How to Make Homemade Sauerkraut
The world of fermented foods may seem intimidating at first glance, but with a few simple ingredients, you’ll be able to get started in no time. Sauerkraut is a beginner friendly, probiotic-rich staple that everybody should have on hand.
What You’ll Need to Get Started
- A glass wide mouth jar (quart size works best)
- A sharp knife
- A head of cabbage
- The salt of your choice (sea-salt works well)
- A bowl large enough to hold all of the cabbage
- A lid with an airlock
- A mandoline to make slicing easier (Amazon -> Get one here!)
- A fermentation weight (Amazon -> Get one here!)
- Core the cabbage and break it down into thin slices. A sharp knife works fine for this, but a mandoline will create a more uniform finished product. Sauerkraut can be made with either red or purple cabbage.
- Once you have finished slicing the cabbage, transfer it over to your bowl. Ensuring that you have a large bowl will make the next steps easier and less messy.
- Measure out about a teaspoon of salt and sprinkle it over the sliced cabbage. Any kind of salt will work unless it has anti-caking agents or iodine.
- The next step is to work the salt into the cabbage by massaging the salt into the plant material with your hands. You should notice that the cabbage is beginning to release moisture and take on a softer texture.
- Add another teaspoon of salt and continue to massage the cabbage until you notice that there is a significant amount of liquid collecting in the bowl (this liquid is sometimes referred to as the brine). The cabbage should be well broken down by this point.
- Move the cabbage and brine from the bowl and into your clean glass jar. Wide mouth jars make this process easier, especially if you are going to be using your hands to transfer the cabbage from the bowl.
- As you’re adding the cabbage, thoroughly press down each layer to release any trapped air pockets. This step is crucial to ensure that the fermentation process goes smoothly.
- Once all of the cabbage has been added to the jar, thoroughly pack it down one more time with clean hands or another tool. There should be at least an inch of naturally released liquid (brine) forming a top layer and covering all of the cabbage.
- If you have a fermentation weight, now is the time to add it. It will keep the cabbage from floating up past the brine layer, which will help to prevent your fermentation from being overrun with undesirable bacteria. If you don’t have a fermentation weight, there are a lot of DIY tutorials on the internet that are easy to follow.
- It is now time to seal the jar. If you are using a lid that has an airlock for gas exchange, make sure to seal the lid of the jar tightly and to set up your airlock according to its instructions. If you do not have an airlock, it is essential to place the lid on loosely to allow for gas exchange. Otherwise, your jar of sauerkraut may explode.
Note: The the salt level of your brine is very important! Check this article from Make Sauerkraut that explains salinity in more detail and why it is important.
Once You Have Finished the Steps Above
You should check the sauerkraut daily to make sure no bits of cabbage are floating above the brine. If they are, either push them back down or remove them to ensure that they aren’t exposed to oxygen. Oxidation is the main culprit when it comes to at home fermentation projects going wrong.
You should store your jar in a cool, dark place to carry out the fermentation process. Cupboards work well, but if you are putting your jar out of sight make sure that you make a note of it so that you do not forget. Sauerkraut typically finishes fermenting around the one week mark, but it can sometimes take up to two weeks depending on environmental factors. It is recommended that you start sampling periodically after the 5th day of fermentation to test the flavor and texture.
You may notice some residue floating on the top of the brine as the cabbage ferments. This is likely to be a natural byproduct of fermentation and is generally not something to worry about. Just be sure to scrape off any residue before you move your finished product to its final jar for storage.
When the Fermentation Process is Complete
After your sauerkraut is finished fermenting it should be transferred into a fresh, clean jar for storage and be kept in the fridge (brine and all). Fermented foods such as sauerkraut have an extraordinarily long shelf-life. Once a successful fermentation has been achieved, your sauerkraut will stay good for up to a year.
The History of Sauerkraut
When people think of sauerkraut, they typically think of German food, and while it has been consumed there for many years, it’s not actually where this superfood originated. Sauerkrauts roots go all of the way back to the construction of the Great Wall of China nearly 2,000 years ago. Those who were constructing the wall began to ferment cabbage in rice wine vinegar to preserve it, which was the world’s first take on this food.
When sauerkraut eventually made its way to Europe, people began experimenting with how to make homemade sauerkraut with salt instead of rice wine vinegar due to the materials that they had available. The Dutch regularly kept a supply of sauerkraut on their ships, and it is believed that this was because the nutrients present in cabbage helped to prevent scurvy on long voyages.
The historic salt curing method used for making sauerkraut all those years ago in Europe is the one that stuck and is what is stilled used by people all over the world today to make this beloved super-food. The only difference is that in modern times, people sometimes add spices to the cabbage while it ferments to customize the flavor.
The Health Benefits of Sauerkraut
Like most fermented foods, sauerkraut is packed with probiotics. However, it is important to note that this is only true of sauerkraut that is made without pasteurization. Many of the products that are found on store shelves have been heat treated, which ends up killing off all of the stuff that makes it so great for us. In order to get the most out of your sauerkraut, you need to either make it yourself or purchase it raw from a health food store.
Probiotic-rich foods are commonly associated with good digestive health, but that’s not all. Recent studies have found that they may contribute to the following:
- Improved immune function
- Increased cognitive performance
- Improved mood
- Improved blood pressure
- Lower levels of inflammation throughout the body
In addition to all of the perks that come along with the probiotics from fermentation, sauerkraut also boasts all of the vitamins and nutrients found in regular cabbage. That means that when you’re consuming sauerkraut, you’re getting a large helping of vitamin C, vitamin K, and sulforaphane. Sulforaphane has shown promising results in recent studies when it comes to inhibiting the growth of cancerous cells. With all of that being said, it’s easy to see why this food has seen a resurgence in popularity amongst health conscious individuals.
Foods That Taste Great With Sauerkraut
Sauerkraut is an incredibly versatile condiment. It packs a punch of flavor that stands up well in a variety of dishes without overpowering the other ingredients. Traditionally, sauerkraut has been served as a simple side dish that is eaten alongside meat. However, there is so much more that can be done with it, and people have begun to realize just how well sauerkraut goes with a wide variety of healthy, tasty foods.
Typically, sauerkraut works well with any food dish that you would generally use a tangy or salty condiment with. If you aren’t a fan of tangy, salty flavors, you may want to start sparingly with a little bit here and there to acclimate your taste buds. Below you’ll find a list of a few different starting points for how sauerkraut can be paired with other foods.
- As a tangy replacement for lettuce in a sandwich
- Sprinkled over avocado on toast
- Mixed into soup for an extra kick of flavor
- Tossed with roasted vegetables as a side
- Rolled into a wrap or melted into a quesadilla
- As a pizza topping
- Mixed into a salad for a spin on standard greens
With Sauerkraut’s Versatility You Can’t Go Wrong
There is a reason why sauerkraut has continued to be a staple in homes for thousands of years. Its health benefits and ability to effortlessly pair with other foods have stood the test of time. Its long shelf life makes it easy to have on hand to be used whenever you feel like your gut health needs a boost.
Now that you know how to make homemade sauerkraut, you can begin to experiment with this powerhouse of a food for yourself. Once you have gotten the hang of the recipe above, various seasonings and spices can be added during the fermentation process. Don’t be afraid to get creative. Fermented foods are fun!
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