What Do I Need to Make Sauerkraut?
At the most basic, all you need is cabbage, salt, and some sort of container to store it while it’s fermenting. It’s important that the cabbage remain submerged in the salty liquid during fermentation. When fermenting in a mason jar, inserting a cabbage leaf over the packed kraut will serve the same purpose.
The cabbage near the surface tends to float, so when fermenting in a mason jar, you need to either tamp down the cabbage a few times a day or place a large outer leaf of cabbage over the surface of the shredded cabbage to hold it down.
How Long Does It Take To Make Sauerkraut?
For a small batch like we’re making today, the minimum time is about three days, though the kraut will continue to ferment and become tastier for many days after that. As simple as it sounds, the best rule of thumb is to keep tasting the kraut and refrigerate when it tastes good to you. The sauerkraut is safe to eat at every stage of the process, so there is no real minimum or maximum fermentation time.
What Can Go Wrong?
Not much! You may see bubbles, foam, or white scum on the surface of the sauerkraut, but these are all signs of normal, healthy fermentation. The white scum can be skimmed off as you see it or before refrigerating the sauerkraut. If you get a very active fermentation or if your mason jar is very full, the brine can sometimes bubble up over the top of the jar. This is part of the reason why I recommend using a larger mason jar than is really necessary to hold the cabbage. If you do get a bubble-up, it’s nothing to worry about. Just place a plate below the jar to catch the drips and make sure the cabbage continues to be covered by the brine.
It is possible that you might find mold growing on the surface of the sauerkraut, but don’t panic! Mold typically forms only when the cabbage isn’t fully submerged or if it’s too hot in your kitchen. The sauerkraut is still fine (it’s still preserved by the lactic acid) — you can scoop off the mold and proceed with fermentation. This said, it’s still important to use your best judgement when fermenting. If something smells or tastes moldy or unappetizing, trust your senses and toss the batch.
Mason Jar Sauerkraut Recipe
1 medium head green cabbage
1 1/2 tablespoons Himalayan salt
Optional flavour enhancers: Ginger, garlic, mustard seeds, paprika, caraway seeds.
2-quart widemouth canning jar (or two quart mason jars)
- Sanitize: When fermenting anything, it’s best to give the good, beneficial bacteria every chance of succeeding by starting off with as clean an environment as possible. Make sure your mason jar is washed in hot water and rinsed of all soap residue. You’ll be using your hands to massage the salt into the cabbage, so give those a good wash, too.
- Slice: Discard the wilted, limp outer leaves of the cabbage. Cut off a good size leaf that is clean and set aside (we will use this to put on top of the finished mixture). Cut the core out of the cabbage and slice the cabbage crosswise into very thin ribbons.
- Combine: Transfer the cabbage to a big mixing bowl and sprinkle the salt over top.
- Get your hands dirty: Begin working the salt into the cabbage by massaging and squeezing the cabbage with your hands. At first, it may not seem like enough salt, but gradually, the cabbage will become watery and limp — more like coleslaw than raw cabbage. This will take about 10 minutes. If this is strenuous on your arms and wrists, massage the salt for as long as possible and take a break. While the cabbage is resting,it softens and makes it easier to come back and finish. If you’d like to flavor your sauerkraut, mix in your optional extra.
- Pack: Grab handfuls of the cabbage and pack them into the canning jar. Keep pressing down on the mix with a spoon or your fist to pack it in nice and tight. Pour any liquid released by the cabbage it into the jar.
- Seal: Once all the cabbage is packed into the mason jar, get the cabbage leaf that you set aside and cut it to fit the jar opening. Place it on top of the kraut mix. This helps to seal in the moisture, and keep the cabbage weighed down. This is important so that the mix is submerged in the brine.
- Lid: Place the lid on the jar, and put it out of direct sunlight (the pantry is a good place).
- Press the cabbage every few hours: Over the next 24 hours, press down on the cabbage every so often using the big leaf on top. As the cabbage releases its liquid, it will become more limp and compact and the liquid will rise over the top of the cabbage
- Ferment the cabbage for 3 to 10 days: As it’s fermenting, keep the sauerkraut away from direct sunlight and at a cool room temperature. Continue to check it and press it down if the cabbage is floating above the liquid. Also, take the lid off every day, so that the gases don’t build up in the jar.
- Taste: Start tasting it after 3 days — when the sauerkraut tastes good to you, refrigerate it, this helps to slow the fermentation process down. You can also allow the sauerkraut to continue fermenting for 10 days or even longer. There’s no hard and fast rule for when the sauerkraut is “done” — go by how it tastes.
- Store: This sauerkraut is a fermented product so it will keep for at least two months and often longer if kept refrigerated. As long as it still tastes and smells good to eat, it will be. If you like, you can transfer the sauerkraut to a smaller container for longer storage.
- Sauerkraut with Other Cabbages: Red cabbage, napa cabbage, and other cabbages all make great sauerkraut. Make individual batches or mix them up for a multi-colored sauerkraut!
- Canning Sauerkraut: You can process sauerkraut for longer storage outside of refrigeration, but the canning process will kill the good bacterias produced by the fermentation process. See this tutorial from the National Center for Home Food Preservation for canning instructions.
- Larger or Smaller Batches: To make larger or smaller batches of sauerkraut, keep same ratio of cabbage to salt and adjust the size of the container. Smaller batches will ferment more quickly and larger batches will take longer.
- Hot and Cold Temperatures: Do everything you can to store sauerkraut at a cool room temperature. At high temperatures, the sauerkraut can sometimes become unappetizingly mushy or go bad. Low temperatures (above freezing) are fine, but fermentation will proceed more slowly.
Want to Know More? Check Out These Resources:
- The Healthy Eating Site has great information about sauerkraut for people of all experiences with fermenting.
- The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz – Check them out for a great all-around resource on fermentation in general, fermentation problem-solving, and fermentation health benefits.
- Cultures for Health – A popular online resource for fermentation cultures and equipment, but I also turn to them for a lot of information on fermenting. They also have a free e-book on lacto-fermentation that is available if you sign up for their newsletter.