Learn how to ferment your own authentic homemade sauerkraut in easy to follow steps.
Two German Childhoods
When I was a kid, I always thought that our family only ate the ‘not so awesome’ parts of German cuisine; the pork hocks, headcheese, sauerkraut, etc. Where were the famous German desserts, like Black Forest Cakes and Apple Strudel? It turns out that these cultural luxuries often get left behind in the name of necessity. My grandpa, the second youngest of FOURTEEN children recalls a time when times were pretty lean on the farm. I asked him once how his mother made sauerkraut. His response, “Well, there was a half a cart of cabbages…”
The Modern Way to Make Sauerkraut
Though the fermentation process is still the same, not many people make sauerkraut in such large quantities these days. All you need is a small crock or a quart jar with a lid. Even better, make yourself a quart jar with an airlock. An airlock prevents air from getting into the jar but allows the gases formed during fermentation to escape. You can buy an airlock at any brewing store for cheap, then drill an appropriate sized hole in a plastic quart jar lid.
Tips for Great Homemade Sauerkraut
There are 3 golden rules to follow when fermenting your own kraut:
- Use the correct salt to cabbage ratio. Using more salt will only make the sauerkraut extra salty, using too little will attract unwanted bacteria.
- Keep it submerged under the brine. If you need to, you can do this by hand, just wash your hands and press the cabbage down until it becomes fully submerged.
- Temperature is king. Too cool and your kraut will ferment too slowly, allowing unwanted bacteria or mold. Too warm and you may also have a wealth of issues. A temperature range of 65-70°F (18-21°C) degrees is perfect.
Sauerkraut is the result of Lactic Fermentation. During this anaerobic process, sugars and starches in the cabbage are broken down by Leuconostoc bacteria. These bacteria are naturally present and harmless. Their job is to convert the sugars in the cabbage to produce lactic acid and carbon dioxide. As the acid level rises, other microorganisms are killed leaving small amounts of simple alcohols and hydrocarbons to form. These alcohols and hydrocarbons then form chemical compounds called esters which give the sauerkraut it’s characteristic flavour.
Health Benefits of Sauerkraut
Homemade Sauerkraut is a nutritional powerhouse! It has the benefits of eating raw cabbage (low in calories but packed with Vitamins K and C) while also delivering healthy probiotics to your gut. Probiotics aid in the absorption of Vitamins and generally aid in digestion. Other Vitamins and Minerals present in Sauerkraut are: Vitamin B6, Iron, Manganese, Folate, Copper and Potassium. However, kraut is quite high in sodium, so it is not recommended for low sodium diets or people watching their salt intake.
Tips For A Happy Ferment
If you follow the above three golden rules your ferment should be happy, right? Well…maybe not. As with any natural process, there are a few things that could go awry. Preventative measures such as cleaning your equipment and washing hands and vegetables are a great place to start. Use only fresh vegetables, not ones that are moldy or soft. If you are adding high sugar vegetables, like carrots, add them in small quantities.
Possible Sauerkraut Issues
We’ve all been there, don’t worry. There are very few things can go horribly wrong with sauerkraut. That said, under certain conditions a flat, thin, white to cream-colored powder yeast (called KAHM) may form on the surface. It won’t hurt you but it does affect the flavour of your kraut. Since it’s difficult to get rid of, just discard your batch and start anew. If you see black, pink or orange mold, or it smells rotten discard it and start again (source). Does your sauerkraut have a thin mold growing on the surface? This may mean that the fermentation was not vigorous enough during the early stages. If the mold is green or grey, you can safely skim it off and keep on fermenting. Of course, if you feel more comfortable tossing it, go right ahead. Don’t give up, great kraut is worth it!
Homemade vs. Store Bought Sauerkraut
Homemade kraut contains live probiotics. It is best to store it in the fridge after the initial fermentation to slow the bacteria down. If you intend to store your sauerkraut for a longer period of time, consider freezing it. Yes, you can buy jars of processed sauerkraut from the grocery store but the high processing temperature kills off the beneficial probiotics. Processed kraut still contains all the Vitamins and minerals but will be less beneficial in the long run. If you would rather buy sauerkraut, source it from the refrigerated section of your grocery or health food store, not the dry goods aisle.
As the recipe suggests, there are many ways to add some extra flavours into your homemade sauerkraut. Fresh dill, shredded carrot with ginger, and plain cabbage with caraway are all delicious variations. To add in other vegetables, be sure to chop them into a size similar to your cabbage, otherwise fermentation issues may occur.
Can Sauerkraut Go Bad?
Absolutely. Sauerkraut does have a shelf life. The best way to tell if your kraut is bad is to give it the old sniff test. Remember, sauerkraut is already ‘rotting’, so it will naturally have an interesting aroma. If it smells exceptionally foul, has changed colour, or appears moldy, toss it.
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