost like a lid to keep the sliced cabbage pressed down underneath the brine.

It's easy to make sauerkraut

It’s easy to make sauerkraut!

Put the lid on the jar, and leave it out at room temperature for about 4 days. Your fermentation time may vary depending on the temperature and how fermented you like your kraut. Keep out of direct sunlight.

Take off the lid once a day to release any gasses that may build up from the fermentation process. Use a wooden spoon to press the cabbage down and release any gas bubbles that have formed. That helps it ferment better and ensures that the cabbage is kept under the brine level and helps prevent the brine from overflowing your container.

You’ll notice the color of the cabbage has changed after massaging it, and it will keep changing over the next few days as it ferments. I always do a taste test starting at day 3, and then daily after that. Once the sauerkraut gets to the point that you like it, put it in the fridge to slow down the fermentation process. I’ve had some last for about 2 months before I ate it all, and it just kept maturing and getting better.

Makes 1 litre of sauerkraut

This is a great video by fermentation guru Sandor Ellix Katz that shows you just how easy it is to make sauerkraut. This video was really instrumental in getting me started making my own sauerkraut. It shows just how easy it is and gave me the confidence to try it myself. It does a really good job showing how to massage the cabbage. Some good info on the benefits of fermenting vegetables too.

* What is a Mandoline?

Swissmar Borner V-Slicer Pro Mandoline V-4000A mandoline is great for slicing fruits and vegetables. They are usually made from plastic, or less commonly from stainless steel, with a very sharp set of interchangeable blades that fit into a ‘ramp’. The best blades are made from surgical steel and will keep their edge for years. They are probably the quickest way of slicing anything. Far faster than a knife, and easier to to set up and clean than a food processor. Those who have and use mandolines swear by them.

The interchangeable blades allow you to slice at different thicknesses, julienne, and shred. Because the blade is so sharp slicing is quick and easy, but it’s also easy to slice your finger. So be sure the use the safety holder. They are not as awkward to use as you might think at first glance. Cleaning is easy, in most cases you just have to rinse.

Swissmar Borner V-Slicer Pro Mandoline V-4000, 7-Piece Set

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DISCLAIMER: The statements enclosed herein have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products and information mentioned on this site are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information and statements found here are for education purposes only and are not intended to replace the advice of your medical professional.

106 Responses to “How to Make Sauerkraut”

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  1. Victoria says:

    This is a wonderful recipe! I am just finishing my last large jar of it, and starting another. I used red cabbage and added somw caraway seeds. It just got better and better the longer it stood in the fridge. Thanks so much!

  2. Heather says:

    The first time I made sauerkraut was awesome. But I have failed the the last 5 batches I have tried. I tried in gallon containers, then again in quart containers, then I bought a fermenting crock, and last night dumped out four gallons of slimy smelly cabbage. I just have no idea what I am doing wrong. I have had it turn pink, brown and white, limp, slimy and funky!

    So, I will try to keep a lid on it and will check it after 4 days and hope that works. Thanks for the information.

    • Tom says:

      Not enough salt? There are some published ratios of cabbage to salt that should work well. You may need to weigh your cabbage to get the proportions right.

      Also, are you making sure that *all* the cabbage stays under the brine?

    • Donna says:

      Hey Heather something just occurred to me, are you using organic cabbage? Perhaps your ‘failures’ are because the cabbage has been sprayed with things that are killing off the good bacteria. I wonder how irradiation affects the fermentation process too.

  3. danielle says:

    Thankyou so v much for sharing such beneficial and cheap information. There is an abundance of poisonous food today , this article is a real treasure to reballance what we loose becoming addicted to the other bad foods. Your patience and precious time is really appreciated. :) :)

    • Donna says:

      Thank you Danielle! So many foods are simply poison. So many people may scoff at that and respond with something like “well I eat it and I’m still alive”, but not all poison kills quickly. It’s shocking what the FDA passes as safe for human consumption.

  4. Susan says:

    Hi. I’ve just bought an 8 to 10 litre traditional fermenting pot for sauerkraut. I’m guessing that you have to fill up the pot so that the weighting system works: so that does mean that, according to your recipe which uses 8 litres of cabbage for a 1 litre jar, I’ll have to use 64 to 80 cups of chopped cabbage in it?! Would really appreciate your advice on this.

    • Donna says:

      That’s awesome you managed to find a traditional fermenting crock Susan! I would guess you probably do have to fill it, but I’ve never used a fermenting crock. I’d have to see it in person to try to figure out if there was a way to not fill it to the top. Did it come with instructions?

      • Susan says:

        I found it on Trade Me & have yet to pick it up. After panicking a little at the idea of dealing with 64 cups of cabbage, I had a look at a blog at http://theshiksa.com/2013/06/04/how-to-ferment-cabbage-and-make-sauerkraut/ in which a very relaxed-looking couple (possibly no children?!) make sauerkraut in an 8 litre pot without ending up in an asylum at the end of the process. Their recipe calls for three cabbages, which sounds manageable. I’m hoping to pick up some tips from the seller (who has another for sale) when I pick it up. Even if the making process doesn’t require a whole village, we’re not going to have room in our fridge to store that much sauerkraut (DH already growls at my box of ghee) so I may well end up selling it again. :/

  5. jenny says:

    Hi. Ive used whey in my sauerkraut to ‘start’ it and after 4 days ferment with no lid off at all…. its come out with bits of white-ish slimey layers in places. Beautiful colour……smell not strong and only a bit iffy…… tasted ok but not tangy and salty….. is it ok to eat with small patches of this white slimey stuff. Thanks.

    • Donna says:

      Hi Jenny, I’m not really sure. When it’s fermented, generally it doesn’t taste too salty, but it is tangy. You might want to try another batch and see how it does and compare the two. Or even better, if you can find someone locally who has made sauerkraut take a look at it and tell you what they think.

  6. Corrie says:

    I’m so excited to try this! I have a big head of red cabbage just waiting…..but I have one question before I get started. I live in a very warm climate. It’s about 78-80 in my house most of the time. Do you think that will inhibit the fermentation process? Thanks!!

    • Donna says:

      I think it will accelerate the fermentation. So I’d suggest putting it in the coolest spot you can, and then just check it daily starting sooner… or possibly a couple times a day if it’s fermenting really quickly. Be sure to crack the lid a couple times a day to release the pressure that builds up when it’s really actively fermenting. Use a wooden spoon to push the cabbage down and release the gas bubbles. I’d advise putting it in a bowl or baking dish or something just in case the brine overflows when it’s forming a lot of gas bubbles. When it gets to a nice tartness that you like you can put it in the fridge and it will continue to ferment, but much more slowly. The flavors just get deeper and nicer during that time.

  7. Corrie says:

    Thank you! Glad to hear it will accelerate the process… I was worried it would mold. Really appreciate your response!

  8. Moira says:

    Just as a matter of interest, I saw in another recipe that said the cabbage should not be washed as the bacteria will helpl with the fermentation. What is your opinion?
    Thank you for your video I am inspired to make some now

    • Donna says:

      Yeah I agree Moira. Especially if it’s organically grown. If grown with pesticides, I’d only was it to try to wash off some of the poison, I wouldn’t be doing it to wash off the natural friendly bacteria.

  9. H. Feifs says:

    Just harvest a batch with kohlrabi (green) and it turned out to be excellent. Hard to parse the kohlrabi from the cabbage but the tats is not effected , seems a little sweeter.

  10. Joseph says:

    Hey, great read and video. I truly enjoyed it, and also you have a great presence/energy.
    Thanks
    Joseph

Trackbacks

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  3. [...] I’ve only made sauerkraut from green cabbage, but this time, red cabbage fit the bill. I used this simple recipe and enjoyed the contemplative action of massaging salt into cabbage, followed by filling jars and [...]



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