Sauerkraut. Before I began fermenting foods at home, I associated this word with a vinegary, bland mess of cabbage served exclusively with German sausages. I decided to try to make it myself because after paying for probiotics for awhile, I realized that home-fermented foods present a much more cost effective way to support my gut microbiome. I think that I can tempt you to give it a try too!
I spent some time doing some research into the origins of sauerkraut here. I was surprised to learn that sauerkraut is not actually German in origin, though they did give it it’s name, which means “sour cabbage”. (A very literal language, German). Sauerkraut was invented in China about 2,000 years ago, when cabbage was soured in wine to preserve it through the winter so that the slaves building the Great Wall of China had something to eat. The lacto-fermented sauerkraut I’ll show you in this post does not involve wine-just cabbage, salt and optional seasonings! When sauerkraut was brought to Europe, the recipe was changed to be made with salt instead of wine, to allow for fermentation of the natural sugars present in the cabbage. Lacto-fermented sauerkraut is not what you’ll find in a jar or bag of Frank’s Kraut from the store, however: store bought sauerkraut has to be pasteurized, and this heating process destroys bacteria and enzymes.
Healthy Attributes of Sauerkraut
I think it is safe to say that fermented and probiotic foods are having a moment among the health-conscious, and for very good reason! Your gut microbiome–the millions of teeny organisms that line your intestines–are enormously important to your overall health. Tons of medical research, papers, articles and books have been written on the many different functions of the body that the microbiome performs & contributes to.
For millennia our ancestors supported their health through the consumption of fermented foods. Most cultures have their own traditional ferments. To those of us who grew up eating something resembling the Standard American Diet, fermented foods may look less familiar, but it’s never too late to begin including them and to reap the benefits.
Sauerkraut specifically features a slew of positive attributes. For example, it is high in vitamins C and K. It also contains digestive enzymes, which assist your body to break down your food for it’s nutrients. All this in addition to the beneficial bacteria and probiotics!
What will I need to make sauerkraut?
Ingredients for sauerkraut
Optional seasonings: coriander seeds, garlic, black pepper, turmeric, beets, ginger, dill, caraway seeds, fennel seeds
How to make sauerkraut: get ready
Wash your jars, then sterilize them by pouring boiling water over them. Set aside to cool while you prep your cabbage.
Prep your cabbage: remove the tough outer leaves and set them to the side, you will use at least some of them later. Slice off the base as well.
Slice cabbage as thinly as you prefer. I like the texture best when it is very thinly sliced-if you have a mandolin, it may work well for this.
Zero your kitchen scale with a large bowl on it and set it to grams. Add your cabbage.
To add 2% salt by weight, take the weight of your cabbage (in grams) and multiply by .02. I sometimes go up to 3% salt by weight.
How to make sauerkraut
Wash your hands and massage the cabbage and salt. This serves to release the liquid that will become the brine. It takes awhile-up to ten minutes!
Once the liquid has released and the cabbage has reduced in volume, add any seasonings you wish to use. My favorites are garlic and coriander seeds. A little can go a long way here.
Make sure your jars have cooled fully to room temperature, then transfer the cabbage mixture into them. Press the cabbage down to compact, avoiding any large air bubbles. The brine should rise above the level of the cabbage. Fully submerging the cabbage prevents mold growth.
Fold the outer leaves of the cabbage, place on top and press down to keep the cabbage submerged. Leave a little space in the top of the jar, there may be a little expansion. Cover the top of the jar with your cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band.
Place the covered jar in a shallow bowl or on a plate-if you have lot of brine there may be a little overflow, and the bowl will catch it.
Leave the jar to ferment in a warm place, checking every day for signs of fermentation-within three days you should see little bubbles appearing. After three days you can begin to taste test your sauerkraut.
Sauerkraut can take three days to two weeks to ferment, depending on your climate. I usually find five to six days to be the sweet spot. When it’s done, remove cheesecloth and replace it with a cover. Store in the fridge.
How should I eat this?
Add it to your sandwich, burger, or salad.
Use it as a topping on avocado toast (my personal favorite!)
Scoop it out with a fork and eat it plain.
Toss it with scrambled eggs.
Serve some alongside any meal.
How did your sauerkraut turn out? What seasonings do you prefer? Tell me about it in the comments!