Sauerkraut is simple to prepare at home and exceeds most commercial products. Sauerkraut recipes are flexible. Try adding herbs, spices, or veggies like caraway seeds, grated ginger, carrots, cilantro, and hot pepper.
In this sauerkraut recipe I explain how the fermenting process works. This is good to know as the same process is used to ferment most vegetables.
Which cabbage is best to ferment?
Most cabbage will ferment well. However, cabbage with tightly packed leaves feels crunchier. In addition, organic cabbage is cleaner and often contains more nutrients.
Cabbage with tightly packed leaves are crunchies
It’s beautiful to use both green and red cabbage. Red cabbage is packed with nutrients and adds a beautiful color to sauerkraut. I use about 20-30% red cabbage.
Avoid washing the vegetables in bleach as it destroys the natural bacteria living on the veggies. These organisms support fermentation.
Shredding the cabbage
A food processor is practical for a bigger batch. Place the shredded cabbage in a bowl and add salt (Himalayan or sea salt). I add 2 tablespoons for every two-quart jar. Some recipes add more.
Adding some greens increases the appeal of the mix. You can add a few tablespoons caraway seeds, a few carrots, and some coriander leaves.
Cabbage juice contains fermentable sugars and other nutrients suitable for the probiotic bacteria. Some squeeze the cabbage to press out juice.
Try juicing celery stalks and leaves to create more brine
It’s best to use a starter culture. Dissolve the starter in the celery or cabbage juice and leave it for 20 minutes. For this batch, I made around a quart (1 liter). Add the juice-starter to the bowl of veggies and mix thoroughly.
Pack vegetables in jars
Put the cabbage in clean jars. Pack the jars 70% full and put a cabbage leaf on top to keep the veggies submerged in the brine. Add more juice if the brine does not cover the veggies.
Don’t screw the lids on too tight as gas will form during fermentation and pressure will build in the jars. This is most important during the first few days of fermentation.
If the veggies are covered in celery brine, the sauerkraut will not taste celery after fermentation.
Leave jars to ferment for 7 days
Seven days is usually enough. In a cooler temperature, you might need a few days longer. In a warm climate, read this. The best way to know when the sauerkraut is ready is to taste it. When you’re happy with the taste, store the jars in a cool place.
Try to keep the temperature of sauerkraut fermentation around 60-70 degrees (20-24 ºC). A few degrees more or less might not change much. But a stable temperature helps.
The temperature affects the activity of the bacteria so keep an eye on this as it will determine the quality. The warmer it gets the higher the risk of failure.
After 7 days, store in cool place
When fermentation is complete, store the jars in a fridge or cellar. We have an extra fridge at home for this purpose. Correctly stored, the sauerkraut will stay fresh for months. The sauerkraut is ready to be eaten right away, but often improve with a more time in the fridge.
The sauerkraut fermentation process
Lactic acid producing bacteria are involved in sauerkraut fermentation. Other undesirable microorganisms are also present on cabbage and most other vegetables. Using a starter helps the good bacteria to quickly take control of the process.
The quality of the sauerkraut depends largely on how well the undesirable bacteria are controlled during fermentation. Some organisms produce unpleasant odors and flavors that spoil the cabbage.
A summary of natural (wild) fermentation
- The first microorganisms to start are the gas-producing cocci L. Mesenteroides. They produce acids and when the acidity reaches 0.25-0.3%, they slow down and begin to die off, although their enzymes continue working.
- Now the process is continued by the lactobacilli (as L. plantarum and L. Cucumeris) until an acidity level of 1.5-2% is reached. Too much salt and a low temperature can inhibit these bacteria to some extent.
- Finally, L. pentoaceticus continues the fermentation, bringing the acidity level to 2-2.5% thus completing fermentation.
Traditionally, salt is important in sauerkraut. Salt makes sauerkraut firmer or crispier, which is appealing. Salt also extracts juice from the cabbage (and other vegetables). Therefore, salt creates a favorable environment for the desired bacteria. But too much salt prevents good bacteria to grow.
Traditionally, a salt concentration of 2.0 to 2.5% is used as the lactobacilli are slightly inhibited, but cocci strains are not affected.
After a few days of fermenting, the sauerkraut will slowly turn more acidic, courtesy of the lactobacilli bacteria. The acidity helps keep the bad bacteria at bay.
The advantages of a starter culture
There are many.
- It speeds up fermentation
- It produces sauerkraut of consistent quality
- It increase the number of good bacteria present.
Can you use juice from a previous batch?
I don’t recommend it. This depends on the types of organisms present in the juice and its acidity. If the juice has an acidity of 0.3% or more, it might result in poor quality sauerkraut. This is because the cocci strain which normally initiates fermentation is suppressed by the high acidity. Therefore, the batch might not ferment correctly.
The use of old juice often produces mushy sauerkraut. It’s still fine to eat though. But using a culture starter is simple and the result better.
What does sauerkraut contain?
- Probiotic bacteria; trillions when using a starter culture.
- Small amounts of acetic and propionic acids.
- A mixture of gasses, mostly carbon dioxide.
- A mixture of aromatic esters.
- Small amounts of alcohol.
- Lactic acid.
- After fermentation, most nutrients are easy for the body to assimilate.
All these substances together contribute to the characteristic flavor of sauerkraut. The acidity contributes to a long shelf life.
What problems can occur with sourkraut?
There are three main reasons for problems in sauerkraut:
- Oxygen has entered the jars and spoiled the vegetables
- Too little salt
- Jars kept too warm during fermentation
Preparing sauerkraut at home is simple. In just a week or so, you can create delicious, cheap, and healthy food that can be consumed with almost anything.