Thursday, October 24, 2013

How to Make Sauerkraut (Mason Jar and Refrigerator Method, Dairy-Free)

Red and green cabbage sauerkrauts ready for fermentation

Making homemade sauerkraut is super easy and inexpensive.  You only need a few simple ingredients and some common kitchen items to make a batch of sauerkraut that your grandmother would be proud of.

Prior to reading the book Nourishing Traditions by author Sally Fallon and learning about the health benefits of fermented foods and beverages, the only exposure to sauerkraut that I ever had was eating a grilled reuben sandwich during my early college years.  It was likely that the sauerkraut used for my sandwich was the kind typically found in a can or a bag that has been pasteurized and no longer contains the healthful probiotic cultures.  If your only exposure to sauerkraut has been the industrialized version, I encourage you to give homemade raw sauerkraut a try.  You may find that you really like it.   Chances are, if you like pickles, you will also enjoy homemade sauerkraut.

Red cabbage sauerkraut finished fermenting

I do NOT recommend heat canning (water bath or pressure canning) your raw homemade sauerkraut, as this process kills the good probiotic bacteria that it contains, and this would defeat the primary healthful purpose of making it in the first place.  Freezing temperatures may also kill the good bacteria, so avoid storing your fermented treasures in the freezer.

There are a number of methods for making sauerkraut.  So far, I have only used the method described in Nourishing Traditions, where the fermentation of sauerkraut occurs in wide-mouth, quart-sized mason jars.  People have also been known to ferment sauerkraut in plastic food grade buckets, or use the more traditional method of fermenting in special fermentation crocks.  Use whichever method you prefer.  I'm hoping to experiment with other fermentation methods for making sauerkraut in the future.

To make one quart of sauerkraut using the mason jar and refrigerator method, you will need (feel free to scale up if you want to make larger batches):

  • One medium cabbage (organically grown is best if you can get it)
  • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
  • 2 tablespoons high quality sea salt (I recommend gray celtic sea salt or other type of unrefined sea salt)

Suggested Equipment:
Examples of the equipment that I use to make sauerkraut

  • Large kitchen knife to cut up cabbage
  • Large non-metallic bowl (metal can negatively react with the salt in the sauerkraut)
  • Potato masher, meat hammer, or heavy duty wooden/bamboo spoon
  • Large cutting board
  • 1 very clean quart sized wide-mouth mason jar + lid (can use additional jars if you run out of room in the first jar)
  • Optional:  Food processor to chop up/shred cabbage, or food grater

1.)  Core the cabbage, shred it, and place into a large bowl.  You can use a knife to cut the cabbage up into shreds, or you can accomplish this by using a food processor to shred up the cabbage in batches.  You can also use a food grater, if you prefer.

2.)  Add the caraway seeds and the sea salt.  Stir to mix well.

3.)  Pound the cabbage mixture with your potato masher, meat hammer, or heavy duty wooden/bamboo spoon for approximately 10 minutes.  You are done when you can see a large amount of juices from the cabbage accumulate at the bottom of the bowl.  You can also squeeze the cabbage with your clean hands to extract the juice, which is a fun activity for children, or for your own stress relief.  The sea salt added in the previous step helps to draw out the juices from the cabbage.

4.)  Once you have gotten a good amount of juice, scoop the mixture into your quart-sized wide-mouth mason jar(s).  Press the cabbage down to get the juices to cover the cabbage.  Be sure to allow for at least one inch of space between your concoction and the top of the jar, as the sauerkraut will likely expand a bit during the fermentation process and needs the room.

5.)  Screw the lid(s) on the mason jar(s), and set in an undisturbed location at room temperature for approximately three days.

6.)  After the three days, open up the jar and taste your creation.  The contents should have a sour, pickle-like flavor.  If you would like your sauerkraut to be even more sour, replace the lid and keep fermenting, checking daily.  

Fermented sauerkraut ready to be stored in the refrigerator

7.)  When it is ready, place in your refrigerator for storage.  You can enjoy your sauerkraut young (newly fermented), or let it continue to ferment at a much lower rate within your refrigerator.  It will keep safely for many months.

If you end up with a little mold on the very top of your kraut, simply throw away or compost the moldy portion.  The rest of the kraut is still good and safe to enjoy.  All of the good microorganisms present in the sauerkraut will keep bad microorganisms from living there. Using this method, the development of mold is a possibility, but not a very likely one.  This is because the lid stays on during the fermentation process and there is very little air exposure.  

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