Today, I’m excited to share a step-by-step tutorial for making your own super-nutritious sauerkraut. John and I have been having fun making sauerkraut at home. First, let’s look at why homemade sauerkraut is such an important food to add to your diet.
Recently, on the blog, we discussed the importance of keeping our gut microbiota healthy and happy. Those tens of trillions of beneficial microorganisms living in our gut provide us with significant health benefits that only they can supply. We need them, but they also need us. All they ask for is to be treated kindly.
Often things such as psychological stress, antibiotics, or our modern American diet can severely damage the normal balance of our microbiota. This is called intestinal dysbiosis, and when it happens our health will suffer.
If the balance of our microbiota has become disrupted, we can help restore it. One of the primary ways of doing this is by introducing probiotics into your system. Probiotics are live beneficial microorganisms, primarily bacteria. You can do this by taking commercially prepared probiotics. However, they can become quite expensive especially if your whole family needs to take them.
We have found that one of the best ways to get probiotics into our systems is through fermented foods. This is how our ancestors got probiotics. John recently wrote about the enormous probiotic content of homemade 24-hour probiotic yogurt. For the recipe, see here. It contains as much or more than the most potent commercially made probiotic.
Another one of those fermented foods, easily made at home and packed with probiotics, is fermented cabbage or what is commonly known as sauerkraut.
Fermented Cabbage Is Packed With Beneficial Organisms
When shredded cabbage is combined with salt and placed in an airtight jar, the lactic acid bacteria naturally present on the cabbage leaves starts fermenting the sugar contained in the cabbage.
Within two to three days of fermentation, there is a rapid turnover of different species of lactic acid bacteria, which go from the less acid tolerant to the more acid tolerant species. The process is usually completed after three weeks.
It is estimated that the concentrations of lactic acid bacteria in sauerkraut reach at least 1 billion colony forming units (CFU) per gram. The actual numbers of probiotics in sauerkraut are difficult to determine because of the variables in the fermenting process.
It has been traditionally thought sauerkraut contains four species of lactic acid bacteria: Leuconostoc mesenteroides, Lactobacillus plantarum, Pediococcus pentosaceus, and Lactobacillus brevis. However, current research has suggested that even more species of probiotics are present. See here. This is significant because for some people the diversity of species is more important than the CFU’s of a specific species.
Because of the lactic acid bacteria, sauerkraut has a long shelf life. It’s the lactic acid the bacteria produces that gives sauerkraut its distinctive sour taste.
Let’s go make some sauerkraut!
How to make sauerkraut
Sauerkraut is extremely easy to make. The only ingredients you’ll need are cabbage and some finely ground sea salt (table salt has anti-caking agents and additives that could turn your brine cloudy).
The equipment you’ll need is a little more complicated, but not much. I use Culture for Health’s Fermented Vegetable Master that comes with a one-gallon jar, an airlock and lid, ceramic fermentation weight, and an extra solid lid for storage after fermentation is complete. We’ve been using it for about a year, and it’s worked perfectly every time.
To shred the cabbage, we use this mandoline. It’s great for cutting the cabbage into nice thin strands. A smaller mandoline is not suitable for cutting cabbage.
After the cabbage is shredded, you’ll need a couple of bowls where the cabbage can be massaged and pounded. Once the cabbage has produced enough brine you can pack your cabbage into the fermenting jar and you’re good to go. In three weeks, you’ll have great tasting sauerkraut.
For variety, you can add shredded carrots, caraway seeds or dill seeds. Whatever you like.
Here’s a closer look at how to make super-nutritious sauerkraut every time.
Step 1. Prepare a clean workspace in the kitchen
It’s best to start with a clean environment. Wash and dry your jar of any soap residue. Be sure your hands are clean too because you’ll be using them to massage salt into the cabbage. (You don’t want to introduce any harmful bacteria to your fermentation.)
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Fermented Vegetable Master (This includes one-gallon jar, airlock and lid, ceramic fermentation weight, and an extra solid lid for storage after fermentation is complete.)
- Sauerkraut pounder
- Kitchen scale (For this post, we are using 8 1/2 pounds of cabbage)
- Sharp chef’s knife
- Measuring spoons
- Large bowls
- Mandoline (For shredding cabbage)
- Fine Sea salt
Step 2. Cut each cabbage into quarters, remove each core, and shred cabbage
Remove the outer leaves of the cabbage. Set aside a few large leaves to be used later. Cut off the stems of each cabbage, cut into quarters, and cut out each core. We shred our cabbage on a large mandoline at the lowest setting because we want thin strands.
Salt is needed to pull water out of the cabbage to produce brine. This is where the good bacteria live and grow. The ratio of cabbage to salt is five pounds of cabbage to three tablespoons of salt. As the cabbage is shredded, begin to place the shredded pieces in a bowl. After each one-quarter of each head of cabbage is shredded, sprinkle some salt on it. This will allow the salt to work on the cabbage as you continue shredding more cabbage. Just remember that you’ll need to have enough salt for the whole process.
Step 4. Massage Sea Salt Into Cabbage
Once all the cabbage is shredded, you’ll massage the salt into the cabbage in order to get the cabbage to release water. When your hands get tired (and they will), then mash it with your pounder (we use our Vitamix tamper). Keep massaging until the volume of the cabbage is reduced by about half or more. There should be quite a bit of brine in the bowl. This takes about 30 minutes.
Pack the cabbage with its liquid brine, a few handfuls at a time, into your one-gallon fermentation jar. Reach in with your hand and pack the cabbage down releasing any air pockets. Pack it really well!!! This is important. The brine should rise to about one inch over your cabbage. If your cabbage doesn’t produce enough brine, you can make your own and add it to the cabbage. To make more brine, mix together 4 cups of filtered water with 1½ tablespoons of sea salt. We do this often and there doesn’t seem to be a problem with taste. Remember the brine should be about one inch over the cabbage.
Step 5. Cover cabbage and top with weights
Remember some of the cabbage leaves we kept in the beginning? We are now going to cover the shredded cabbage with those. Then cover the cabbage with the ceramic weights, attempting to keep the cabbage from floating out of the brine.
Step 6. Cover with airlock top
Moisten airlock, place into the lid, and cover your jar. The idea is to prevent oxygen from getting in, but still allowing the cabbage to breathe. As gasses are generated from the fermentation, oxygen flushes from the container so that eventually the container simply contains the gasses produced by the fermentation. Fill the airlock halfway (to the line) with filtered water and put the cap on.
Keep the jar of sauerkraut away from direct sunlight (as sunlight can de-activate the vitamin C) in a cool room. For us, that is our basement. After a few days, the liquid brine starts to bubble. The fermentation has begun!
The brine may start to rise to the top of the jar. Be careful here! The first time we made sauerkraut, the liquid brine rose to the top of the jar almost into the airlock. We had to open the jar and remove some of the brine. The cabbage still came out perfect, but this is something you want to avoid.
Fermenting sauerkraut is actually very forgiving. As concerned as we were, we got a delicious sauerkraut on our very first attempt. Follow these easy steps and you’re sure to make super-nutritious, super-delicious sauerkraut every time.
When your sauerkraut is ready, remove the top cabbage leaves and throw them away. You can keep the jar for several months in the fridge (although I must say we eat ours up in just a few weeks).
Enjoy! Let me know in the comments your experiences making sauerkraut. Have you ever tried making your own fermented foods?
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