Sauerkraut: How to Ferment it (It’s Easy!)

People sometimes ask us when we have time to preserve; my answer sometimes surprises them.  Making Sauerkraut can take less than 5 minutes (and some patience as it ferments) and is one of the easiest things you can possibly preserve.  Sometimes I preserve because we don’t have a lot of time!  Preserving does not need to be a lot of work or take a lot of effort.

When I scanned the fridge last night I realized that we had a third of a cabbage that was turning the corner from peak freshness to something less than usable.  I considered making a soup or a stir fry but didn’t want to embark on a significant project.  Transforming cabbage into kraut takes very little effort (although it takes time to ferment).

Sauerkraut: How to Ferment it (Its Easy!) Cabbage

Although you can ferment without measuring, I’m a fan of weighing everything – this makes the process more repeatable (and predictable).  We purchased a kitchen scale 5 or 6 years ago for $30 and haven’t looked back.

Most vegetable ferments are based on combining 5 pounds of vegetables with 3 tablespoons of salt.  This means every pound of food is combined with approximately 1.8 teaspoons of salt (you could weigh it to be more accurate as well; I’m more worried about the weight of the product than the salt).  Salt will slow the fermentation (too much will cease it altogether) so it’s ok to be conservative.

Sauerkraut: How to Ferment it (Its Easy!) Cabbage

Our cabbage was almost a pound.  I chopped it fine and weighed it in a large bowl.  I then spent a few minutes breaking the cabbage down by crunching it in my fists.  Breaking the cabbage down like this breaks its cell structure and allows liquids to escape easier.

Cover the pot and leave on the counter for a few hours or overnight.

Place the cabbage and any liquid into a wide-mouthed mason jar.  Use a smaller jar to press firmly on the contents.  If your cabbage is covered with liquid, leave the jar on top and taste every day (bubbles, like you see in the picture above, are a sign that fermentation has started).  Leave the smaller jar in the larger one to stop the cabbage from floating and cover with a towel (I use a coffee filter like this).

If there isn’t enough liquid, dissolve 1 tablespoon of salt into 1 cup of water (you’ll need to boil and cool it if it has chlorine in it – I used the water we boiled and didn’t use for tea yesterday).

The warmer your climate, the quicker your sauerkraut will ferment.  To slow (and essentially stop) the fermentation process, place it in your fridge where it will last a very long time.

The total working time was under 5 minutes; and a lot of that time could be cut if I did it while preparing a meal (i.e. I would save time having to clean my knife, set up cutting board, and other preparation that would be done while I cooked dinner).

Comments

  1. Teri Young says:

    has anyone tried this using food slicer / processor/ bosch? I have a new Bosch slicer/processor (not a processor per se, more like a slicer dicer) . I used it tonight to make cabbage salad. wonder if it would be ok for saurkraut? Just wondering….

    • I haven’t tried it Teri but I would consider trying to use the grater. Though, as I’m typing, I think the slicer might be the better tool – just cut thinner strips before slicing. I find the key is to let it hit the blade and not force it through… :) J

    • Irma Moen says:

      I use a slicer on fine setting to make sauerkraut; it works great,fast!

  2. I make a large quantity of kraut all at once and can it up to last the whole year. I always use a food processor. It makes very quick work of things.

    • Hi Modern! Does the texture change much? I like to keep it in the fridge (which is overly packed with jars) to keep it living so I can see the advantages of canning it like that. :) J

  3. I made some 10 days ago from a different recipe and added 4 tablespoons of salt to 5 lb. of cabbage. It called for 3 but I wanted it extra salty. My bad. It said to fill a baggy with a solution of water and salt to seal the top. The liquid has risen above the baggy. I have saw no bubbles and the liquid just tastes like salty water, no cabbage taste even though no water was added and the bag didn’t leak. My home temps range from 60 at night to about 68 during the day and I have it sitting on top of my fridge.

    Is it too cold, too much salt, and or should it be more open to get air?

    • Hi Ted,

      I haven’t had the experience so I don’t have definitive answers.

      Salt will slow fermentation and could cease it altogether. Taste the cabbage and see if it’s soured at all (note you really can’t get sick from it so don’t be afraid to taste often). Sometimes the cabbage tastes more than the brine.

      Cabbage will ferment without air, so no worries there. You could experiment by removing some of the brine and adding de-chlorinated water to see if it will get going. If you do this, throwing a little whey (strain yogurt to get it) could help move things along.

      But you may be on the right track; just really slow to get there. I have a batch in now that uses 2 tablespoons per 5 pounds, am fermenting in a warm spot and it’s about 10 days old and just getting good and sour.

      I’ve found that my cabbage ferments often have very tiny bubbles like the one in this photo. Let me know how it goes..

      Joel

  4. Thanks for the suggestion.

    I tasted it yesterday, just crispy, very salty cabbage. It tastes like it did the day I started it.

    I have some yogurt in a strainer now, but it is Greek yogurt so I might not get much whey. But you said I only need a little.

    I have well water, no chlorine, but it has a lot of minerals. Should I boil it or something? I do have a jug of distilled water for emergency’s if that would be better?

    Sorry for being so dumb, I get a little scared of making stuff that might poison me! LOL

    • Hi Ted!

      Don’t feel dumb at all. We’re all learning and it’s important to make mistakes.

      I haven’t experienced this so guessing. My guess is that the salt is preventing or slowing the ferment. This means it could go two ways: it will ferment and just take some time or there is too much salt and fermentation won’t happen and your cabbage will remain salty until it rots.

      Here’s the good news: poisoning or worse is next to impossible with ferments according to Sandor Katz. Canning (i.e boiling jars under water like you do for jam and vinegar pickles) can create botulism (it really likes the lack of oxygen canning creates – fermenting provides plenty of oxygen) and there’s 1-2 cases per year in the US of botulism: http://wellpreserved.ca/is-this-safe-to-eat-questions-on-canning-and-preserving/ While people advise being safe (I’m a big proponent of being safe and ‘when in doubt, throw it out’), there can be some fear that comes from not knowing. I can’t prove that fermenting won’t poison you and I have no special training but I believe the chances are miniscule. The more you read, the more comfortable you wil become in trusting yourself – or not. :)

      Know too that you can ferment without salt (the results can vary). I would remove some of your brine and add water and then the whey to see what happens. If it’s too salty that bacteria will die too.

      I boil my water then let it cool; it should be fine but you’d have to search re minerality affecting ferments as I just dont know. If you google “Wild Fermentation Forum” you will find the ongoing forum at Sandor Katz’s blog. There’s a TONNE of people chatting in there who may have had similar conditions. :)

      A lot of this (unlike canning) is learning by trial and error. In canning you follow an exact recipe. Fermenting you are a lot freer to experiment and learn. The best thing you did was measure your salt – so you know what to vary next time and see what happens.

      Does any of this rambling help? :) J

  5. Ok…I might be misreading the directions so please help. When do you add the salt? I am assuming after you crush with your fists. Am I correct? Thanks for any help

    • hi JD!

      I add it before I crush although adding it after would be just fine as well. I like to add it before because the crushing it just helps me distribute the salt more evenly. Hope that helps! Let us know how it goes! :) Joel

  6. Can I make Sauerkraut with cabbage and white wine?
    Did they make fermented foods in China with rice wine?

    • Dan I haven’t experimented with either – but if you google “wild food fermentation forum” you will find a great community of people who have tried almost EVERYTHING and I’m sure there would be some help there. Not trying to send you away and hope you come back but I’m certain there would be someone there with the knowledge you’d be looking for and don’t want to lead you astray. :)

      Joel

  7. Stephanie says:

    Hi Joel!

    I’m really interested in trying to make this sauerkraut. Your instructions say to store in the refrigerator where it will keep for a very long time. How long will it keep this way?
    Thanks!

    Stephanie

    • Stephanie,

      I’m not sure what to say – I’ve never had a batch spoil. “Keep” is a relative word though – with time it will lost some of it’s healthful benefits but still be edible and tasty.

      Many of my fermented products will be edible with more than a year of ageing in the fridge. Though most get eaten well before that. :)

      Let us know how it goes!

      Joel

  8. Jean Carnell says:

    My sauerkraut turned soft after one week. I had some small heads which I cored and filled with salt I packed shredded cabbage all aound the heads which was also salted, I was reluctant to use too much salt, I likely used about one cup for 25 pounds of shredded cabbage, I also shredded some onions and carrots for color and flavour. Any idea why this would have gone soft, in the end I discarded it as I was not comfortable with the results. I am afraid to try and make any more.

  9. Hi! I was wondering if you could do this recipe with Chinese cabbage? I’m not sure if it is sturdy enough to stand up to the fermenting. Have you tried this before? I have quite a bumper crop of it this year, and am looking for different things to do with it!

    Thanks so much for any information!

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