Fermentation 101: How To Make Sauerkraut

THIS IS PART III OF OUR FERMENTATION SERIES. HERE IS PART I: ARE PROBIOTICS THE SOLUTION FOR EVERYTHING AND PART II: FERMENTED FOODS -EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW.

In vegetable fermentation, vegetables are submerged in liquid (called ‘brine’), creating an environment that is free of oxygen. This favours the growth of lactic acid bacteria (the good guys) and stops the growth of pathogenic bacteria and molds. What surprises most people is that lactic acid bacteria is found naturally on all plants and you won’t actually have to purchase or add any specific starters.

The key though is to use good quality organic vegetables grown in good soils. If they're really dirty, a quick rinse in filtered (non-chlorinated) water is okay but if you wash them too much you'll actually remove the lactic acid bacteria, which we need.

Before making this recipe I highly recommend reading Part II: Fermented Foods - Everything You Need To Know to get a bit more of an understanding of how vegetable fermentation works.

Equipment:

  1. VESSEL: You can use almost any type of vessel to ferment in. These can range from fancy fermenting crocks to a large glass jar, a rock and a towel. In the below recipes we kept it simple with a large glass wide-mouthed mason jar. I highly recommend using wide-mouthed ones (you'll see why later when you have to stick your hand in it) but honestly, whatever you have can work. If you use ceramic make sure it has a non-lead glaze and that it doesn’t contain any chips or cracks in the glaze.
  2. WEIGHT: You need a weight to make sure the vegetables you’re fermenting stay under the brine. Any object can serve as a weight, a plate that fits snugly inside your fermenting vessel, a scrubbed and boiled rock, or another glass bottle filled with water (what we used here).
  3. COVER: Lastly, you’ll need a cover to keep bugs and dust out and the smell of fermentation in (you’ll see what I mean!!). An old t-shirt or sheet works well for this.You can also cover with the jar’s lid but only close it very loosely and/or open it every day to release the gas. It’s very important that CO2 can escape, otherwise the jar will explode so I don't recommend using the lid method unless it's your only option and you really monitor it.

Salt: 

Salt helps pull water out of the vegetables, limits which bacteria can grow, keeps veggies crunchier and slows fermentation (which extends preservation). Using salt generally creates a tastier ferment with a nicer texture. Some recipes call for a lot of salt (like kimchi) and others just a bit (like sauerkraut) but if you have an issue with salt you can adjust. It's important to use unbleached sea salt and make sure there are no other preserving agents.

Step #10

Water: 

Use only filtered water to ferment. As we discussed in pt. 1 & pt. 2, chlorine is an antimicrobial so it will kill the bacteria and inhibit fermentation. If you don’t have a water filter you can boil it and then leave it uncovered on the stove to cool which allows the chlorine to evaporate. Just make sure the water is at room temperature as any heat will harm the bacteria!

Below you'll find a recipe for simple sauerkraut with some extra liver-support thanks to the beets. The beets also add a natural sweetness which I love. Just keep in mind this one is messy so make sure you're wearing clothes you don't mind getting dirty and are doing it in an area you can easily clean!

Once you've mastered one recipe go ahead and experiment with whatever vegetables you like.

Beet & Cabbage Sauerkraut

Fermentation time: 1-4 weeks or longer if desired.

Tools:

  • Fermenting vessel (we used a large, wide mouthed glass jar)
  • Extra large bowl for mixing
  • Weight - We used a glass mason jar or glass water bottle filled with water that fit snuggly into the fermenting vessel. If you follow this method make sure you only use glass, not plastic.
  • Cloth cover (we used a dark sheet since we were covering many jars at once)

Prep Time:

Cook Time:

Total Time:

30 mins - 1 hour

Serves:

20

Ingredients

  • 1 large head of cabbage (I used a napa cabbage for this batch, which is quite soft, but any kind works, including white or savoy)
  • 1 tbsp sea salt
  • 3 small beets or 2 large ones (these can get messy so I recommend peeling them or giving them a good rinse in filtered water)
  • Optional: herbs and spices - try 1-2 tbsp of caraway, dill, mustard seeds, celery seeds, basil, etc. or leave plain for your first try

Directions

  1. Chop cabbage and reserve one large leaf for later. You can shred it, chop it or grate it, depending on if you like it softer or crunchier. The bigger the pieces the crunchier it will be.
  2. Layer into a large bowl and sprinkle with salt as you go.
  3. Roll up your sleeves and start to really massage your cabbage. Keep rubbing until the cabbage has started to release its water and begins turning translucent.
  4. Shred and grate the beets into the bowl.
  5. Sprinkle in any herbs and spices you’d like.
  6. Continue massaging until the cabbage is completely translucent and there’s a few inches of brine (liquid) at the bottom.
  7. Start to add your mixture into the fermenting vessel and pack it down as tightly as possible in between layers to remove any air pockets. As you push down, more and more water will be released, creating your brine at the top. Remember, it’s important for the veggies to be completely submerged and that there's no air pockets because we want to create an oxygen-free environment. Keep pushing down and packing until the water covers the veggies. Leave about a 2 inch space at the top of the jar (more if you’re using a big jar).
  8. Then take the reserved cabbage leaf and fold it until it’s roughly the circumference of the jar (you can also use a plate for this if it fits snuggly inside the jar). Push the leaf/plate down until it is submerged in the brine. This step might sound a bit confusing - the idea is that cabbage leaf is going to serve as the separator between the sauerkraut mixture and the brine and stops any small pieces from floating to the top.
  9. If any small pieces float to the top remove them or tuck them under the leaf. Make sure to also clean any veggies that get stuck to the top edges of the fermenting vessel.
  10. Add your weight. Again, remember the order goes sauerkraut mixture, then the leaf separator, then the weight and brine (see the pic above). Make sure there's at least a few inches before the liquid reaches the top of the jar with the weight in it.
  11. Place the vessel in a shallow dish as the excess brine will overflow from the jar for the first few days.
  12. Cover the jar with your shirt or sheet. Place in an area of your home where it won't get moved or disturbed and away from direct light (like a cupboard you don’t open very often).

NOTE: Try to pick a room temperature or warmer place. You can leave the kraut to ferment in a cooler place, it will just be a slower ferment (which may be what you want).

MAINTENANCE:

Check regularly! During the first 24 hours, it’s helpful to check it every few hours and keep pushing down on the weight to help more water to release. In the first few days, you may see bubbling as the CO2 is being released, this is normal. You may need to add some brine (water with salt, roughly ½ tbsp salt per cup of water) if too much liquid has evaporated and the veggies on top are being exposed to air. You may also see a scum/slime forming on top, this is normal, just spoon it off and remove your weight and give it a rinse before replacing. If there are any floating veggies that have been exposed to air, discard them too. Remember - the key to fermentation is that the veggies are in an oxygen-free environment, so they need to be submerged in brine.

After a week, begin tasting your kraut. Some of us like really soft, tangy krauts, others like crunchy krauts. When it’s fermented to your liking, top with a lid and store in your fridge. You can also transfer to smaller jars just make sure the vegetables are also submerged in brine. If liquid evaporates, add more brine to keep it submerged. It will keep for 6 months or more.

Fun fact! Have you ever heard of a ‘gut shot’?  This is actually leftover brine which can be enjoyed as a digestive tonic or used as the vinegar in salad dressings. It can also serve as a starter for other ferments.

*While most of this information is something I've picked up through Nutrition studies, there was a ton I didn't know. I attended an amazing workshop held by For The Love of Body in Toronto where I learned a lot of great information about fermentation. A lot of the tips I've included here are from that workshop and made a huge difference compared to other things I read online. If you live in the area and are interesting in taking a class, I definitely recommend their workshops!

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