In the last couple of years I have become a big fan of making homemade sauerkraut in glass jars. It’s so easy to make, I can’t believe I didn’t do it years ago. Actually, I did make it years ago, but back then I fermented it in a five gallon crock. Fermenting it in the jar is not only easier but you can also control the amount you make. Want a lot? Make it in a gallon or half gallon jar. Only want a little? Then make it in a pint or quart jar. It generally takes about two pounds (900g) of chopped or grated vegetable to fill a quart jar, and you can scale that up or down for other amounts.
Sauerkraut is made by a process called lacto-fermentation. Lacto-fermented foods have become quite popular in the last few years, but it’s an age-old preservation technique for sure. And different cultures often have their favorite fermented vegetables, from sauerkraut in northern Europe to kimchi in Korea. Our area has a large population with German-American roots, and sauerkraut is very popular here, though it’s not always made with cabbage! My first taste of turnip kraut came at a popular German restaurant called The Schnitzelbank. They make it with a fine grater, and it almost looks like prepared horseradish. Their version is a bit spicier than that made with cabbage.
Lacto-fermentation is a great way to preserve homegrown veggies, but even if you don’t grow them yourself you can still save money and maximize taste by making your own sauerkraut. I have used several different combinations of vegetables and seasonings, and today I want to share my three favorite homemade krauts.
Here at Happy Acres, I love to make sauerkraut with cabbage, kohlrabi or turnips. For cabbage I first peel off the outer leaves, then use a sharp chef’s knife to cut the cabbage into thin ribbons. Thinner pieces will make for a softer kraut, while thicker ones will be more crunchy. For the kohlrabi and turnips, I usually use a grater with medium to large holes. I peel off the tough outer skin of the kohlrabi before grating, but with the turnips I just scrub them up until they’re clean and then grate them peel and all. The white skinned turnips like Hakurei, Oasis and Tokyo Cross have a sweet, crisp flesh that makes for mild tasting turnip kraut, which is called sauerruben by some. I also like to make it with a red skinned turnip like Tsugaru Scarlet which makes a rosy pink colored, spicy tasting kraut.
Once the veggies are cut up, I mix them with sea salt. The salt draws moisture out of the vegetable, and also helps create an environment where the ‘good’ bacteria can multiply and the ‘bad’ ones can’t survive. However, expert opinion differs on how much salt to use. My edition of the Ball Blue Book calls for 3 Tbsp of salt for each five pounds of cabbage. In the popular Nourished Kitchen by Jennifer McGruther, she specifies 2 Tbsp for that amount of cabbage. In another book I have, Real Food Fermentation by Alex Lewin, he calls for 4 tsp of salt for each two pounds of cabbage. That’s the same amount called for in my More-with-Less book by Doris Janzen Longacre. But in the New York Times bestseller The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz, he says he doesn’t even measure his salt at all, preferring to add salt to taste.
I’ve been using 4 tsp (20g) of sea salt per two pounds (900g) of veggies. That is at the higher end of the above recommendations, but it suits the tastes of my wife and me. You can work the salt into the grated turnips or kohlrabi with your clean hands or with a spoon, but for the cabbage I like to use a potato masher to pound the cabbage a bit and get it started releasing its juices.
Once the veggies have started to get juicy, I pack them into a clean glass jar, making sure there’s enough liquid to cover. I screw on a new canning lid, and leave it a bit loose to let the fermenting gases escape. Then I put the jar(s) in a cool place, ideally where temperatures are 65°F-75°F. I start tasting the kraut after about three days, and when it tastes good to me I put it in the refrigerator to slow down the fermentation process. Some experts recommend fermenting for longer periods of time, even up to six months, but I find I get tasty kraut in a week or less. It keeps in the refrigerator for me at least six months, but of course if it smells bad or looks funky I toss it on the compost pile. You can process sauerkraut for longer storage outside the refrigerator, but the heat will kill the good bacteria as well as change the flavor and texture of the kraut.
Lately I’ve experimented with adding a bit of caraway seeds to the jar, about 1 tsp per quart. Caraway has carminative properties that aid in the digestion of the kraut, plus I also like the flavor of it. And while I haven’t tried them yet, I think dill or fennel seeds would be tasty. Garlic is also a popular addition in some recipes. I can see more sauerkraut experiments in my future!
I hope you have enjoying reading about my favorite ways to make homemade sauerkraut. For more information you can read my post on Homemade Sauerkraut, or check out one of the books I mentioned earlier. Real Food Fermentation by Alex Lewin is a good starter reference on fermentation, as is The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Fermenting Food by Wardeh Harmon.
I’m the only one in this house that will eat sauerkraut. I have never tried to make it since I eat it so infrequently. It does look good how you make it. Maybe one day I’ll try a very small batch. Cabbage and salt. That’s all?
Cabbage, salt and a little time! Some recipes call for added dairy whey (from yogurt) to ‘kick start’ the fermentation, but I’ve found it isn’t necessary.
The scarlet turnip kraut looks so pretty! I haven’t read up on fermentation so this may be a dumb question but with no heat or acid and such a variation in the amount of salt to use, how do you know that the “bad” bacteria have been dealt with…I’m one of those people that is a bit paranoid when it comes to food safety, just so you know 😉
Reading the books helped calm my initial fears about the safety issues. Apparently there is a wide range of ‘safe’ levels of salt that will ensure the lactobacillus organisms take hold. And the lactic acid that is formed lowers the pH, so that the foods wind up in an acidic environment. I think the different recommendations for salt are a matter of personal taste. I definitely trust my Ball Blue Book, and even it calls for less salt than I am using.
I’m not a fan of this type of food, but it’s interesting to see that it can be made so easily. I had expected it to be a lot more complicated. I love Caraway in boiled cabbage served as a hot vegetable.
Your previous posting on this subject earlier this year inspired me to start making my own sauerkraut in mason jars. I’m happy to report great success. I’m eating my third batch. I’ve added the caraway seeds but did not know that they aided in digestion of the kraut. What really got me going besides the ease of your mason jars method, was the notion of using kohlrabi…and that most appetizing picture of the meatless Ruben sandwich! I’m growing kohlrabi for the first time….smaller than a golf ball but growing fast. They’re not being bothered by pests…unlike previous years’ cabbage and Brussels Sprouts. I also planted an early variety of cabbage that looks promising…should overwinter and be ready before the aphids come out…I hope. Turnip kraut too? I just happen to be growing some right now. I’m making my first batch of beet/cabbage kraut…I wonder what that’ll be like…
I’m happy to hear you’re having good results! I found that different varieties of turnips definitely taste different when fermented. I’ve tried Purple Top, Hakurei/Oasis and the Tsugaru Scarlet and loved them all. As for the kohlrabi, slugs are my biggest pest but they only damage the skin. The Kossak kohlrabi is the biggest I’ve grown, and it makes a good kraut.
I’d be really interested in reading about “more sauerkraut experiments.”
Would you recommend the Blue Ball book as the best “starter” reference?
Great question! The Ball Blue Book is a great reference for freezing, canning and preserving, but for a starter on fermentation I would recommend Real Food Fermentation by Alex Lewin. I’m going to update the last paragraph to say that.
Dr Dawn from askDrDawn recommended Sauerkraut for probiotic. I eat some fermented food every day, and my gastritis is in remission.
Thanks for explaining so thoroughly. Even I can follow. It is so easy, and I would like to start with cabbage tomorrow.
I eat sauerkraut too for its probiotic properties, and it’s one reason I usually eat it raw.
Your kraut looks great! I’m growing turnips and kohlrabi for the first time so this is all very interesting to me. The process sounds wonderfully simple.
I have never tried making kraut myself although my mother has made quite a bit of it over the years (always cabbage). The thing was, it always ended up being canned. I liked it fresh but didn’t care as much for the flavor (and texture) of the canned kraut.
Thanks for the post. I will have to give it a try.
Your post has tipped me over the edge and I’ll try my first batch of sauerkraut soon. As a dietitian, I’m with Margaret on the food safety issues but you’ve made it quite clear. I’ll have to check my Ball Blue Book too. The health benefits of fermented foods are notable and I’ll enjoy the fresh, homemade taste of the kraut. Finally, a use for all the extra kohlrabi! I love to grow the red-purple ones for their garden color.