I’ve made sauerkraut many times over the past five years and aside from one or two isolated batches, this is my favorite recipe! Have no fear, it is not difficult to make kraut; I’m a picky foodie, with sweets being a preferred taste over sour things (which leads to weight gain…).
Sauerkraut is a fast and easy way to introduce probiotic foods into your repertoire of kitchen know-hows for healthy eating. Set aside 20 minutes to prepare and then wait a week or two, depending on temperature and the size of the batch. While I’ve been known to make up to 30 pounds of kraut at once in a lovely fermenting crock, the smaller batch in a glass quart canning jar is ideal.
Interestingly, the sour taste of the kraut is very beneficial for weight loss. The sour taste immediately stimulates stomach bile that helps digest food and metabolism, decreasing bloating and constipation commonly associated with weight gain issues. Kraut has a high amount of fiber for easy bowel functions and is a great source of available iron, which boosts metabolism and energy levels. Kraut is also increasing your body’s ability to use energy and thereby not storing it as fat for later use.
Paired with other foods, it supercharges the nutrient content in the meal. By improving your body’s ability to easily absorb nutrients and move food through the digestive system quickly and effectively, inflammation is decreased and weight gain minimized.
Health Impact News describes what’s going on:
“Naturally fermented cabbage is normally made from finely shredded cabbage and salt. The salt preserves the cabbage for a few days while the probiotic bacteria begin to grow. These probiotic bacteria are highly beneficial to human digestion and are the mechanism that turns cabbage into a super nutritious food. Naturally fermented sauerkraut does not contain vinegar. The sour taste comes directly from the process of fermentation.
The sugar in cabbage is converted into lactic acid, which gives the cabbage its characteristic sour flavor. The lactic acid also preserves the cabbage and prevents it from rotting. Properly fermented sauerkraut can be kept for years without refrigeration as long as it is stored at a cool temperature. Sauerkraut or cabbage juice is one of the strongest stimulants for your body to produce acid. This is a good thing as many people have low stomach acid, which is the cause of their gut problems.”
While there are a great number of tasty variations to basic sauerkraut, here’s the foundation for any kraut recipe that is sure to whet your appetite for more:
1 large head of cabbage (head weight greater than 5 pounds because you will be removing the core and outer leaves)
1-2 of the good outer leaves (no brown spots or wilted) the size of paper money
3 Tablespoons sea salt (NOT table salt as it contains iodine-inhibits fermentation)
1/2 pound of kale (helps make up any weight difference)
very large, sturdy mixing bowl to pound away at the cabbage
gloves, if your hands are sensitive to salt water
cutting board and good knife
Food scale (or a person sized scale-you stand on it first to get your weight and then find the difference in the weight standing with the cabbage in the bowl. Not as exact, but it works!)
2 glass quart canning jars
A bowl or edged plate for under the jars to catch escaping liquid
A small glass baby food jar to use as a weight (filled with salt water) OR a sandwich sized ziplock bag (filled with salt water) OR an airlock system
- Wash the cabbage and take off the outer leaves. Save one or two of the healthy leaves as these will be used in the canning jar. Be sure to wash your hands as well so that no bad bacteria will be added into the kraut!
- Cut the cabbage in half and then in half again. Cut the hard, white core off.
- Cut each quarter into small 1/4 inch strips. Cut them into even smaller sections if you want and toss them into the large bowl.
- Weigh the cabbage. For this recipe and the foundation of many kraut brines (salt to water ratio), you want 5 pounds of cabbage mixed with 3 T of sea salt.
- Sprinkle the 3 T sea salt onto the cut cabbage in the bowl. Toss it around in the bowl to coat the cabbage with the salt and then wait about 10 minutes.
- After 10-15 minutes, wash your hands (and put on gloves) and start mashing, squeezing, pounding, and squishing the cabbage and salt mix. Go ahead and work it, getting any frustrations out in the process! Give it all you’ve got and don’t hold back; the end goal is to “soften” and wilt the cabbage so that a bunch of salt water appears out of no where!
- Keep going. Keep squeezing and pounding the cabbage. Let it sit for minutes if you need to take a break. You want as much liquid as possible so that the cabbage is fully submerged in the brine in the jar.
- Using clean jars, pack the cabbage and liquid into the glass canning quart jar, leaving an inch of air room at the top. You may be able to squeeze all of the 5 pounds of cabbage and liquid into one jar, but I doubt it. Split the mix up evenly between the two canning jars.
- Take the clean big cabbage leaves and place them completely over the cut cabbage in the jar. You want this as the cover and “cap over all the kraut” that doesn’t allow any cabbage to even think about coming into contact with air (discoloration and possible mold growth-which isn’t bad per say but can affect taste). Tuck the leaf into the jar and push down hard on the cabbage, making all the brine juice flow over the leaf just placed in there.
- Now, this is where you need the glass baby food jar or a zip lock bag filled with water and a teaspoon of salt. The purpose of the weight is to keep the cabbage submerged under the brine. (In this pic I don’t have the leaf between the two).
- Put an airlock system in place or just simply screw on the lid (not too tight). Put the jar on a plate and in an area that has a constant temp between 68-70 degrees. The cabinet over the fridge with the door cracked (winter) works very well. In the summer, you may need to find another room that is in that temp range.
- Once a day “burp” the jar by loosening the lid-not taking it off to expose it to fresh air-and then tightening it again. Check for progress: bubbles throughout the cabbage part!
- Wait at least a week. You are looking for a cloudy liquid above the leaf. Using a fresh fork, move the leaf out of the way and taste the cabbage. If you like it, it’s ready! If not, check on it again in a few days. The cabbage should be slightly crunchy and it should smell sour.
- Remove the leaf or water bag and store it in the fridge. It pretty much keeps indefinitely (well over 6 months).
Slimy: throw it away. Not enough salt or too warm of temperatures so that bad bacteria overpowered the good, decreasing the lactic acid production.
Discolored but smells fine: too warm. You can still eat it.
Too salty: out of balanced ratio. If the cabbage is crunchy, then try adding some water to it to decrease the salty taste. Put it immediately in the fridge. Or, just keep letting it ferment for a week or two longer.
Brine “burped” out, leaving the cabbage under the leaf dry: mix up 2 cups water to 1 teaspoon salt. Mix and pour into jar so that it is back up to the top. Ferment for at least another few days before checking again. This means you need to burp the jar more frequently to release the carbon dioxide gas. No biggie :)
There can be lots of questions when learning to ferment foods, so don’t be afraid to ask! There is a great group on Facebook called “Wild Fermentation” named after Sandor Katz’s well-known book by that name that will really make you want to jump into fermenting everything and anything! I’d also recommend checking out his website. If you have a question, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment. Many times I’ve researched and called fermenting friends to find out “why….”