Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Homemade sauerkraut

I realize that with spring in full swing it is not necessarily the best time of the year to discuss sauerkraut. The fact is that I have been wanting to write about my sauerkraut experiment for months now but my last months have been quite busy for a few reasons chief among that was that I finally found a job and recently became proud father of a beautiful 2 weeks old boy. My parental leave now allows me a little bit more time to spare at the keyboard.

Making sauerkraut is quite straightforward according to what I read on various websites and books: for each 5 pounds of sliced raw cabbage, you need 3 tablespoons of kosher or pickling salt. I looked at dozen of recipes, the ratio almost always remains the same: 5 pounds of cabbage, 3 tablespoons of salt. Since the same ratio is found in almost all recipes, we could believe that one needs to use very strict measurements but since cabbage varies in water content and salt in weight to volume, there is inevitably some leeway in this. In fact, I did see a few outliers such as the ½ cup of kosher salt for 2 ½ pound of cabbage in Lucy Norris’ Pickled or a few potentially dangerous sodium free recipes but these were not the norm at all.

All recipes advise to place the salted cabbage in a non-reactive crock and place a weighted plate on top to press the cabbage down. Eventually, a brine should form from the juice extracted from the cabbage by the salt. If it does not, one can always add salted water to insure that the cabbage is submerged. You then place the whole thing roughly at room temperature or in a cool place (18°C to 24°C according to Harold McGee) for a few weeks to let the fermentation do its magic. This, at least, is the theory!

My first sauerkraut experiment was a bit of disaster. I followed the instruction on the Kitchen Gardeners International website where instruction from Sandor Ellix Katz’ Wild Fermentation had been adapted. After a few weeks of fermentation and skimming of the scum floating at the top of my brine, I had to throw the content of my plastic bucket in the garbage. A very unpleasant smell developed probably from unwelcome yeasts or other micro-organisms… not the ones I was expecting for sure. For some reasons, I kept my sauerkraut nearly two months thinking that the smell would disappear and be replaced by a more fragrant sour aroma. I even tried a few bites of the foul smelling cabbage and while it did turn sour, the stench was just too bad to make a meal out of it. In retrospect, I believe that I should have thrown the whole thing away earlier and I should never have tried to eat it.

Since hundreds and more likely thousands of people use this method successfully, I assume that I have simply been unlucky; that some bad micro-organisms got in before the proper lactic fermentation developed to protect the cabbage. The remedy to this problem is quite simple: protect the brine from ambient air. In my ill equipped kitchen, I simply used a layer of loose plastic wrap to cover my bucket. This was not enough. Some people succeed with no cover at all but I did not and the whole experiment put me off trying this method again.

The next method I tried made good use of many tricks gathered on many website and on an E Gullet forum discussion (link). This time, my goal was to avoid any airborne contamination by creating an almost air-tight cover. A few plastic bags filled with water (ideally with brine in case of leaks) were placed on top of a plate, itself covering a few large outer leaves from the cabbage. The sliced cabbage was also slightly pounded down to help the extraction of the juices.

The result, this time, was great. The sauerkraut was tangy and still crunchy and developed a very nice aroma.

We ate it very simply with boiled potatoes and sausages. I will certainly make more sauerkraut in the fall so if you have any recipe using sauerkraut, please let me know!

The Method

Here's a review of the whole sauerkraut fermentation process, it includes tricks and details from a variety of sources, most mentioned in the above section of this post:


  • 5 pounds of cabbage
  • 3 Tablespoons of salt


  • A sharp knife or a mandolin
  • A non-reactive crock or a food grade plastic bucket
  • One plate slightly smaller than the bucket
  • 3-4 freezer bags
  • Water or brine to fill the bags

  1. Clean all your tools very well and sterilize them if possible.

  2. Core your cabbage and reserve a few of the outer leaves.

  3. Finely shred the remaining cabbage using a sharp knife or a mandolin.

  4. Mix the shredded cabbage and the salt in a large crock or food grade plastic bucket by adding one layer of cabbage at a time followed by a sprinkle of salt. At this point, you can pound the cabbage using your hands or a heavy object in order to help the release of juices.

  5. Place the reserved cabbage leaves on top or the shredded cabbage.

  6. Cover with a plate. Apply as much presure as you can to make sure everything is well packed.

  7. Fill your plastic bags with brine or water and place them on top of the plate. Do not overfill them so that they are still soft enough to close all the gaps.

  8. The next day, make sure the juices extracted from the cabbage cover the cabbage by at least 3 cm or an inch. If more liquid is needed, you can add a brine made by mixing a cup of water with a teaspoon of salt.

  9. Leave at room temperature (bellow 24°C or 75°F) for at least 3 weeks then test it every week until it reaches your desired degree of acidity. If you like a delicate flavor, a three or four weeks is more than enough; if you prefer your sauerkraut on the stronger side, leave it to ferment for up to two months.

  10. In general, placing your sauerkraut in the fridge will stop the fermentation and will keep well if enough acidity was developed beforehand. Some people also can their sauerkraut but the process will necessarily affect the texture.


Alanna said...

This is great -- I love sauerkraut and consider it its own 'vegetable'. But I've never thought about making it myself. Bookmark!! The tips are terrific - thanks.

Anonymous said...

The sauerkraut actually tastes pretty good. The sourness is just right. But compared to the store bought sauerkraut, it tastes a bit crunchy. I thought sauerkraut should be quite soft.

MagicTofu said...

Thanks for the nice comment Alanna!

Fufu (even if you don't leave your name, I know it's you!) you have eaten too much canned sauerkraut. A good fresh sauerkraut should be crunchy but if you prefer something more tender, you can simply cook it for a while.

Anonymous said...

hi. stumbled upon your blog on sauerkraut while googling for ways to make the homemade kind. i live in a tropical country and would like to try and make this at home. i was wondering if it will also that that long to ferment or pickle the cabbage as we're nearer the equator? :P

Adam said...

Great posting - I make buckets of sauerkraut each fall - I put a 5 gal food grade bucket in a large dish pan. fill the bucket with cabbage and salt, then take a second and simular 5 gal bucket filled with water and put it on top of the first. The two buckets are slightly tapered and fit into one another. The top bucket seals and compresses the lower one. the dish pan collects any spillage.

We freeze and can sauerkraut for use all year round

Anonymous said...

One possibility your first batch tasted rotten is that it could have been made while the moon was in the sign of the bowels. Any pickled thing made during that sign will not be tasty.

MagicTofu said...

The moon in he sign of the bowels... that's from an horoscope I do not know. Would the moon being in the sign of the esophagus be better?

In any case, chitterlings can be very tasty so I don't see why the bowels sign would be a bad omen.

Machie Family Genealogy said...

Your recipe sounds really good, so I'm going to give it a go.

Have you ever added grated apples just before canning the kraut? That little idea just whipped thru my brain here. What do you think of this idea?


MagicTofu said...

I have heard of people using apples in their kraut recipes but never tried. From what I have been able to understand, it is better to add any fruits after the fermentation is well established to avoid the type fermentation that produces wine.

That being said, I do not can my sauerkraut. I think it tastes much better when raw or just barely warmed.

FarmSchooler said...

Original Recipe from Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon

1 head green cabbage, cored & shredded
1 c carrots, grated
2 med onions, quartered and then sliced very thin
1 T oregano
1/4 to 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 T sea salt
4 T liquid whey; just add a bit more salt if you have no liquid whey.....2T instead of 1 I think. You should buy the cookbook and read it for yourself. Excellent resource.

Combine all ingredients and pound with a wooden mallet or meat hammer for about 10 minutes. Fill (2) quart sized jars evenly with the mixture and press press press to the point of the vegetable juices rising up over the veggies.

The top of the cabbage mixture should be at least 1 inch below the top of the jars. Cover tightly and keep at room temp for 3-4 days and then move to cool storage.

Personally I store mine in a cool cabinet and only refrigerate them after the jars are opened. It is WONDERFUL STUFF. I ferment baby beets the same way and cant get enough of them....LIVING FOODS A+

Anonymous said...

My parent's neighbor made "sun cured" sauerkraut. She put it in the quart canning jars and put it in the sun. This was several years ago and she was German. i've googled for the recipie but haven't seen anything. Does anyone out there know what i'm talking about? The sauerkraut was OUT OF THIS WORLD! ! !

Barb in Indiana said...

This is my first year to try what a neighbor of mine has used for years, her mother, grandmother and so on.. She puts her cabbage in food processor or however you choose to chop, or slice thin.. adds 1 tsp. salt and WARM water to cover the pint jars...seal tight... and put in the sun for 21 days.. do not remove the bands on the jars until ready to enjoy.

I can't hardly wait to try it out.

Anonymous said...

I have a batch about a week old. It's in a 1/2 gallon glass jar with kosher salt on shredded purple cabbage. A weighted plastic drinking cup screw on lid is submerging the shreds. The wide mouth jar's lid is not tightened down because fermentation is producing gasses. I tried some today; delicious. Don't plan to ferment it many more days. Seems like horseradish or beets would taste good with it. Don't trust plastic buckets. Can't talk seem to find crocks.

Bill said...

I have made sauerkraut for many years. I can it using the cold pack method and it does not affect the texture at all. Nice and solid as when came out of the crock.
ps. I cannot believe Anonymous said homemade kraut was too crunchy. Unbelievable!!