All it takes is 3 simple ingredients and a bit of time to make healthy and delicious sauerkraut at home. Homemade sauerkraut is tastier than anything you can buy in the store, full of beneficial probiotics, and so much easier to make than you may think!
Ok. so you are probably thinking what I had always thought – making homemade sauerkraut sounds cool, but it seems like a lot of work and fermenting food sounds kind of scary.
Would you believe me if I told you that making your own homemade sauerkraut is super simple and totally safe?
I’ve been making my own sauerkraut at home for about a year now, inspired by my amazing sister in law Nicky (who not only makes her own sauerkraut but grows her own cabbage!) and how easy she made it sound.
If you are a sauerkraut fan, I highly suggest you give a try to making it at home. Not only is it better and fresher tasting than what you would buy jarred in a store, homemade sauerkraut is unpasteurized – so you are not killing all the wonderful healthy bacteria which makes homemade sauerkraut a great source of probiotics if you are also looking to support a healthy gut system.
What do I need to make homemade sauerkraut?
You can buy a crock or fermenting lids for making fermented foods like sauerkraut, but all you really need to try your hand at it at home is 3 simple things:
- a mason jar
Cheesecloth is also something that I use now to cover the top of the jar, but when I started out I used a piece of paper towel to cover it.
Another nice to have tool would be fermenting weights. These are used to hold the kraut down and keep it submerged under the brine. I have heard some people use rocks in a plastic bag for this, but I just tamp down my sauerkraut and make sure that the level of brine is above the cabbage and it has always worked fine for me.
Fancy fermenting equipment is fun to have, but not a necessity to trying your hand at it – especially if you don’t know how committed you will be to continue making your own sauerkraut in the future – so don’t let that hold you back!
How is sauerkraut fermented?
Sauerkraut is fermented by a process called lactic acid fermentation.
Healthy bacteria, lactobacillus, live on the surface of cabbage and other fruits and vegetables. This bacteria eats the sugars in the cabbage and converts them into lactic acid – which is a natural preservative.
The use of salt in sauerkraut fermentation is meant to inhibit the growth of other bacteria that may be present. Lactic acid bacteria can withstand high salt concentrations which other bacteria cannot, so the salt solution gives the lactic acid bacteria the best advantage to thrive and multiply while the other bacteria are suppressed.
How to make homemade sauerkraut
When fermenting anything you want to make sure that you are working with fresh produce and clean equipment for the best chance of a good ferment.
Fresh produce and clean equipment reduce the chance of other (not good) bacteria being introduced to the ferment and taking over before the lactobacillus can thrive – which will spoil your batch.
Start by thinly slicing your cabbage with either a knife or a mandolin.
When your cabbage is sliced, transfer it over to a large (and clean) bowl then sprinkle the sea salt over it.
Using clean hands, start mixing the salt and cabbage together gently massaging the salt into the cabbage.
As you continue to massage the cabbage you will feel it beginning to release moisture and eventually become limp.
When your cabbage is pretty limp and there is liquid gathering at the bottom of the bowl, it is time to transfer the sauerkraut into your mason jar.
Carefully transfer the sauerkraut into the mason jar making sure to also pour all of the liquid it has expelled into the mason jar with it. This liquid is the start of the salt brine that ferment will need to inhibit the growth of non-beneficial bacteria.
Pack the sauerkraut down nice and firm with the back of a spoon, then cover the top of the jar with a piece of cheesecloth that’s been folded over a couple of times (or a piece of paper towel) then secure with an elastic band.
Place your sauerkraut out of direct sunlight and in a slightly warm spot in your house. I usually leave mine in a corner on my counter that is hidden from the sun.
After 24 hours, if your sauerkraut has not produced enough brine to completely cover the cabbage, dissolve 1 tsp of sea salt into 1 cup of water and pour the solution into the mason jar. Using the back of a spoon, tamp down the cabbage again to ensure that all the pieces are submerged in the liquid. Remember, the brine is what inhibits the bad bacteria, so any cabbage that is exposed is risking spoiling the batch – especially in the first couple of days while the good bacteria (lactobacillus) is trying to get a foothold in the ferment.
How will I know that it is ready?
The time that it takes to ferment your sauerkraut is going to depend on the temperature of the area that you have it stored. The cooler the room, the longer it takes to ferment, and the warmer the room the quicker it takes.
I normally leave my sauerkraut to ferment for about 4-5 days.
How long you leave yours will depend on the temperature in your space, and also how strong a flavour you like on your sauerkraut. It can take as few as 1 day to as many as 14 – or even more.
I check my sauerkraut every morning to make sure of a couple of things:
- that the cabbage is submerged in the brine, if it is not, I tamp it back down. Don’t be worried if you see the sauerkraut bubbling – that’s fermentation at work!
- to see if there is any mould or scum on the cabbage or brine. If there is, this is not a big deal – simply remove the offending bits and carry on with the fermentation
- the smell of the sauerkraut. It should change a bit daily as the fermentation progresses. As the days pass, the sauerkraut should smell stronger but not bad.
The best way to check if your sauerkraut is ready is to taste it. I start tasting around day 3 or 4, and when the kraut has reached a flavour that I like I remove the cheesecloth, put a lid on the jar, and place it in the fridge.
Can anything go wrong?
If you notice any growth that shouldn’t be there, you can simply remove it and continue to ferment.
If, however, things don’t smell right I always say: when in doubt, throw it out. I’ve only ever had one batch that did go well and ended up being tossed.
Dietary Considerations and Accommodations
This recipe for sauerkraut is suitable for the following diets:
- vegan & vegetarian
- gluten free & dairy free
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- 1 lb shredded cabbage
- 1 tbsp fine sea salt
- Start by making sure that all of your tools are clean and that your mason jar is sterilized.
- finely shred the cabbage using a knife or mandolin.
- Place the shredded cabbage in a bowl and sprinkle with the sea salt
- Using clean hands, mix the salt through the shredded cabbage and gently massage it into the cabbage. Massaging the salt encourages the cabbage to release moisture, which will become the liquid the cabbage ferments in.Massage the cabbage for 5 minutes or so, or until the cabbage becomes limp and a fair amount of moisture has been released.
- Transfer your sauerkraut and all the released liquid from the bowl into the mason jar and press it down with a fork to compact it. Make sure no pieces of it are sticking to the sides of the jar.Using a piece of cheesecloth that has been folded over a couple of times (or a paper towel) to cover the top of the jar and close with an elastic band.
- Place the jar somewhere warm and out of direct sunlight and leave overnight
- The next day check on your sauerkraut. If it hasn't released enough moisture to cover the top of the cabbage (this is always the case for me), add 1 tsp of sea salt to 1 cup of water and add to your mason jar.Tamp the cabbage down with a spoon until it is all submerged in liquid, secure the cheesecloth (or paper towel) then put the jar away again.
- Check on your sauerkraut daily to make sure it is submerged in brine and that there is no mould or scum growing on it. If there is, remove it and carry on.As the fermentation process continues, the sauerkraut with change in colour, smell and taste.The sauerkraut is done fermenting when it has reached a flavour that you like. The longer it ferments, the stronger the flavour. I start checking for taste on about day 3.
- When the sauerkraut has reached a flavour you like, remove the cheesecloth, secure the lid, and place in the fridge. The sauerkraut will still continue to ferment in your fridge, just at a much slower pace.
- If when checking on your sauerkraut you notice any mould or scum growing, it is still safe – just remove it from the top and continue fermenting.
- The smell of the sauerkraut will change as it ferments. It will start smelling more sour, but shouldn’t smell off. If your sauerkraut doesn’t smell good a couple of days in a row, likely something is off with your batch. Through it out and start again.
- As we are trying to provide an environment for only the beneficial bacteria to survive, not introducing any non-beneficial bacteria is very important. ALWAYS make sure that you are working with clean, fresh cabbage and that your hands and tools are clean.