Real Fermenting: Basic Sauerkraut

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Basic Sauerkraut

Basic sauerkraut is very easy and very delicious. This recipe yielded a little over a quart of wonderful, raw, organic sauerkraut. I started with a nice, large, organic cabbage from the farmers' market and some Pacific Sea Salt from Penzeys Spices. These guys have a really awesome spice store down in Santa Monica CA. And that's it. Cabbage and salt are the ingredients to this (and every other) basic sauerkraut recipe. I basically followed Sandor Katz's guide in the fantastic Wild Fermentation.
Lactobacilli et al. doing their work (pictured but microscopic...)

This is a very basic recipe. Over the next weeks and months, I am going to be working on some sauerkraut varietals (wine sauerkraut, juniper sauerkraut and so on). Come back to read about them and my many other projects. You can't hurry fermentation, no matter how hard you try.

Sauerkraut Recipe

I shredded the cabbage with our Cuisinart 14-cup food processor , which has been very useful for quite a few fermenting projects. I used the slicing attachment, rather than the grating one. I suppose you could use the grater, but I wanted the typical long strands of cabbage. You have to cut the cabbage to get it into the food chute. Discard the core of the cabbage.

Then you layer the cabbage into your container along with three tablespoons of salt per five pound(ish) cabbage. If you have a tiny cabbage, adjust the salt accordingly. I dumped about third of the cabbage in at a time and then added a third of the salt and crushed the cabbage up with my (clean) fist. I mean, squidged it between my fingers. Not punched it. Punching is a real quick way to break up the cabbage, but I find with the coarse grain salt it also breaks the knuckles up. Sad hand.

Here's my gallon jar. It was from Ace Hardware, I think
Once all the cabbage has been salted and squidged, it will already be looking a little like sauerkraut. You will probably have a wet hand. You need this brine which covers your hand to completely cover the cabbage. The brine is simply the dissolved salt you already added and the juice or water from the cabbage. You shouldn't add water yet. Smash the cabbage down firmly and watch the side of your jar. Water with slowly rise with each push. You are going to leave the jar with a weighted object in it to hold the cabbage underbrine. I will say this again: The cabbage must be under the brine when you finally leave it to ferment. You can come back to the jar several times over the next day or so to squeeze it down. If at any point you can't get it all  the cabbage underwater, you can add a cup of water with a tablespoon of salt dissolved in it.
Here's the sauerkraut after 3 days
Now I put two halfpint mason jars filled with water into the larger jar to submerge the cabbage. You can put a plate in and weigh that down, but I couldn't find one that fit in.

Warning: Science Incoming (ignore if you might get grossed out)

The cabbage (and all vegetables) come with bacteria (and yeast) on the leaves. This is a wild fermentation! Exciting times. The salty environment keeps everything but useful bacteria living in the sauerkraut. First, the Klebsiella and Enterobacter bacteria get going and make the brine too acidic for many dangerous bugs to live in. Then, Leuconostoc mesenteroides and other Leuconostoc varieties move in and ramp up the acidity even more. Finally, various LACTobaccilli will start fermenting (or eating) the sugars in the cabbage and making LACTic acid. You see how that works? Things like the bug that causes botulism can't live in this acidic environment. After a few days, you may find a mold bloom on the surface. It'll look like mold you find on old bread. Don't worry, just scrape as much as you can off the sauerkraut. The mold can't live in the salty stuff and your sauerkraut is safe.
Can you see how making sauerkraut is a wonderful bacterial dance? Don't freak out! Some people recommend seeding your new batches of sauerkraut with the old brine and leftover sauerkraut. However, this can lead to stages in the dance being missed out, which may result in overly sour sauerkraut. But, hey, if you like it sour, go nuts!
I like to put the sauerkraut into a smaller jar for storing in the fridge
After three days, start tasting your sauerkraut. I live in Bakersfield CA, where it is currently above 80F pretty much all day inside my apartment. The temperature will affect the speed of the fermentation. If it's warm like here, it could be ready in three days. Taste it every day or two and think about how sour you want it. It's easy to let it ferment some more, but hard to make it less sour. Whenever the sauerkraut gets to the sourness we like, I take it all out, brine and all, and decant it into a quart jar. This is just for easier fridge space management. You could leave it in the fermenting container.

To celebrate this batch coming out, we had a great kielbasa-style sausage with roasted potatoes, carrots and onions. Delicious!

As ever, if you have any questions, ask! Myself or someone in our fermenting community may have experienced the same problems or queries in the past.


  1. hi, thanks for a great easy to follow explanation and i appreciated the science bit too. i am wondering why discard the core of the cabbage? isnt it full of sugars etc and would add to the finished sauerkraut if you grated it up nicely? (btw i am a person that uses up the big stems of broccoli instead of throwing them away)

    1. Yeah, I guess you could just switch to the grater attachment of the food processor, rather than the slicing one. I am a stem user too!