Thursday, December 30, 2010

Homemade Sauerkraut (Vegetarian/Vegan)

I love sauerkraut. I love it with hot dogs, kielbasa, as a side dish, or by itself. Most people think of sauerkraut as a pickled cabbage dish, when it's actually a FERMENTED cabbage dish. Unfortunately, most storebought sauerkraut has been heat-processed and canned, killing off the "good" bacteria so essential to our digestive health.

Thankfully, sauerkraut is incredibly easy to make at home; all you need is cabbage, some non-iodized salt, and a fermenting crock. You can buy a crock online or in stores, to the tune of about $150... or you can make your own for less than $5. Guess which option I chose?

I purchased a tall Golden Harvest glass jar (glass is preferred since it can be sterilized; plastic can get scratched and harbor bacteria), which came with a plastic screw-on lid. I drilled a 1/2" hole in the lid and inserted a rubber grommet into the hole. I then added a three-piece airlock, purchased from a local homebrew shop. The airlock allows the gases created by fermentation to escape without exposing the kraut to the air. 

Yes, I know the drill hole is off-center...

Most homebrew stores will also have an S-shaped 1-piece airlock. Avoid these - they are impossible to clean. Stick to the 3-piece airlock.

I have made kraut with both green cabbage as well as red cabbage; the procedure is exactly the same. The rule of thumb is that you will need 3 Tbsp of non-iodized salt (I use pickling/canning salt) for every 5 lbs of cabbage used.

Whenever I make kraut, I use this large plastic dishtub.

First, make sure that your fermenting jar is clean. Wash the cabbage and remove the green outer leaves (keep several - you will need them later). Then, halve the cabbage, remove the core, and shred the cabbage. You can do this with a good knife, but a mandoline will make the job MUCH easier.

Cut a notch on each side of the core, then remove. 

Lay the cabbage cut side down, and slice into thin strips.

Toss the cabbage strips with the salt and let sit for about an hour or so. The salt will draw out moisture from the cabbage - do NOT discard this liquid! 

Don't be overwhelmed by the amount of cabbage; it will wilt down considerably once salted.

Once the cabbage has been salted, TIGHTLY pack it into the fermenting jar; you want to leave as few air pockets as possible. A potato masher or a pestle works really well to press the cabbage; as you press, the liquid level will rise above the cabbage. I find it works best to add a handful or two of cabbage at a time, tightly compacting it after each addition. 

Try to pack the cabbage so that there are no air pockets. 

The liquid should rise above the level of the cabbage.

Once all of the cabbage has been packed, cover the cabbage with a few of the reserved outer leaves from the cabbage. The liquid level should be above the cabbage. If not, you can mix a simple brine solution (1 1/2 Tbsp salt per 1 quart water) and add until the cabbage is covered. 

The outer leaves also serve as an additional barrier for the kraut.

Some people like to weigh down the kraut to keep it submerged; I've always packed the cabbage tightly enough that Ive never needed to weigh it down. However, if you choose to weigh it down, you can use brine, double-bagged in Ziploc bags, or a baggie filled with glass marbles.

Next, screw on the lid and fill the airlock with water. Set the cabbage on a plate in a location where it will not be disturbed and where the temperature will not fluctuate too drastically. At around 75 degrees, the kraut will be ready in about 7-10 days. At 70 degrees, it might take about 2 weeks.

Day 1 of the kraut. Room temperature is 76 degrees.

As the cabbage begins to ferment, the liquid level will rise and the cabbage will turn a yellowish color. You will see air bubbles rising through the cabbage as well. Once the cabbage stops bubbling and turns yellowish, the kraut has been fermented and is ready to eat. At this point, the cabbage will smell strongly of kraut as well. Discard the outer leaves on top of the shredded kraut.

Day 10 - The kraut is yellow and there is no bubbling.

The kitchen also stinks. 

If desired, you can pack the kraut into smaller containers (I use pint or quart sized mason jars). 

Anyone have a Hebrew National?

My yield: 3 quarts and 1 pint.

No further processing is needed. The kraut should be stored in the refrigerator and will keep for several months.


  1. Awesome recipe, I wasn't sure if I needed a mandolin to get the slices thin enough but it looks like I can do it with a knife!

    I'm a big fan of fermented foods... made 5 gallons of sauerkraut back home in december, have been making beet kvass, kombucha, kefir, fermented carrots, ginger, sweet potatoes, etc.

    Check out some of the stuff I wrote on fermented food if you get a chance:

    Do you make kimchi? I love the stuff but haven't made it yet...

  2. It can definitely be done with a good knife (I've done it myself) - I too love fermented foods. I'd love to make kefir but I can't get any good grains locally, and I've yet to buy them online.

    I do indeed make kimchi and was actually planning to do a post on it soon!

  3. Hi.. I was curious where you got the gallon jar? Online by chance? When I did a search under the name I only find mugs with handles? My 1 gallon glass jars I had, when I made kefir water, the bottoms broke out. So I got the quart, half gallon, but I cant seem to find gallon jars with plastic lids to drill? Its always just the jar...

    1. Actually, I got the gallon jar at the local thrift store! They had a bunch of them, but only a few had caps. You can order JUST the lids through U-Line (I forget the item number, unfortunately); they also carry nice plastic and glass gallon jars (with lids!) for a really good price.