A little over a week ago, I posted a picture of some chopped up cabbage with the caption “Future sauerkraut” followed by some words in obligatory hashtag fashion. (Vegan, raw food, science, etc.) The number of questions I’ve gotten about making your own sauerkraut ever since has been astonishing, so I thought I’d lay out the very simple process for you here. How simple, you ask? Let me just say that writing this post will take more of my active time than actually making a batch of homemade sauerkraut.
You only need two ingredients: cabbage and salt.
Weigh your cabbage. Multiply that number by 0.02 and that will tell you how much salt you need. (If you don’t have a cooking scale, do yourself a favor and treat yourself; I got my digital kitchen scale for ~$25 on Amazon, and I never bake without it.)
Get as much organic cabbage as you like. One head of cabbage is usually all I use for a batch, and I end up with a ton of kraut for less than two dollars. Feel free to use red or green cabbage… your preference, and don’t wash it.
Using a large chef’s knife, cut the cabbage head into quarters, then remove the core and slice the remaining cabbage into thin(-ish) ribbons. Chop the reserved core into smaller, bite-sized pieces.
Toss your cabbage with the measured amount of salt (2% of the cabbage’s weight) in a bowl, squeezing it together with your hands to begin breaking down cell walls. Once the cabbage has been aggressively massaged (no need to be gentle here), pack it into a non-reactive vessel, glass or ceramic being ideal. (Plastic isn’t my favorite since this will be a high-acid food and we don’t want it to leach chemicals. Metal, other than stainless steel, is definitely out of the question as it will contribute an off-flavor and likely corrode.)
Press down on the cabbage and place a large plate or other object over the cabbage, and weigh it down with a clean, non-porous object. (I use canned veggies as my weights.) Over the next few hours, the cabbage will begin to release the water previously trapped within its cells. After several hours have passed, press down firmly so that the cabbage is submerged completely in the liquid its given off. It MUST be submerged to encourage proper fermentation and inhibit mold growth. (If more liquid is needed, measure out as much water as you think will be necessary to cover it all. Weigh this amount of water and multiply it by 0.05; this will tell you how much salt to dissolve in the water before adding it to the cabbage.)
Cover it loosely with a kitchen towel or something similar. Lids aren’t a good idea, since the fermentation will be producing carbon dioxide gas, and we don’t want any ‘splosions. Put the future kraut in a warm place (anything in the 75-90ºF range is glorious) and let it sit until it’s taken on your preferred level of tang.
After about a day, you should start to see bubbles forming at the surface. This is great news… it means you didn’t mess anything up and the magic of fermentation is underway! Hooray! (If any mold develops, discard it and make sure everything is submerged in the brine. (Though if anything smells “off” to you at any time—spoiled or rotten—toss it out and try your luck again.)
Let this go for about five days, then give it a taste. Sour enough for you? Great! Cover it and place it in the fridge, where it’ll keep for at least a year (as long as the cabbage is fully submerged in the brine). Want it tangier? Let it sit out for a few more days, tasting it periodically to gauge its bite, and when it’s to your liking, cover and store as mentioned above.
Et voilà… you now have homemade sauerkraut!
Shut up. It’s really that simple?
Yes. If you’d like to doll it up with some flavorings, feel free to do so when mixing the cabbage and salt. I always throw in some garlic (about 2-3 cloves per cabbage head) and a few black peppercorns and caraway seeds. Juniper berries are also rad if you feel so inclined.
Is it a special salt you use?
It needn’t be. Table salt isn’t ideal, since it’s refined and processed to high hell, and the added iodine isn’t exactly friendly to our little cultures that want to do all the fermenting. Any sea salt will work, though I like to err on the side of unrefined, so I go with Real Salt. It’s minimally processed, and as such, naturally retains a ton of trace minerals that help boost and support the fermentation. It’s the salt I’ve been using in all my cooking for a few years now. Highly recommended.
Wait… no cooking? No canning? Really?
Yes really. This sauerkraut is ALIVE! It’s a raw, living food, and it carries with it a whole bunch of awesome probiotics that your digestive (and immune) system will thank you for in the long run. Enjoy this tasty business atop sandwiches, sausages (preferably vegan), soups, or as a tasty side dish.