Homemade Sauerkraut – A Gateway Drug

Mar 20, 2019 | Recipes

Some people really love sauerkraut, others absolutely can’t stand it. That’s fine. I’m one of the people who loves it. I have since I was a kid. Good sauerkraut on a sausage with mustard is a thing of true beauty.

If you find yourself in the category of people that don’t like sauerkraut, maybe you want to skip today’s post. Come back on Friday when we talk all about everything I know about salsa. Having said that, if you are at all interested in at home fermentation, you should stick around whether you like sauerkraut or not.

Alright, enough preamble. Let’s jump into this.


What is sauerkraut?

Simply put, sauerkraut is fermented cabbage. What that means is that bacteria, specifically lactobacillus, is used to break down sugars naturally present in the cabbage to lactic acid. This creates a highly acidic environment which prevents bad bacterial growth. It’s much less complicated than it sounds, but we’ll get into that in a minute.

Lactobacillus is a very safe bacteria that humans have been relying on for thousands of years. It is used to develop everything from yogurt, wine, and cheese, to chocolate, beer, and obviously sauerkraut as well as it’s Korean counterpart, kimchi.

You’ve probably heard of probiotics. Good bacteria that help you to digest and develop a good gut microbiome. You’ve probably choked back a few bottles of kombucha or kefir in hopes of reaping their mythical benefits. Well, those mythical benefits are actually in large part due to the lactobacillus bacteria used to create those beverages.

The reason we are talking about homemade sauerkraut is that it’s a really good jumping off point into the world of fermentation. Once you figure out the basics, the sky is the limit.


How is sauerkraut made?

Real sauerkraut is made with three simple ingredients. Cabbage, salt, and water. That’s it. Sometimes carrot, and flavourings like caraway are added for appeal but they add nothing to the actual fermentation process.

The cabbage is cut or shredded into pieces and salt is added. The cabbage is then massaged a bit to kick start the breakdown of the cell structure. This is left to sit for an hour or two. Over that time, water will be extracted from the cabbage as it starts to break down. Now, the cabbage is packed tightly into a jar or other airtight container, filtered water is used to top it off, and the jar is sealed. The cabbage is then left at room temperature for a week or two to ferment. Everyday the jar needs to be burped, or opened quickly to let out excess gas.

Once the cabbage has reached the desired level of fermentation, it is put in the fridge to slow the process. The beauty of this is that you control the level of fermentation. Taste the cabbage everyday and once it reaches a point that you are happy with, put it in the fridge. It’s ready to eat.

The sauerkraut will last in your fridge for months if not longer. The longer it sits, the better it’s going to taste.


Risks

A lot of people get worried about making themselves sick when they first start learning about fermentation. Although there are some minor risks involved, lactofermentation is actually a very safe process. And, if something does go wrong and your cabbage is rotten, it will be very obvious.

The thing that you need to keep in mind is that fermentation is essentially controlled rot. I know that that can be a disconcerting thought, but it’s true. It’s also important to remember that fermented foods are a large part of our diet, (wine, chocolate, and salami for example are all fermented). The reason I bring up the controlled rot element of this is because of the smell.

When you first open the lid of your sauerkraut after it’s been fermenting for a few days, it’s not going to smell the greatest. Really, it’s going to smell like bad farts. That’s normal. It should start to smell sour over a few days. That’s exactly what you want.

What you don’t want, and how you can tell if it is bad, is mold growth. Or if it smells really, really bad and you’re questioning it, don’t eat it. It’s as simple as that.


Things To Remember

The key to preventing spoilage when making sauerkraut, or any fermented food is to keep everything clean. The jar and lid should be sanitized and the cabbage should be thoroughly washed.

Also, be wary of using tab water for fermentation. City water is treated with chlorine specifically to prevent bacterial growth. Because we are literally trying to grow bacteria, city water might not be the best option here. Distilled water is often recommended but a good bottle of mineral water would probably work just as well.

Lactobacillus is an anaerobic bacteria. What that means is that it thrives in an oxygen free environment. This is why you want to ferment the sauerkraut in a sealed jar. One of the many benefits of this is that a lot of bad bacteria needs air to survive. Having said that, there are anaerobic bad bacteria, but those don’t like acidic environments which is exactly what the lactobacillus is creating by developing lactic acid. That’s why it’s such a safe process when done correctly.


Storing Sauerkraut

The sauerkraut that we are talking about today is not being processed like you would with modern pickles. Meaning we aren’t boiling it in jars. The reason for this is very simple. The purpose of boiling pickles or something like that in a jar is to kill off bacteria and create a vacuum in the jar to prevent spoilage. But again, we don’t want to kill our bacteria.

If all you are looking for is that sauerkraut flavour without the benefits of the present bacteria, boil away. But to me, that kind of defeats the purpose. All this means, is that you have to store your sauerkraut in the fridge rather than in the cupboard.

Making Sauerkraut

Chef Ben Kelly Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut

This basic sauerkraut recipe will open the door to the possibilities of fermentation. 
Servings: 1 L

Ingredients

  • 4 cups Chopped and washed cabbage
  • 1 tbsp Kosher Salt
  • 1/4 cup Distilled or filtered mineral water

Instructions

  • In a clean bowl combine the sauerkraut and salt. 
  • Massage the cabbage with your hands to start breaking down the sell structure.
    Do this for about five minutes. 
  • Let the salted, massaged cabbage sit out at room temperature for about two hours. 
  • Pack the cabbage tightly into a sterile 1 L jar leaving at least 1 inch between the top of the cabbage and the lid of the jar.
  • Top the cabbage with enough water to just cover it. 
  • Put a lid on the jar and place it in a dark temperate part of your house. 
  • Everyday over the next week or two burp the sauerkraut by quickly lifting the lid. 
  • After about four days of fermentation you can start tasting the sauerkraut for doneness. 
  • Continue to burp and taste the sauerkraut until you are happy with the taste at which point the jar should be placed in the fridge. 
  • Once the jar goes in the fridge, wait 24 hours and then you can start to use the sauerkraut as you would like. 
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Conclusion

Throughout this blog I have used and talked about a lot of fermented products. From fish sauce to sriracha, to miso paste and soy sauce, they are all made using the same basic principles that I have outlined here. It really all comes down to the main item being fermented, salt, and time. This is why I think it’s important to understand the basics of fermentation. It’s all around you all the time whether you know it or not.

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