Making homemade sauerkraut is easier than you might think, and once you've made it a couple of times, you will probably be wondering what took you so long! First off you only need TWO INGREDIENTS: Cabbage and Salt.
I'm going to start by giving you the basic recipe, and then I'll get into the magic of fermentation towards the end.
How to Make Sauerkraut
2.5 lbs cabbage
1.5 Tbs. Salt
(I prefer Kosher or Sea Salt)
Sharpen that knife, then quarter your cabbage and remove the core at the base. Thinly slice your cabbage, or shred using a mandolin. In a large bowl combine the cabbage and salt and start scrunching.
Use both hands to scrunch and squeeze that cabbage for about 10 mins, or until the volume decreases by about half, and there is a bit of liquid at the bottom of the bowl. Stuff into a clean, quart-sized mason jar, add cabbage leaf and a weight to keep everything under the liquid line.
Important: Make sure that gas can escape from the jar - you don't want an explosion! I use plastic lids which are not airtight. If using metal lids, keep them loose, or burp the jars once or twice a day.
Ferment on the counter for 5-14 days, until desired flavor has been achieved (you can taste at anytime). Note that fermentation occurs faster in warmer weather. Once complete, remove the weight and store in the fridge. Enjoy!
Makes approx. 1 quart.
Notes on Fermentation
This type of process is called "lactofermentation" because you are culturing lactic acid bacteria, and differs from other types of fermenting like turning grapes into wine. These bacteria break down the substrate (in this case, cabbage) and create that characteristic sourness, as well as the probiotic qualities. They are present in the air and can be cultured easily by adding salt and keeping the substrate below the liquid line. The desired cultures are anaerobic, meaning they grow and multiply in the absence of air - the liquid is where all the action is!
A couple of cute ferments just getting going; sauerkraut and watermelon radish
Yeast, Mold, & Airlocks
The top of a ferment is the most susceptible to unwanted cultures like mold or yeast. If you get a layer of white growing on the top of your ferment, that is likely some opportunistic Kahm yeast. not only is Kahm yeast totally harmless, but it can be scraped off so you can enjoy the ferments beneath. Cleanliness is key to lowering your rates of unwanted surface growth, and you can always step up your game by using some type of airlock. In fermentation, an airlock allows gas to escape the vessel while keeping out naturally-occurring airborne cultures. Ceramic crocks often include a double lip the lid sets into. Water is poured into the double lip creating a water moat, and a natural airlock. Check out this example below:
Ceramic crock with water moat airlock at the lip, Sienna Ceramics, 2022
Some people use a boiled stone for a fermentation weight; just be sure it is not a water-soluble type of rock.
There is a whole world of fermentation out there, but try your hand at some sauerkraut to get started!