Fun fact: There are beneficial bacteria present on the surface of all fruits and vegetables. Sauerkraut is made by fostering the growth of these bacteria in a process called lacto-fermentation. Lacto-fermentation uses beneficial bacteria to convert the natural sugars in cabbage into lactic acid, a preservative that naturally inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria.
All you need to make sauerkraut is cabbage, salt and time. Homemade sauerkraut is supertangy and surprisingly crunchy — it barely resembles the limp, vinegar-based supermarket kraut that most of us grew up with. If you want to take advantage of the probiotic power of all those beneficial bacteria in your home-fermented sauerkraut, serve it cold or at room temperature. Heating it up will destroy the probiotic benefits.
- 1 head green cabbage, Note: If your cabbage is slightly larger or smaller than 3 lb, adjust salt accordingly — add or subtract ¼ tablespoon of salt for every ½ lb of cabbage.
- 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
- Wash everything well: your hands, the knife, the cutting board, a bowl and the container you intend to ferment the cabbage in (I recommend a large jar or bowl). Soap and hot water will do just fine — you don’t want a sterile environment; you want a clean environment.
Rinse the cabbage. Remove and reserve the outer layer of leaves. Cut cabbage into quarters and remove the core. Slice each quarter in half so that you have eight wedges. Slice each wedge crosswise into thin strips.
Transfer sliced cabbage and salt to your freshly cleaned bowl and “massage” and squeeze cabbage for about 8 to 10 minutes. After a few minutes the salt will start to break down the cell walls of the cabbage and it will become watery and limp. Ultimately the cabbage should give up a fair amount of liquid, almost enough to be fully submerged.
Transfer cabbage and all liquid to the container you will ferment the cabbage in. Cover the sliced cabbage and liquid with the reserved cabbage leaves. Press the leaves down to compress and submerge the cabbage as much as possible. Cover your container. A clean lid or plastic wrap will work fine. For the duration of the ferment you want to keep it at room temperature (let’s say between 55 and 75 degrees) and out of direct sunlight.
For the first day press down on the cabbage leaves every few hours to help compress the cabbage and encourage it to release even more liquid. If, after 24 hours, the cabbage is not 100 percent completely submerged, you can help things along by adding in some salt water (1 cup water + 1 tsp salt).
During the entire fermentation process, the single most important thing is to make sure that all the cabbage is completely submerged at all times. As long as you keep your cabbage submerged, lactic acid bacteria will continue to develop. Check your sauerkraut at least once a day, pressing down on the top layer of cabbage leaves each time. After a few days you should see some bubbles and foam. That’s a good sign — it means your ferment is alive! If you see any scum on the surface of the cabbage, simply scrape it off. This is normal, and a natural by-product of the fermentation process.
With a batch this small, you should have sauerkraut after 3 or 4 days! The cabbage is safe to eat at any time during the fermentation process, so you can continue to taste it and see how the flavor develops. I left mine on the counter for about 10 days to continue to allow the flavor to develop before I transferred it to the fridge. If you continue to ensure that all the cabbage is fully submerged, your kraut will keep for months in the fridge.
More essential how-tos on Food Republic: