How to make sauerkraut (fermented cabbage)

Sauerkraut was the first thing I made when I discovered the world of fermentation and all it’s amazing health benefits. I hadn’t eaten it before but I knew I would totally love it because I love cabbage.

Today, we are talking about sauerkraut; one of the most healthiest food. I’m going to show you how to make this delicious food the natural way without the use of any starter cultures. This is called wild fermentation and has been used by many generations. You only need 2 ingredients to make sauerkraut. However, you can also add different veggies, herbs and spices for flavour.

Wild fermentation is a natural process in which we create the perfect environment for the naturally occurring bacteria (lacto bacilli) to thrive and proliferate. Various strains of these bacteria are present on the surface of all plants and vegetables. When exposed to oxygen, the lacto bacilli on the vegetables die. So then, in a wild ferment we create an anaerobic environment for the naturally occurring microbes to grow and multiply. These lacto bacilli feeds on the naturally occurring sugars to produce lactic acid and more bacteria.

I know a lot of people are afraid to make it because a) it contains bacteria and b) It takes 4-6 weeks to be ready. Now listen, there’s good and bad bacteria and the bacteria in sauerkraut is the good kind so nothing to be scared of. Furthermore, the naturally occurring bacteria in sauerkraut is important for your gut and overall wellness. These microbes are pretty much what’s keeping you alive, so you might want to get familiar with them. I suffered from irritable bowel syndrome for many years but through consuming fermented foods including sauerkraut I’ve been symptom free for over a year now.

Sauerkraut is the most common fermented food. It’s delicious, so easy to make and doesn’t require any special equipment. All you need to do is combine shredded cabbage and salt and shove it into a jar. The cabbage sweats and releases a brine which you then use to fully cover the cabbage. Over a period of 4-6 weeks of the cabbage fully submerged in the brine,  the cabbage slowly ferments and produces crunchy and tangy sauerkraut goodness.

The thought of making your first batch of sauerkraut can be quite intimidating. I remember my first attempt at it, It was a total disaster. It was too salty and went all mouldy and mushy. I went out and bought another big head of cabbage and gave it another go. And I succeeded the second time around. It turned out beautiful and I absolutely loved it right from that first taste. It was crunchy, sour, and tangy. My husband on the other hand was put off by the smell that to this day he hasn’t touched it. And that goes for anything fermented, poor guy was traumatised by the sauerkraut smell (I must warn you it does smell badly).

DO NOT BE AFRAID, BACTERIA KEEPS ALIVE. Without it we wouldn’t be able to survive. Ferment without fear. There has been no records of death from fermentation.

Here’s a simple recipe to get you started.

Ingredients/equipment

1 head cabbage
Salt
Optional spices
Glass jar
Large bowl
Cutting board and knife

Method

  1. Rinse your cabbage and remove the outer layers. Peel off a whole leaf and save it for later use. Cut the cabbage into 4 quarters and start slicing as thinly as you can. It doesn’t matter if it’s not even, it will still taste delicious. Add to a bowl.

  1. Sprinkle salt on the cabbage. The salt draws water out of the cabbage and creates the brine that covers the cabbage during fermentation. The salt ratio is 3 Tablespoon salt per 2 kg of cabbage but I never measure I simply taste as I go. You want it to be salty but not ocean water salty.
  2. Massage the cabbage, do this for a good 5 minutes. The cabbage should be wilted and you should see some juice coming out. If you would like to add spices, herbs or other vegetables do so now, and give it a good mix before transferring to the jar.
  3. Add the cabbage into the jar, pressing it down with your fist after each addition as tightly as possible. Do not overfill the jar; I learnt this the hard way. During the first few days of fermentation, the cabbage swells up and if it’s too full you will get juice all over the counter. The cabbage should be fully submerged in brine. If you haven’t got enough brine (it’s always been enough for me), simply mix water and a little bit of salt and pour over the top until fully submerged.

  1. Now take the cabbage leaf you set aside at the beginning and use the base of the jar to cut out a circle. Use this to cover the cabbage to avoid little bits from floating, which could cause mould. You need some weight to put on top on the cabbage to ensure that everything stays submerged. I use a small glass filled with salty water and it works perfectly.
  2. Cover the jar with a clean cloth and secure with a rubber band. Within a day or two you will notice bubbles throughout the jar and the cabbage will rise up to the top of the jar. I always place the jar in a bowl in case it swells up and causes an overflow.
  3. Ferment at room temperature for 4-6 weeks. Many people think that when the cabbage starts bubbling that means the sauerkraut is ready, but it’s not. I’ve seen many 3-day sauerkraut recipes but at this stage the fermentation has barely started and all you have really is salty cabbage. So you should really give it more time around 3 – 6 weeks. I love my kraut at 6 weeks; it’s just perfect. Sometimes I let it go for longer and it only gets better and better.  Taste your kraut at different stages of its development and find out where you sit on the spectrum. Try it at 3 days, 1 week, 2 weeks, 4 weeks, and 6 weeks.
  4. At around 2 weeks, the cabbage will reabsorb the brine. Simply press it down until everything is submerged. If there isn’t enough brine to cover the cabbage, mix a little bit of salt with water and pour over the cabbage. Your sauerkraut is ready when the saltiness, rawness and sweetness have subsided. It should be crunchy and tangy not salty. When I haven’t got any sauerkraut left in the fridge, I start eating it at 4 weeks but still let it got for 6 weeks. If I have some already, I let it sit for longer.
  5. When you are happy with the taste around the 4 – 6 weeks mark, move your sauerkraut to the fridge to slow down the fermentation. Sauerkraut can be kept in the fridge for many months; the longest I have kept mine was a year. Sauerkraut is just like wine, the taste gets better with age.
  6. I eat sauerkraut with almost everything; it goes well with just about anything. My favorite is with avocado on toast, absolutely scrumptious. To keep my supply going, I start a jar of fermented vegetables every 4 weeks. This craft is very addictive; once you get the hang of it you will not be able to stop. I love experimenting with different spices and herbs, and the possibilities are endless.

Notes

Salt

Use pure and unrefined salt without additives. When I make sauerkraut, I don’t measure salt. My general rule of thump is; taste, taste, taste. Start with less salt, and add more as you go if needed. And taste, taste, taste. You want it salty but not ocean water salty. If you are into measuring then use this rule; for every 5 pounds of cabbage, add 3 Tablespoons of salt. Don’t be too fussed about the salt ratios, these are guidelines a little less or more salt won’t ruin your sauerkraut.

Mold/yeast

You might notice something growing on top of your sauerkraut, don’t panic it’s normal. This is either kahm yeast or mold. If it’s yeast, simply scoop it out and if it’s mold you are better off throwing the whole jar’s contents away. Kahm yeast is white, powdery and harmless.

Sauerkraut can also be found in supermarkets and health food stores, but you must read food labels. Most of these store-bought fermented foods contain sugar and vinegar, which kills the good bacteria and defeats the whole purpose of fermentation.

Happy fermenting!