How to Ferment Cabbage and Make Sauerkraut

How to Ferment Cabbage and Make Sauerkraut on TheShiksa.com #homemade #cooking #tutorial

A few months ago I wrote up a short post on a new food “trend” with ancient roots – fermentation. Many of you expressed interest in learning more about the process. I’m no fermentation expert… in fact, I’ve never done any fermenting at home before, but I’ve been wanting to try it. Your interest inspired me. For my first fermentation adventure, I decided to take a crack at the most basic fermented food – homemade sauerkraut. With the help of my trusty kitchen buddy/assistant Ashley and her boyfriend Gary (who happens to be a super talented, farm trained, do-it-yourself culinary school grad with lots of fermenting experience), we made our way through the first half of the fermentation process.

Sauerkraut, a combination of the southern German and Austrian words “kraut,” meaning cabbage, and “sauer” meaning sour, literally translates to sour cabbage. It is created by fermenting cabbage over a long period of time. There are several health advantages to homemade sauerkraut. It’s high in enzymes and vitamin C, both of which are lost during the heating and pasteurization of store-bought sauerkraut. It’s also low calorie and easy to digest. As I was learning about the fermentation process, I became curious about the difference between fermenting and pickling. The most obvious difference is that fermentation creates acid, while pickling requires an added acid, for example vinegar. Both serve as a preservation technique, the science is just a bit different.

Sauerkraut takes about 4-6 weeks to make. Since it’s a “hurry up and wait” kind of thing, I am documenting the adventure here on my blog. I will walk you through what we did, step-by-step, so you can try it at home. You might want to wait a few weeks to see how our fermented cabbage turns out before you take a crack at it yourself. I will post the results here on the blog. We did everything “by the book,” so fingers crossed it will all turn out delish!!

First thing’s first– we bought a crock. A big, honking fermentation crock. It really looked so much smaller online. At first, I was dismayed. After the initial shock wore off, I decided the size was a plus… it means you can make a large batch of fermented veggies at the same time. With the amount of time it takes to ferment, why not make a big batch that will last you several months? And I do mean a big batch. We sliced up enough cabbage to create a decade’s supply of sauerkraut. Seriously.

Here’s the crock in all its crock-ish glory, along with Gary and Ashley, my fearless sidekicks. Aren’t they cute?

How to Ferment Cabbage and Make Sauerkraut on TheShiksa.com #homemade #cooking #tutorial

If you too would like to be the proud owner of a ginormous fermenting crock, click here to check out the one I’m using. Keep in mind that it’s pretty heavy/substantial and kind of awkward to handle. It also comes in a smaller size, which is likely a lot more manageable. There’s an even larger size, but really?? That would require some serious fermentation love. You will also need a set of weights to help weigh down the food you are fermenting within the crock. We used 10-15 liter stone weights; for a smaller crock, use 5 liter weights.

Crocks can be a bit pricey, so if you’d rather not invest in one, there are some less expensive options. You can use just about any container, taller than it is wide, made from enamel, ceramic or food grade plastic. Once you have chosen your vessel, find a plate that will cover the majority of the cabbage. To make sure that the cabbage stays submerged in the brine, a key component of fermentation, you will need to make a weight to place on top of the plate. The simplest option is to place plastic storage bags filled with salt water on top. You can then cover your container with plastic wrap or a lid.

Once we cleaned out the crock, we got to work. With Gary and Ashley’s help and experience, I felt more confident in outlining the process for you here. I’ll check back with you in a few weeks and let you know how our sauerkraut turned out. Meanwhile, here are a few books that helped us learn the basic fermentation process:

The Preservation Kitchen

Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning

Since I’m fairly new to fermentation, I decided to start with a basic sauerkraut, which only requires salt, cabbage, and water. Spices can be added to make a flavored sauerkraut or kimchi. If you feel like experimenting, the same method can be used for other vegetables, including cucumbers, onions, beets, carrots, kohlrabi, red cabbage, and rutabaga. You can even combine a variety of vegetables in a kraut medley if you’re really feeling adventurous.

Have you tried fermentation before? Did it turn out the way you hoped it would? What is your favorite fermented food?

UPDATE: Our kraut turned out great! It took about 5 weeks to achieve the flavor and texture I was going for. This sauerkraut was so much better than the store-bought kind… it was salty, pungent and the lactic acid made it tingle on my tongue. It’s delicious and way cheaper than store-bought probiotics. Good for your gut, good for your tastebuds… can’t beat that!

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How to Ferment Cabbage and Make Sauerkraut

You will need

  • Fermentation crock
  • Cabbage - amount varies based on your needs (we used 3 large heads)
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Kosher salt
  • Kitchen scale
  • 2 fermentation weights
  • Medium saucepan
Prep Time: 20 Minutes
Servings: Varies
Kosher Key: Pareve
  • Before we start, a few pointers. Because fermentation can get a little messy, it’s important that every utensil, towel and piece of food that you use is very clean. You do not want to add any unwanted bacteria to your sauerkraut. We only want the good, pro-biotic kind. When making your own sauerkraut, or doing fermentation of any kind, it’s important to keep in mind that this is an ancient process, developed long before sanitizing cleansers and refrigeration. It’s likely that a small amount of mold or yeast buildup will develop on the top layer of your sauerkraut. This is part of the process and is not a cause for concern. This can be easily removed without coming into contact with your sauerkraut if you place whole leaves on the top of your shredded cabbage, which will create a protective barrier that can easily be removed at the end of the fermentation process. Instructions below.
  • Start by boiling 6 cups of water with 1 tbsp of kosher salt till salt is dissolved. Allow to cool.
  • Meanwhile, clean your cabbage and pull off 5-6 of the external whole leaves, set aside. Shred the remaining cabbage - for instructions on shredding cabbage, click here.
  • Cover the bottom of your fermenting pot with 3-4 whole cabbage leaves. You will only need two layers of whole leaves in the crock, one on the bottom and one on the top.
  • You will need to salt the shredded cabbage before adding it to the fermentation pot. We found this is easiest to do in smaller batches, to keep the salting amount consistent and mixed throughout the fermentation crock. Measure out 2 pounds of shredded cabbage into a bowl (we zeroed our scale with the bowl on, then measured a 2 pound batch).
  • Use clean hands to toss the shredded cabbage in the bowl with 1 tsp kosher salt.
  • Place the salted, shredded cabbage into the fermentation pot on top of the whole leaves.
  • Measure out another 2 pounds of the shredded cabbage and mix with 1 tsp of salt, then add to the fermenting pot. Repeat this process in batches until all of your shredded cabbage has been salted and added to the pot. Pack down the cabbage tightly, but do not crush the cabbage strips.
  • Cover the top of your shredded cabbage with remaining whole cabbage leaves. These leaves will help to collect the yeast and mold that may accumulate at the top of the crock, and can easily be removed and discarded after the fermentation process is complete.
  • Place stone fermentation weights on top of the whole cabbage leaves and press down, but not too hard. You don’t want to damage the cabbage.
  • Cover the fermentation crock with a lid. The salt will naturally draw some water out of the cabbage. After a few hours, check to see how much liquid has accumulated inside of the pot. It should be about 1-3 inches above the cabbage. If this hasn’t happened, add cooled, boiled salt water to the pot. We ended up needing about 3-4 cups of salt water. Pour it over the cabbage till it is submerged (you may not need to do this if your cabbage has created enough natural liquid). Reserve the remaining salt water.
  • Once the water level is where it should be, cover the pot and fill the channel around the lid with cooled salt water to create an airtight seal. This will keep oxygen out of the pot. Once this has been done, do not open the fermentation pot for at least 2 weeks. No peeking! Reserve the remaining salt water brine in a sealed container in the refrigerator; you will need it over the course of the next several weeks.
  • For the first few days, store the pot in a warm place, between 68 and 72 degrees. After a few days have passed, listen for a fizzy, bubbling sound coming from the pot. This is good and means that fermentation has begun. If you don't hear anything, don't worry, it may just mean that the walls of your crock are too thick for sound to travel through. After fermentation has started, move the pot to a cool place, between 59 and 64 degrees, for the remaining fermentation time. If you don't hear anything after 1 week, go ahead and move the crock to a cooler location without waiting for it to sound bubbly.
  • Check your water channel regularly to make sure that it's filled with salt water. At times, the pressure which builds up inside the crock can cause suction, which pulls the channel water into the crock (it happened to us a few days in). If this happens, pour more of the salt water into the channel to keep it full.
  • After the first 2 weeks, check your sauerkraut’s brine level and skim off any mold or bubbles that have gathered near the top. Be sure that your cabbage is always submerged in the brine. Fermentation breeds strange sounds and smells, so try not to worry about those. Close the fermentation crock again and refill the channel with salt water.
  • Your sauerkraut should be ready in about 4-6 weeks. You will know for sure once bubbles no longer appear in the liquid. The longer you allow the cabbage to ferment, the tangier the flavor will be. Check back on the blog in 4-6 weeks to see how our experiment turned out!
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Comments (130)Post a Comment

  1. Beth Carey says:

    I totally failed my first attempt at making sauerkraut. I however am not one to give up! If my grandma could do it so can I!!!

  2. My grandma always had something fermenting! If it wasn´t banana brandy, it was sauerkraut….or she was picking cucumbers.

  3. Yup! Yup! Got some fermentation going on now. We add a bit of caraway seeds to ours which isn´t usually in recipes. Our crock is lead free from Germany.

  4. Seth Perl says:

    Banana brandy sounds interesting.

  5. Bunny Marks says:

    I myself am fermenting thank you very much!! But seriously, I´ve tried some of your recipes and love them all!!

  6. Yes! It´s fun, after you get over the frothypondscum issue on the top! And I agree, beautiful crock. I have my great grandparents´ crock, not nearly as stylish as yours, but very sentimental…

  7. Nancy Ufkes says:

    Looking forward to hearing the results!!!

  8. Sandy Puretz says:

    My Dad has made sauerkraut years ago, but in canning jars, not a crock.

  9. Nope , I got food poisoning from sauerkraut once , ONCE WAS ENOUGH !

    • Eric says:

      I think statistically and scientifically you’re much more likely to contract a food borne illness from a non fermented food. Spinach anyone? Lacto-fermentation relies on a process that makes a very selective environment in which good bacteria can grow and bad bacteria can not. I’m not sure what poisoned you, but it was not proper saurkraut.

  10. Ours has never failed, but it may be dumb luck. :) I believe the key is to keeping track of the water level that creates the seal. And we never use table salt. We use Himalayan pink salt.

  11. Bryan Kobza says:

    ive been pickling for w couple years now, i got a couple 1 gallon glass containers to ferment in, i also ferment in quart size canning jars.

  12. I don´t make kraut, but I have made a lot of beer at home. Been doing it since ´89

  13. What! Put that on some glatt kosher dogs!! Oh boy!

  14. Doing sauerkraut anaerobically turned out so much better and easier than covering with cheese cloth. Used my pickl-its but would love a good Heirsch crock!

  15. Jamie Bean says:

    Pickling cucumbers today! Also love pickled okra and sauerkraut is good too.

  16. My Grandma had several of these large crocks.

  17. Becky Sher says:

    Yes, I have. It´s super easy.

  18. No, but I´d love to!

  19. Bonnie Emm says:

    Oh boy did that kraut bucket stink up the cellar at my grandmother´s house. She eventually switched to canned sauerkraut, and no one could tell the difference except in being able to breathe freely. It´s all in what you add to it before cooking that makes the difference.

  20. Made kimchee in Mason jars a few years back, result was quite good. Used to make dill pickles with my Dad years ago, quite easy as well. Sauerkraut couldn´t be to far off.

  21. Homemade sauerkraut is the best, Tori! Patience is the key, and keep a good water seal. I need to pull my crock out and make some more – thanks for the reminder! Happy fermenting!

  22. Ann M Danen says:

    I have a small proofing box (used to proof bread dough) that I use to ferment with. I have Ball canning jars in 1/2 gallon size and I´ve been pretty successful. The proofing box allows me to control temperature and humidity. I´ve had some good luck with it.

  23. We did kimchi is school.

  24. in israel, to make a jam of sorts, you can take kumquats – and it´s a one to one ratio of sugar and the fruit, and put it into a pot with a lid and let it sit out until the sugar has melted in with the fruit.. maybe a few days to a week. then cook it on simmer ..

  25. Mike Janning says:

    I have made fermented dill pickles for years. Want the recipe, Tori?

  26. I do it all the time. Best probiotic ever. Google the you tube video of Kimberly Snyder making it. Delicious. I use organic green cabbage, chopped fresh ginger, caraway seeds, and kosher salt. Fabulous. So good for your digestion.

  27. I adore sauerkraut, I’m waiting in anticipation to see how this works out!

  28. I have and its delicious. Much healthier, too. :)

  29. my father used to make sauerkraut

  30. grew up making sauerkraut, hate it, won´t eat it to this day.

  31. Have you tried making Kimchee?

  32. I make my own sauerkraut every year, whole heads, just water and salt, the old, traditional Serbian way:)

  33. Brings back memories of sneaking into my Baba´s crock under the porch to steal some sauerkraut! I still have that crock!

  34. Neat crock and yes I have kraut it is good.

  35. Not yet…want to sometime…

  36. Yes..I just use a large jar..although yours is prettier ;-) LOVE homemade sauerkraut!

  37. I regularly ferment vegetables with different seasoning and it is a yummy accompaniment to our meals. Seasonal vegetables like carrots of different colors make very nice fermented drink called kanji in North India, we add mustard powder to it. I love making saurekraut using a mix of green and purple cabbage but do it in a glass container. This crock looks really good.

  38. Yes, but not in a crock.

  39. My mother used to make it but I get the fresh I. The bag kind.

  40. Pat Taylor says:

    Sure do,going to make some Sunday with 20 some heads from the garden. last year´s was wonderful and we used the old school original clocks and used bags of water to seal with…. can´t wait!!! Where did you buy your pot,it´s beautiful!!!

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