The Ultimate Guide to Making Sauerkraut
A detailed guide on how to make your own homemade sauerkraut. Sauerkraut is easy to make, calls for simple ingredients and is a powerful probiotic food. Read on for full instructions.
Welcome to our Ultimate Guide to Making Sauerkraut!
I take it you are here because you want to learn how to make sauerkraut. Great! Sauerkraut is really, really simple to make. You don’t even need to know how to cook to make sauerkraut. You also don’t need a whole lot of fancy equipment. And if that is not enough… by making your own sauerkraut you will be reaping a whole host of health benefits from it, that you would not get by eating the store bought version. Oh, and I almost forgot – if you love sauerkraut and eat it often, making your own will save you quite a bit of cash. While taking less time to make than taking a shower!
Sauerkraut is a classic and traditional lacto ferment, which originated long ago in the Northern areas of Europe. For those of you who have not yet eaten sauerkraut, it is made with cabbage and salt, and thanks to the fermentation process has a pleasant tart flavour. Sauerkraut is still very common in many places, and is almost always served when Icebine is on the menu.
What Does Lacto Fermented Mean?
Fermented vegetables are vegetables which have been stored along with brine, or merely salt, in an airtight container for a period of time during which lactic acid bacteria, or Lactobacillales, act on the vegetables to preserve them. During this process lactic acid is produced, as well as enzymes, B vitamins, vitamin C. The bacteria which develop during the fermentation process are also health giving because they are probiotic.
Why Make Sauerkraut?
Sauerkraut can be found in many places in stores in readymade and bottled form. So why make your own when you can just pick some up at the store? Well, here is the thing.
Homemade Sauerkraut is 100 x Better than Store bought
Most sauerkraut available in stores has been pasteurized. Some brands of sauerkraut are not even fermented products at all, but simply a bottle of cabbage soaked in spirit vinegar.
The reason why this makes store bought sauerkraut so inferior to homemade sauerkraut, is that store bought versions are completely devoid of probiotics. On the flipside, unpasteurized sauerkraut which has been fermented, is packed full of probiotics.
Homemade Sauerkraut is a Powerful Probiotic
During fermentation, the cabbage and liquid in sauerkraut becomes colonised with beneficial probiotic bacteria. These are the same kinds of bacteria which are found in yoghurt and store bought probiotics. Having thriving and balanced colonies of these in our digestive systems is key to good health. Which is why fermented foods like sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, and yogurt are beginning to be seen as superfoods.
If you are someone who loves sauerkraut, then you should absolutely be benefitting from this injection of vital microbes that comes with eating sauerkraut! As it can be difficult to find sauerkraut in the shops which has not been pasteurized, then this means that you should definitely start making your own. Making you own sauerkraut is super easy, super simple, and super cheap!
Before we go on, let’s quickly take a look at why large scale brands pasteurize their sauerkraut, just so that you realise that it is not for any food safety reasons!
If you are interested in reading about the full range of health benefits associated with fermented vegetables, check out our article Health Benefits of Fermented Foods (And Why You Absolutely Should Eat Them).
Why Store bought Sauerkraut is Pasteurized (it is not for health / food safety reasons)
In case you were thinking that big brands pasteurize their sauerkraut for your safety, think again. The very nature of fermented vegetables means that if all of the bacteria are alive and thriving, pathogens cannot gain entry,because the beneficial microbes make it impossible for them. So pasteurization is not to kill off bad bacteria. No, big brands pasteurize their sauerkraut for one simple reason. It is more convenient for them.
This is because if left in its live and probiotic form, sauerkraut continues to slowly ferment (if left at room temperature). This means that it will continue to get tarter, the longer it stays in the warehouses and on shelves. Which ultimately results in a product which varies in taste and strength for the consumer and has a limited shelf life.
Bottom line, a stabilised, pasteurized sauerkraut is a much easier product for large companies to make, ship, store and sell. However, it is then just tart, preserved cabbage in a bottle, and holds no probiotic benefits.
Homemade Sauerkraut is a Great Way to Preserve Cabbage
So, now that we have that out of the way – on a food waste note, making sauerkraut is a great way to use up and preserve excess cabbage. Whether it is cabbage that comes out of your own garden, or cabbage in your cooler drawer which will not get eaten soon enough, sauerkraut is the perfect way to make sure that it does not go to waste.
Making Your Own Sauerkraut is Very Cost Effective
Lastly, a nice perk of making your own sauerkraut is that it is super cost effective. Cabbages are generally a very inexpensive vegetable, especially if bought in season. The only other ingredients you will need are salt and water, and neither of these are very expensive items. And once your ferment is assembled, you will have yourself a top quality 100% raw (and organic if you use organic cabbage) bottle of sauerkraut, which in store might cost you as much as 10 dollars.
So, are you convinced yet that you need to start making this sauerkraut pronto? Then let’s go on and have a look at what exactly you will need before you start to make your first batch of sauerkraut.
What You Need to Make Your Own Sauerkraut
If you have never made sauerkraut before, you may be thinking that you will need to go out and buy a bunch of equipment. Well guess what. You probably have everything you need to make a basic batch of sauerkraut right in your home/kitchen already.
Here are the basic items which you will need before starting your first batch of homemade sauerkraut:
Basic Kitchen Items
In order to process the sauerkraut ingredients you will need to following kitchen items:
- Chopping board
- Large bowl
- Kitchen knife
- Kitchen scale (optional)
The basic ‘equipment’ needed for making sauerkraut is pretty simple. First off you need a vessel for the sauerkraut to ferment in. You can choose the first method and simply use a glass jar with a sealing lid, or you can use a fermentation jar with an airlock, or you can use a crockpot.
Sealing Glass Jar
Ordinary glass jars (like salsa jars, jam jars, or fido jars) work great for fermenting sauerkraut in. As long as they seal properly you can ferment in them.
You probably have some already in your kitchen.
You will have to manually crack the lid once a day to release pressure build up.
Using a simple glass jar is great if you are doing your first batch of sauerkraut and do not want to spend extra money on a fermentation jar.
Fermentation Jar Fitted with a Simple Airlock
These jars are regular console or other glass jars which are fitted with a simple airlock. They function the same as an ordinary glass jar with a lid. The only difference is because the airlock is attached, you do not need to think about cracking the lids on your fermenting sauerkraut.
You never need to remember to vent your fermenting sauerkraut. The is less chance of kahm yeast developing.
You will need to buy one online or in store, as most of us don’t have ‘fermentation jars’ just hanging around.
This setups is great for those who know that they will be doing a lot of fermenting / sauerkraut making and do not want to have to remember or take the time to crack the lid once a day.
Airlocks = Safety
There is also a safety benefit to these airlock jars, and that is that there is no risk of explosion. Yes, explosion. If a jar of fermenting sauerkraut is left without being depressurized (the lid being cracked) for too long, the pressure can build up to such a degree that the jar can crack or explode. This is of course an extreme case, and likely to only happen in places or seasons where temperatures are high. However if you do regular fermenting or sauerkraut making, then it is nice to know that no matter how long you forget about your ferments, there is no risk of exploding jars.
Besides regular glass jars, and glass jars with airlocks fitted, you can also use a fermentation crock pot. These are specifically designed for lacto fermentation of vegetables and come with weights to keep the cabbage or other vegetables submerged. They are usually made out of clay and glazed with a food grade glaze.
Crock pots are pretty big in size usually, so they are great to use if you like making large batches of sauerkraut at a time. They are often handmade, and designed to look attractive, so a great choice if you want an artistic addition to your kitchen.
The large size of crock pots can make them impractical for those who want to make smaller batches of sauerkraut. Some people have reported molding issues when using crock pots, although this could be due to factors other than the crockpot itself. On a cost note, crock pots are generally quite pricey, and so may be a large outlay for a first time sauerkraut maker.
To summarize, crock pots are most suited to someone who makes sauerkraut regularly and in large batches.
Which to Choose?
Are you making sauerkraut for the first time, and are not sure whether or not you will do this regularly in future? If the answer is yes then I would suggest that you simply use a regular glass jar with a sealing lid to try out your first batch of sauerkraut in.
If you find that sauerkraut is something you want to make often, then I would suggest you invest in a jar with an airlock attached. Either a conventional airlock, or a mason jar setup with a pickle pipe. This will make your sauerkraut making even simpler and easier to do. And is well worth the money if you are going to be making lots of sauerkraut.
The next item which you will need for sauerkraut making is a pickle pebbles, also known as fermentation weights. Pickle pebbles are round and weighted and act to press down your cabbage during the fermentation. This ensures that no cabbage sticks above the surface of the salty brine. Any cabbage which pokes above the surface of the brine will go mushy and may even smell unpleasant. Cabbage sticking up through the brine or floating on the surface also has the chance to develop mold.
So as you can see, having a couple pickle pebbles to weight down your cabbage is important.
There are different things you can use as pickle pebbles / fermentation weights:
Purchased Glass Pickle Pebbles
Nowadays one can buy pickle pebbles made out of glass. These are specifically designed for making fermented vegetables like sauerkraut. They come in a variety of sizes so as to fit snugly into different sized jars.
These specially made glass pickle pebbles are very convenient to have. If you feel like investing in your new sauerkraut making skill I would say go ahead and get yourself a couple of these.
On the flipside if you don’t want to have to buy anything to get started with your first batch of sauerkraut, then you can also use the following.
Actual pebbles can also make good fermentation weights. Just make sure that any pebble you want to use is:
You do not want to be using pebbles which are porous and ‘chalky’ in your sauerkraut. The mild acidity of the sauerkraut will eat into the surface of the pebble causing leaching and chalking into your ferment. The kind of pebble you want are those which are very dense, with a hard and shiny surface.
- The right size
The pebble(s) you select of course must also be the right size. They do not need to be completely flat – however they do need to be the right diameter to fit snugly in the neck of your jar. Too small and cabbage bits will still rise and come into contact with the air.
Small Saucers or Other Kitchen Items
You can also have a look around your kitchen and check to see if there are any objects which might serve as a convenient pickling weight. Things like small saucers may be the right size and shape to do the job.
If you just happen to have a set of glass coasters then these can also make great pickle pebbles if they are the right circumference to fit into your fermenting jar.
Besides your fermentation jar and weight, you will of course also need the sauerkraut ingredients. These are very simple and consist of the following:
A Fresh Cabbage
If you can, use an organic cabbage. Organic cabbages are coated with the exact beneficial microbes that multiply in sauerkraut and then in one’s GI tract. Non-organic cabbages tend to have fewer microbes on the leaf surfaces, because pesticides can kill off a large portion. Also, the fresher the cabbage the better. Fresh cabbages will have a denser contingent of live microbes on their leaves, and lower any risk of your sauerkraut developing kahm yeast or mold.
Note: If you use an organic cabbage then you do not have to use any of the starter options listed below.
In traditional recipes for sauerkraut caraway seeds are often added for extra flavor. If you want that signature sauerkraut taste, then use the caraway seeds. However if you do not like the taste of caraway, you can leave it out without affecting the ferment. If you include the caraway seeds in your homemade sauerkraut use roughly 1 teaspoon or pinch per pound of cabbage
The best salt to use for making fermented vegetables like sauerkraut is a pure salt, such as himalayan rock salt or sea salt. However you can also use a regular table salt, such as iodized salt. An iodized salt will not mess with the fermentation process, it’s just not ideal to to include in a health food – because of the additives.
Usually you do not need water for sauerkraut, because once you add the salt the cabbage makes it’s own brine liquid. But, sometimes you may need to top up your jar of sauerkraut with a tiny bit of water. If so, then try to use a non-chlorinated water, such as bottled or filtered water. Chlorinated water has the ability to kill the beneficial microbes (the probiotic bacteria) which are acting on the sauerkraut and keeping it free from pathogens while it ferments. Adding a chlorinated water to the top of the bottle of kraut can cause a small die off there of the lactic acid bacteria. Which can then in turn increase chances of mold or kahm yeast developing.
Microbial starter (optional)
If you are not using organic cabbage, then you will need to inject some microbes into your sauerkraut. You can purchase sauerkraut starters at Cultures for Health or on Amazon. Or, if you make yogurt you can use a little whey. Or, if you are already making other fermented vegetables, you can use a little of the brine from one of the finished bottles.
How Long Does it Take to Make Sauerkraut?
Once you have all the above items together then you are ready to start making your kraut! But before you begin it may be helpful to know how long it takes. So that you can slot in your sauerkraut making at a time which is convenient.
Putting the Sauerkraut together: 15-20 mins max
Making your sauerkraut does not take long. From start to finish the it won’t take you longer than 20 minutes maximum.
Letting the kraut ferment: 1-2 weeks
This part does not take any of your time, as you just need to let the kraut sit on the shelf for this period. However if you need to crack your lid (if you do not have an airlock) then you will want to be staying at home during this period. In other words don’t make the kraut before going on holiday! : )
Hot temperatures = shorter fermentation time
Take note that the hotter the temperatures are, the faster your kraut will ferment. The warm temperatures cause the bacteria to multiply faster, and your sauerkraut will be mature sooner than in cold temperatures.
Cold temperatures = longer fermentation time
If the temperatures are lower, then you will need to allow for a little more fermentation time than in warm weather. You may find that the sauerkraut will need a full 2 week period to reach maturity.
Salt to Cabbage Ratio
Before putting your sauerkraut together you will need to measure out how much salt you need for the amount of cabbage you want to ferment. There are a couple ways you can do this, either by weight or by volume.
Sauerkraut requires 2% of its weight of salt.
To calculate this amount, weigh your chopped cabbage. Then multiply this by 0.02.
weight of cabbage x 0.02 = weight of salt needed
If you want to calculate the salt by volume, here are some handy ratios:
1 quart jar needs 1 ¾ pounds of cabbage which needs 1 Tbsp salt
3 quart jar needs 5 pounds of cabbage which needs 3 Tbsp salt
If you are not big on measuring quantities in the kitchen, you can also salt the cabbage by taste. Add first a cautious amount of salt (about 1 tablespoon of salt to 1–-2 pounds of cabbage), erring on the side of too little. Taste some of the cabbage. It should taste salty, but not unpleasantly so.
Adding the salt by taste works fine usually, but there can of course be times when ones adds slightly too much or too little.
How to Make Your Sauerkraut
So, we are all ready to make this sauerkraut. It’s super easy, and you can’t really go wrong. So, let’s get chopping.
Step 1 – Chop Cabbage
Chop your cabbage up into fairly fine pieces. It should be roughly shredded. Add the caraway in, if you are using it, roughly 1 teaspoon or pinch per pound of cabbage.
Step 2 – Salt Cabbage
If you are measuring the salt out exactly by weight or volume, now is the time to decide how much salt to add. Calculate this and then put the cabbage into your large mixing bowl and add your salt. With your hands, mix the salt and the cabbage together and gently ‘massage’ the cabbage. As you do this, you will see that the cabbage will start to make its own liquid.
Step 3 – Pack the Cabbage into Jars
Now, with your hands or a spoon, pack the your jar or jars full with cabbage. Really press the cabbage down into the jar. Literally stuff as much cabbage into the jar(s) as possible.
Step – Put Your Pickle Pebble on top
Lastly, place your pickle pebble on top of the cabbage, and press it down firmly so that the liquid from the cabbage covers all the cabbage pieces and rise up the sides or over the pickle pebble.
Step 4 – Seal Jars and Leave to Ferment
Now, screw on the lid(s) on your sauerkraut. Place the jar or jars someplace out of direct sunlight, but not in the dark either. So, think countertop or open shelf. Not sunny window sill or a dark cupboard.
Step 5 – Monitor Jars
Now all you need to do is keep an eye on your fermenting sauerkraut, and to crack the lids. This can be done daily, but if you miss a day don’t stress. If you see that the liquid level has gone down some, top it up with a little bit of water with some salt dissolved in. The salt to water ratio is 3/4 tsp salt: 1/2 cup water.
Step 6 – Decide when to stop the fermentation
You can taste your ferment along the way, and gauge how close it is getting to finished sauerkraut. You will notice that the cabbage will get softer, and that the taste will become tarter. When it tastes right to you, it’s time to stop the ferment. Remember that the temperature will influence how fast the kraut matures.
You can stop the fermentation by taking your jar or jars of sauerkraut and placing them in the refrigerator. The low temperature will stall the fermentation process and you can then eat the sauerkraut at your leisure.
Or, if you are going to be eating the sauerkraut quite quickly, say within a week, you can also just place the jar your kitchen cupboard. The kraut may become slightly more tart over the time which you are eating it. However if you are a lover of sauerkraut, then you probably like the tartness of it and a little extra tart won’t be a problem.
Because we wanted to cover pretty much everything when it comes to sauerkraut making, this is a pretty long guide! When you make your first batch of sauerkraut you will see the process is super simple. Not complicated at all, so don’t let the length of this article put you off.
Making your own sauerkraut is a most rewarding thing to do. And once you have made a few batches you may find yourself wanting to try out lacto fermenting some other vegetables. If so, have a look at this guide to get you started. You will find that the process is very similar to sauerkraut making.
We hope you found this article informative, and good luck with your first batch of sauerkraut! Let us know in the comments how it goes. : D