It’s amazing to watch simple, pure ingredients transform via fermentation. Crisp, sweet cabbage withers down, becoming delightfully tangy sauerkraut. Vegetables succumb to the power of salt and become softer as their cell walls break down. In its very essence, sauerkraut is pickled cabbage. The term pickle has been culturally assigned to vinegar-brined vegetables but actually refers to any vegetable preserved in brine, whether vinegar or salt. The benefit of using salt brine is that the vegetables ferment and create rich, unique flavors and adding healthy probiotics, vitamins, and enzymes to your diet.
For the most basic sauerkraut recipe, all you need is cabbage, a salty brine, and time. That’s it! Once you have the basic steps and recipe down, you can get creative by adding different spices, fruits, and vegetables to really make it your own. Start simple and familiarize yourself with the flavor profile that naturally occurs, because most of the time, keeping it simple is best. My all-time favorite way to make kraut is to add caraway seeds simply. I always have a jar of this handy in my fridge. Nonetheless, I still like to experiment with different layers of spiciness, sweetness, and all types of vegetables that lend their own textures.
Vegetables that grow close to the soil, like cabbage, foster more beneficial microbes on their surface and are great for fermenting. All you need to do is provide the right environment.
A saline or salty environment is ideal for vegetable fermentation. Lactic acid bacteria (LAB) can survive in highly saline solutions, whereas many other pathogenic bacteria cannot. Once the LAB undergoes fermentation, they produce lactic acid, raising the acidity of the environment and giving them yet another advantage for survival.
How Much Salt Should you use for Sauerkraut?
For sauerkraut, as opposed to other brine ferments, less salt will work. This is because salt is used to draw the water out of the cabbage leaves, creating its own microbially rich brine, or in essence, using a higher percentage of starter. If you like to get technical, you can calculate brine percentages, but the rule of thumb is one tablespoon of salt per medium head of cabbage, which will fill up about a 1-quart mason jar of sauerkraut.
The active part of making sauerkraut happens in just three steps: shred cabbage, salt, and pound pack up the jar.
To shred the cabbage, grab a sharp knife and a large bowl. Measure out one tablespoon of salt and have it handy. Peel the outer leaves of the cabbage off and set aside because we’ll use them later on. Cut the cabbage in quarters and then into thin slices, about 1/8 of an inch.
Salt the cabbage as you add it to the bowl, making sure you get good coverage. Allow salted cabbage to sit in the bowl for about ten minutes. You will notice the cabbage beginning to sweat, which is what you want. Next, you’ll want to help the cabbage release its juices. The most efficient way to do this is to use a kraut pounder and hit the cabbage down in the bowl, using pretty decent force, for about a minute. Let the cabbage rest for around five minutes, then repeat.
If you don’t have a kraut pounder, you can use your hands to massage the cabbage. Let it sit for longer in between massages, about an hour, to allow all the water to release.
When you feel that the cabbage has released a sufficient amount of brine, you can begin packing it into the fermenting vessel. If you’re using a medium-sized head of cabbage, it will fill up a quart jar. If you want to use a half-gallon jar, then use two medium-sized cabbages and double the salt. If making more than a quart at a time, you will want to use a large pot instead of a bowl to salt the cabbage to avoid having to do it in batches.
Use the kraut pounder, or a wooden spoon, to pack the cabbage in tight, removing any air bubbles and submerging the cabbage under the brine. Leave about three inches of headspace from the top. Take one or two of the cabbage leaves you set aside earlier and place it in the jar. This is called a follower and acts to help bits of cabbage from floating to the top.
Add a fermentation weight on top and push down until fully submerged. If you don’t have enough brine, add a pinch of salt and a tablespoon or two of filtered water. Add a lid to the jar and set aside to ferment. Fermentation times can vary depending on temperature and other variables, but given the proper environment, the kraut can continue to ferment for a month or longer depending on how you like it.
Two weeks is typically good for me. After one week of fermenting, I’ll taste it and eat some, but leave it out to continue fermenting for another week or so. I suggest experimenting with different times to see how you like it but leave it for at least one week. It is important to make sure everything stays below the brine while it stays at room temperature. If you taste some along the way, be sure to set it up correctly again before leaving it to ferment.
It can be stored in the fridge for months. Use common sense to decide if it is still good. If you see mold developing or a foul smell, it’s best to toss it. Eat it straight from the jar as a snack, or on Reuben sandwiches, brats, tacos, salads, anything to add a zesty, tangy crunch.
Easy Fermented Sauerkraut Recipe
Deliciously simple probiotic sauerkraut.
Prep Time 20 minutes
Total Time 21 minutes
- 1 tbsp Non-Iodized salt Kosher, Sea Salt, Cheese Salt
- 1 Medium Sized Cabbage About 2lbs
- 1-2 tbsp Caraway Seeds (optional)
- Quart Jar with lid
- Large bowl or pot
- Cabbage Tamper (optional *see notes)
- Fermentation Weight
- Sharp knife or mandolin
Remove the outer leaves from the cabbage. Set aside for use later.
Cut the cabbage in quarters and then into thin, 1/8" slices.
Add shredded cabbage to the bowl, salting as you go to ensure full coverage
Allow salted cabbage to sit in the bowl for 10 minutes.
Use cabbage tamper to bruise the cabbage and help release its juices. Use pretty decent force, for about a minute. Let the cabbage rest for around five minutes, then repeat. *See notes
Once you feel that the cabbage has released a sufficient amount of brine, you can begin packing it into the jar. Pack the jar tightly, using the tamper to help release any air bubbles.
Take one or two of the cabbage leaves you set aside earlier and place it in the jar, pressing down over the shredded cabbage, and below the brine.
Add a fermentation weight on top and push down until fully submerged. If you don’t have enough brine, add a pinch of salt and a tablespoon or two of filtered water.
Place lid on the jar and set aside to ferment. Let it go at least one week before tasting it. Two weeks is better. The flavor will continue to develop over time, so experiment and see how sour you like your kraut!
When you decide it's done, store in the fridge. It stays fresh for months.
*If you don't have a kraut pounder, you can use your hands to massage the cabbage. Let it sit for longer in between massages, about an hour, to allow all the water to release.