If you’re like me, you’re probably short on time and long on stuff that needs to get done.
Which is exactly why homemade sauerkraut is the perfect thing for people like me and you.
There’s three main reasons why you should make your own sauerkraut: it’s easy to make, it tastes delicious, and it’s incredibly good for you.
But first of all, what is sauerkraut? Very simply, sauerkraut is fermented cabbage, which sounds a little gross, but trust me, it’s not.
I grew up going to public school in rural Pennsylvania, and without fail, every few weeks, the cafeteria would serve hot dogs and sauerkraut for lunch. And you knew what the lunch ladies were serving the moment you stepped into the building in the morning. The whole school reeked of fermented cabbage—immediately swampy and sharp in your nose—no doubt simmering away in vats on back burners in the kitchen.
It took me a long time to get over that horrific smell. But the cooked sauerkraut at East Coventry Elementary was a far cry from fresh, homemade sauerkraut.
As I got older, my tastes began to change, and I started dipping my toe into the sauerkraut waters (not literally). I would have it on bratwurst sandwiches and Reubens, and I generally enjoyed it.
But not until I heard Sandor Katz interviewed on Fresh Air with Terry Gross in 2012 did things really changed for me.
Here was this eloquent man on the radio talking about how fermented foods are the sweet spot between fresh and rotten. Naturally, I was intrigued.
He talked about how easy it was to make homemade sauerkraut—as easy as cutting up a cabbage, sprinkling it with salt and leaving it out on your counter for a few weeks.
I admit, I can leave stuff out on the counter like nobody’s business, so I thought I’d give this sauerkraut thing a try.
And Sandor Katz was right. Homemade sauerkraut is easy to make, delicious and good for you.
In the 10 years since, I have fermented many things, not just cabbage, but also cauliflower, cucumbers, carrots, honey and more — but I always come back to kraut.
I will put fresh sauerkraut on almost anything. I will eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. These days, my favorite is egg tacos—over-medium eggs on corn tortillas with sauerkraut and hot sauce.
Getting back to how nutritious sauerkraut is, first consider that, since it’s cabbage, it’s very high in fiber, and increasing your intake of fiber is almost never a bad idea.
But also the fact that sauerkraut is a fermented food means that it’s full of the beneficial bacteria that your gut needs to be healthy. These bacteria are often referred to as probiotics, which our bodies need for a healthy digestive system.
If you eat sauerkraut everyday for a week, I guarantee you will notice a difference in your overall health. But I am not a doctor, and this is not medical advice. I am a writer who loves sauerkraut, but I digress.
OK, this is starting to feel like one of those blogs that I hate, where you have to scroll through some mommy blogger’s whole life story before you get to the part you want to know: how to Make Sauerkraut. So let’s get on with it.
How to Make Sauerkraut
For this you will need: one cabbage, red or green, roughly 2 pounds. About 1 tablespoon of sea salt, a 1-quart Mason jar with a lid (that you can poke some holes in), caraway seeds (if you’re into that sort of thing) and a rock that fits nicely inside the mouth of the jar.
Not all cabbages are created equal, so make sure you get a fresh one.
First, cut off the bottom stem, then quarter the cabbage.
If you have a kitchen scale, this is a good time to weigh your material. The quart jar is only going to take about 2 pounds of cabbage, so weigh your quarters and only use what you need.
And then start slicing. you can shred it fine, or leave some chunky pieces. It really depends on your preference. And you might not know your preference yet, so be brave and try different things each time you make a kraut. Eventually you will land on the way you like it.
OK, so you slice it or shred it, and then you stick it in a bowl and you smash it up with your hands. You want to sort of squeeze it and break up the plant material a bit. This creates more surface area and releases the juices of the cabbage.
Then you sprinkle on the salt. The salt-to-cabbage ratio I recommend is 1 tablespoon salt to 1¾ pounds of cabbage. But everybody’s different. You might like it a little saltier, or maybe less so. Experiment.
OK, so you’ve sprinkled the salt over the cabbage, and if you like caraway seeds, this would be the time to sprinkle those on, too. Not too much, like maybe a quarter teaspoon. You could try other spices if you want, but I just stick to caraway.
Then you mash it all up with your hands in the bowl again. Once it’s thoroughly mixed, you put it in the jar. You really have to cram it in there. Do it in layers, and push it down with a wooden spoon or a spatula. I recommend a jar funnel, too, if you have one.
You will be amazed, but that cabbage is going to fit in the jar.
As you’re smashing it into the jar, you’ll start to notice liquid that wasn’t there before. This is normal and natural. What you are seeing is osmosis at work. The salt draws the liquid from the cabbage to create a brine. And that brine is where the magic of fermentation takes place.
Once the jar is almost full, you place your rock on top and put the lid on. The rock’s job is to hold all the cabbage under the liquid. Fermentation happens in an anaerobic environment, which means no air. So, the rock keeps everything submerged.
Make sure you poke a few holes in your lid. This is an active biological process, so you need a way for gases to escape.
Put the jar on a plate, too, because sometimes it’s more than just gases. Some brine will escape, as well. This is no big deal. It’s all part of the fun of fermentation.
Then set it on the counter. Over the next week, you will start to see and smell some changes.
While not quite elementary school cafeteria levels of stench, this jar of kraut will be a little pungent. Embrace it. These smells have been part of the human experience for millennia.
After about a week, you can start tasting it. Take out the rock, scoop a little bit out, and give it a try. If it’s not quite there yet, put the rock back in and let it sit some more.
I personally like a two-week kraut. After two weeks, I take out the rock, put on a different lid (without holes) and stick it in the fridge.
Once it’s in the fridge, the fermentation process will slow down, and the kraut will keep for a long time. But hopefully you’ll eat it all while it’s fresh.
When the sauerkraut jar in the fridge is half full, consider starting a new batch, so you never run out.
Trust me, you don’t want to run out of sauerkraut. Egg tacos without fresh kraut just aren’t the same.
- 2 pounds cabbage
- 1 ¾ tablespoon sea salt
- ¼-½ teaspoon of caraway seeds
- Chop cabbage
- smash cabbage
- Salt cabbage, add caraway seed
- Smash again
- Pack in quart jar
- Put rock on top and secure holey member
- Leave on counter 1 to 3 weeks, tasting weekly
- When you think it’s ready, put in fridge