Naturally Fermented Sauerkraut

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November 20, 2022

4 min read

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Join the fermentation revival and make your own.

Preserving vegetables naturally using only salt, spices, and their own juices or added water has been in our Jewish food heritage since the beginning. Modern refrigeration is a relatively new technology, so our Bubbies and Zeidies had to perfect the way to keep these foods good for months over the long Eastern European winters.

Brought to America in the early 20th century, Kosher Dill Pickles and barrels of Sauerkraut became synonymous with the Ashkenazi Jewish palate. While the pushcarts of the lower-east-side might have all but disappeared, you can’t eat a good deli sandwich without a pickle or some kraut on the side.

Although the fermentation skills passed down from our ancestors have gotten somewhat lost in the last 50-100 years due to the availability of pre-made products and shelf-stable fare, there has definitely been a fermentation revival movement in the past decade or two. People have rediscovered how easy it is to make your own ferments at home, and how many added benefits there are to eating a diet rich in the healthy bacteria and nutrients that fermented foods provide.

I know what you’re thinking…Isn’t it dangerous to ferment foods yourself and let bacteria proliferate in your kitchen? The good news is that the bacteria that naturally occur in vegetable ferments called lactobacillus (which is what creates the lactic acid, or the sour taste found in these foods), create an environment that only allows healthy bacteria to thrive and harmful bacteria to stay away.

Sauerkraut makes a perfect acidic punch to go along with any dish. Add it to sandwiches, salads, soups, or just as a tangy snack. My personal favorite is on top of a slice of toasted sourdough with avocado and a crispy fried egg.

Making your own sauerkraut couldn’t be easier. Follow my recipe below and feel free to get creative with the add-ins. Experiment with spices, herbs, or other shredded vegetables to customize your kraut!

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 head of cabbage (purple or green, or a mixture of both!) or 2 bags of pre-shredded cabbage
  • Fine kosher salt, as needed
  • Optional spices: coriander seeds, mustard seed, dill seed, fennel seeds, red pepper flakes, caraway seeds, any fresh herbs, garlic...get creative!

PREPARATION

  1. Place shredded cabbage into a mixing bowl and gradually add fine kosher salt, a little bit at a time. Massage and squeeze the cabbage using your hands, or gently pound it using a heavy utensil. After a few minutes of massaging the cabbage, you will notice the cabbage becoming softer. Keep massaging until a lot of liquid pools at the bottom of your bowl.
  2. Tasting the cabbage as you go is an essential step since there is no exact measurement of salt in this recipe. You want the raw cabbage to taste quite salty (a bit saltier than you would make a raw cabbage salad for example, but not so salty that it tastes inedible). Add more salt as needed.
  3. Mix any spices or herbs into the cabbage, spreading it evenly throughout, or keep it plain.
  4. Transfer the cabbage into a glass jar, firmly pressing it down, making sure it is tightly packed down. There should be enough liquid drawn out from the cabbage that it can be submerged entirely below the brine.*
  5. Cover your jar with a lid and let it sit at room temperature for a minimum of five to seven days. You will notice even after the first or second day, that the liquid will look bubbly and alive. Leave about an inch of headspace from the top of the jar to help prevent it from overflowing.
  6. After a few days, taste the kraut and see if you like it. This stage comes down to personal preference. If it doesn’t taste ready to you, let it sit out for a few more days. The longer it ferments at room temperature, the softer and more sour it will become. When you are happy with the flavor, place the jar into the fridge and enjoy!

* Keep an eye on the top layer of the kraut as it ferments. If you see any mold starting to develop–that’s ok! Just simply skim that part off and make sure the rest is fully submerged. Everything under the brine is safe to eat!

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