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How to make fermented sauerkraut

Halve and core the cabbage. Then cut into quarters or sixths for chopping.
Halve and core the cabbage. Then cut into quarters or sixths for chopping.

I used to enjoy sauerkraut as the occasional condiment and now it has become a staple of my diet. Things changed when I learned about the magic of fermented cabbage and discovered that my taste buds really, really like this funny smelling concoction.

Farmer Mark Johnson with beautiful heads of green cabbage
Sarah Bodnar

What is sauerkraut?

This is not a stupid question. Most sauerkraut, while still yummy, is dead; it is just cabbage preserved in vinegar and has lost much of it's nutritional content. Real sauerkraut is ALIVE. The cabbage is fermented or cultured, instead of preserved. The fermentation process activates enzymes in the cabbage and actually creates beneficial probiotic bacteria which aid in digestion and help support the immune system. According to Sandor Katz, author of Wild Fermentation, live unpasteurized sauerkraut also has unique cancer-fighting properties.

Making fermented sauerkraut:

Making sauerkraut is easy and quite enjoyable, especially with a friend or a group of friends - it makes the chopping less tedious. Follow these simple steps and you will soon be unlocking the magic of cabbage! Know that there are many different methods to making sauerkraut, and this is the way I like to do it.

1. Pick out your cabbage. There are two basic categories of cabbage: red or green. They do differ in flavor, as always the best way to find out what you like best is to experiment. Cabbage is usually inexpensive and readily available. Pictured in this article is farmer Mark Johnson with two beautiful green cabbages at the Saturday market. Here in Chico, cabbage grows best in cooler seasons - available fresh in winter, spring and fall. You can make a batch of any size, so it doesn't matter how big or small your cabbage is.

2. Assemble ingredients. Now you'll decide what kind of sauerkraut to make. The options are boundless - you can add any herbs or seasonings, plus any other veggies of your choosing. We have tried many different recipes, usually resorting to the "whatever's ready in the garden" approach, tossing in chopped or grated leek, carrot, radish, kale, jalapeno peppers and more. I recommend starting simple. Garlic dill is a very popular choice, so that's what I'll use here. Remember that the flavor of everything you add will only get stronger during fermentation, so don't overdo it.

Ingredients for Garlic Dill Sauerkraut: fresh garlic, fresh or dried dill, cabbage and sea salt. That's it!

3. Materials. You'll need a few basic kitchen items:

  • Sharp chef's knife (a sharp knife makes all the chopping much easier)

  • Cutting board

  • Large ceramic, glass or wooden mixing bowl (NOT metal)

4. Instructions:

  • Finely chop or shred cabbage & mince 1 clove of garlic (or more, if desired). It is important to chop veggies finely to expose as much surface area as possible.

  • Add cabbage, garlic and a sprinkling of dill to mixing bowl. Dust all contents with fine sea salt. Adding salt must be done to taste - the cabbage should taste lightly salty. The salt is essential in drawing the moisture out of the cabbage leaves to create the brine you need.

  • Mix and mash everything together, releasing the juices from the cabbage.

  • Move all contents into a glass jar when cabbage becomes a bit mushy and liquid pools on the bottom of the bowl.

  • Pack everything into the jar tightly (I use my fist, punching down toward the bottom of the bowl). You need to push all the air out and make sure the brine rises above the cabbage, to prevent rotting during the fermentation process.

  • Place a weight on the cabbage to keep it submerged. If you are using a large crock, you can weigh it down with a plate. In jars with narrow openings on the top, a skinny glass bottle - like a wine bottle - works well. I fill the weight bottle with water to make it heavier.

  • Plug your nose... This is going to get a little stinky as fermentation occurs. If your weight fits completely inside the jar, you can simply screw the lid on. If not, I recommend wrapping a towel around the jar - which also helps block out sunlight. Place the jar somewhere in the house where it's not too warm, or too cool.

  • Wait and watch - Making sauerkraut in this manner is not an exact science. The time it takes will vary based on temperature and climate. It will generally take between 1-3 weeks, however some batches go much faster and some take longer.  After a few days, start tasting it daily. If you've never had sauerkraut like this before, it will be an unusual taste at first. The flavor will become a little sour and almost effervescent when things get going. The sauerkraut is done when this flavor has developed, and the cabbage is still a little bit crunchy. If it gets much and starts to smell and taste like alcohol, it's gone too far.

  • Enjoy! To stop the fermentation process, simply transfer sauerkraut to another jar and put in the fridge. Be sure to transfer brine as well. Try adding some to a meal. I love to have a big scoop with eggs, salad, sandwiches, and even as a topping on crackers or corn chips. Really, now that I've fallen for sauerkraut, I can't get enough.

Happy Fermenting!

Sauerkraut Photo Shoot: Check out a step-by-step photo guide to making sauerkraut in the slideshow.


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  • Eli 5 years ago

    While in the fermenting process it bubbles a lot, which was weird for me my first time. Totally normal though. After its done and in the fridge, be sure to keep the sauerkraut below the brine as much as possible. It can stay good for over a month or more.

  • melinda (and rabbits) 5 years ago

    since you are not here to make it FOR me i suppose i will have to make it myself. sigh. surely it will not be quite as good... also, the long-eared ones would like to add that cabbage cores are excellent for teeth sharpening whilst eating one's veggies, for species of any kind.

  • colin 5 years ago

    kraut on corn chips rocks

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