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.