Homemade Sauerkraut

Making sauerkraut at home is very easy. You just need a few pieces of equipment and time for it to ferment. Sauerkraut is also a good introduction to making lacto-fermented pickles. I always wish the store bought stuff was a little less sour, so making it at home is great because I can control the level of fermentation.

The only equipment you really need is a scale, a clean, non-reactive container, a weight to keep the cabbage submerged, and a covering or lid that allows gases to escape as it ferments. Then the only ingredients you need are the cabbage and salt.

Here’s how:

Step 1: Trim, cut, and wash the cabbage. Then drain the cabbage and weigh it. It’s ok if there is still a little water clinging to it.

Step 2: Calculate and weigh the salt. Basic rule of thumb is you want a salt level of 2.5% to 3% to inhibit unwanted bacteria growth during fermentation. That means you’ll need about 26 to 30 grams salt per kilogram of cabbage, or 1 oz. per 2 1/2 lbs. Because salt grain sizes vary depending on the producer, it’s best to weigh everything, but if you can’t, an average head of cabbage yields about 2 1/2 lbs and if you use Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt, 1 oz is about 3 tablespoons.

Step 3: Mix the salt and cabbage in a large bowl, using clean hands to crush the cabbage and work the salt into it. Let it stand for about 10 minutes. Next pack the cabbage tightly into your containers to no more than 3/4 full, then top off with any liquid left in the bowl. I like wide mouth mason jars. You’ll need 2 quart jars or one half gallon jar per head of cabbage.

Step 4: Weigh down the cabbage. A sandwich bag filled with 2.5% salt solution works well as a weight. Filling the bag with salt solution instead of water means if the bag leaks, it won’t dilute your your ferment. It also forms a seal over the cabbage to help prevent mold growth. If your cabbage seems too dry you can add some of the salt solution to the jar first to make sure the cabbage is completely submerged. If you start doing a lot of fermentation and don’t want to keep polluting the oceans with plastic bags, I recommend investing in some glass weights.

Step 5: Cover and ferment. I cover the jar with a fermentation lid and let the sauerkraut ferment at room temperature for 7 to 14 days. These lids are fitted with an airlock that allows gases to escape while preventing contaminants from entering the jar and so far I’ve never had any issues with mold or spoilage. Instead of a fermentation lid, you can also use a two-piece lid left loose enough for some of the gases to escape, but you will need to check it every day to make sure the cabbage is still submerged and possibly scrape any white scum that forms on top.

Step 6: After 5 days, start tasting the sauerkraut. You’ll notice the longer it ferments the more sour and acidic it becomes. Just to be safe, and because it’s fun to monitor the transformation, I like to use PH strips to check acidity of the sauerkraut during fermentation. Just spoon out a few drops of brine and dip the strip in the spoon (don’t contaminate your product by dipping the strip directly into the jar). When the PH registers 4.5 or lower, the sauerkraut is safe to transfer to the refrigerator. This will stop the fermentation process, but you can let your sauerkraut ferment longer if you like it more sour.

When it’s ready, transfer the finished sauerkraut into a fresh clean container. The salt and acidity produced by the fermentation means it should keep for several months in your fridge. Use on hot dogs and sandwiches or braise it with your favorite meats. Not surprisingly, it’s also delicious served alongside a cheese and charcuterie board.

Recommended reading:

Preservation Kitchen, by Paul Virant and Kate Leahy

Foolproof Preserving, by America’s Test Kitchen

USDA Guide to Home Canning

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