How to Ferment Cabbage: Making Sauerkraut
Who doesn’t enjoy a large scoop of sauerkraut on their all natural hot dog in the summer, or their cowpeas and collard greens in the winter. We use sauerkraut on something everyday to add a different dimension of flavor to our meals; even salads occasionally get topped with the good stuff. It isn’t just the taste that keeps me coming back for more. Recent studies are finding that fermented foods have super health benefits as well.
While Germans have made Sauerkraut for centuries, it produced a colorful part of its history in the First World War. At this time, Sauerkraut was to Germans like apple pie was to Americans. These two were so closely knit in fact, that by the Great War the British began calling Germans “Krauts.” On the other side of the Atlantic, Americans also developed a taste for kraut. Wanting to avoid “treason” while still enjoying the condiment, Americans relabeled it “Liberty Cabbage” for the duration.
Understanding the Health Side of Fermenting
Americans still enjoy Sauerkraut today, but most become intimidated at the thought of making their own simply because they do not know the physiology behind it. Sauerkraut is made from bacteria using the sugars in the vegetable to make an acidic solution. The necessary lactic acid bacteria, namely Lactobacillus, are always present around us, and when given the right conditions, the bacteria will grow and form an acidic environment that inhibit the growth of many harmful bacteria. It is from these bacteria that many important foods, such as cheese, vinegars, and pickled vegetables are created.
When we consume homemade sauerkraut, the bacteria present will act symbiotically. The bacteria, now called probiotics, helps the gut flora continue enhancing nutrient absorption, aiding the immune system, and keeping out pathogens.
Lactobacillus grows in many anaerobic (without oxygen) environments, including high-saline solutions that many bacteria cannot grow well in. By catering to this salt tolerance, we can give the good bacteria the advantage by placing what we want fermented in brine. Any salt can be used when preparing brine, but pickling salt (canning salt), is the easiest to use. These salts are small and uniform, allowing for consistent measurements and rapid dissolving. Avoid salts that contain anti-clumping agents, such as table salt, because these chemicals cloud the brine. The exception would be kosher salt; the anti-clumping agent it occasionally contains does not affect the brine.
How to Ferment and Useful Tools for Fermenting
Before you start fermenting, be sure you have the necessary tools to work with. Find a suitable container for fermenting. Look for a large, tall, container, made from food safe plastic, glass, ceramic, or stoneware.
Another necessary tool for fermenting is a weight to press down the cabbage with. A plate of slightly smaller diameter than the container works well for this purpose. On top of the plate fill a large plastic bag with a 3% brine with 2 quarts of water along with 3 tablespoons of dissolved salt. This bag will be used to press down the cabbage and give a seal around the pot. Remember, Lactobacillus is an anaerobic bacteria, the less oxygen available, the better the kraut. A cloth placed above the apparatus aids in keeping foreign objects from getting into the container and keeps you from having to skim scum to a minimum.
A stoneware fermentation crock offers a fine alternative to a homemade rig. These crocks are made for fermenting and already have clean walls and weights for the vegetables you ferment. Most have a shallow rim along the lid to fill with water and provide an airtight seal. This feature prohibits mold and yeast from growing and makes skimming unnecessary. Further, because of its efficiency, less salt has to be used while fermenting. If you plan to make a large batch of Sauerkraut every year, I would highly recommend investing in these crocks.
This “recipe” really is a method for fermenting cabbage and many other vegetables. You can add seasonal herbs or classic spices in the batch on your own accord. In this recipe, I am using the most authentic spices, caraway and juniper berries. I also recommend adding a little apple cider to the brine. This will add a delicious fruity touch to the finished product.
To me, it always makes things easier to see a “how to” video. I hope this video is helpful. I recommend that you watch it if you have never fermented anything. It should ease your mind as to how easy it really is to ferment your own foods.
For a one gallon crock:
- 5 lbs Cabbage shredded, and keeping back a couple outer leaves
- 2¼ oz salt (3Tbs pickling salNote: if using a fermentation crock you can use less salt (1½oz)
- quarts Brine of 2 water to 3Tbs salt
- 1 Tbs juniper berries
- 1 Tbs caraway
Combine the cabbage and salt in a large bowl. Work the cabbage with you hands to allow the salt to pull out the liquid in the cabbage. Incorporate spices and continue to work in for about 15 minutes, then allow mixture to sit for a good half hour.
Tightly pack the cabbage in the container, then place a cabbage leaf on top of the mixture to keep out air. Finish by topping with the added weight.
Slowly add some of the prepared brine while pressing down on the cabbage. Use enough brine to cover the cabbage by an inch. You will not use all of the brine.
Cover or seal off and let ferment for 2 to 4 weeks, or until bubbles stop coming to the surface and bubbling up around the rim. You will be able to hear the bubbles. When you stop hearing them, it is time to remove the cabbage from the crock.
If using a container with the plate and bag, mold and yeast will try to grow around the surface. Skim the scum off periodically; if kept at bay, it will not affect the product.
If you are using a fermentation crock, seal off and do not open for a month. Your patience will be rewarded.
Once fermented, remove from crock and can the sauerkraut using the hot water method. Alternately, place Sauerkraut in clean airtight jars and store in refrigerator for up to 2 months.