Published June 4, 2013 - Last Updated January 22, 2021
A few months ago I wrote up a short post on a new food “trend” with ancient roots – fermentation. Many of you expressed interest in learning more about the process. I’ve never done any fermenting at home before, but your interest inspired me. For my first fermentation adventure, I decided to take a crack at homemade sauerkraut. Together with my kitchen assistant Gary, who happens to be a farm trained, do-it-yourself culinary school grad with lots of fermenting experience, we fermented a crock of cabbage to make homemade sauerkraut.
Sauerkraut, a combination of the southern German and Austrian words “kraut,” meaning cabbage, and “sauer” meaning sour, literally translates to sour cabbage. It is created by fermenting cabbage over a long period of time. There are several health advantages to homemade sauerkraut. It’s high in enzymes and vitamin C, both of which are lost during the heating and pasteurization of store-bought sauerkraut. It’s also low calorie and easy to digest.
As I was learning about the fermentation process, I became curious about the difference between fermenting and pickling. The most obvious difference is that fermentation creates acid, while pickling requires an added acid, for example vinegar. Both serve as a preservation technique, the science is just a bit different.
Sauerkraut takes about 4-6 weeks to make. Since it’s a “hurry up and wait” kind of thing, I am documenting the adventure here on my blog. I will walk you through what we did, step-by-step, so you can try it at home.
First thing’s first– I bought a crock. A big, honking fermentation crock. It really looked so much smaller online. At first, I was dismayed. After the initial shock wore off, I decided the size was a plus… it means you can make a large batch of fermented veggies at the same time. With the amount of time it takes to ferment, why not make a big batch that will last you several months? And I do mean a big batch. We sliced up enough cabbage to create a decade’s supply of sauerkraut. Seriously.
If you too would like to be the proud owner of a ginormous fermenting crock, here is the one I’m using. Keep in mind that it’s pretty heavy/substantial and kind of awkward to handle. It also comes in a smaller size, which is likely a lot more manageable. There’s an even larger size, but that would require some serious fermentation love. You will also need a set of weights to help weigh down whatever you are putting in the crock. We used 10-15 liter stone weights; for a smaller crock, use 5 liter weights.
Crocks can be a bit pricey, so if you’d rather not invest in one, there are some less expensive options. You can use just about any sterilized container, taller than it is wide, made from enamel, ceramic or food grade plastic.
Once you have chosen your vessel, find a plate that will cover the majority of the cabbage. To make sure that the cabbage stays submerged in the brine, a key component of fermentation, you will need to make a weight to place on top of the plate. The simplest option is to place plastic storage bags filled with salt water on top. You can then cover your container with plastic wrap or a lid.
Once we cleaned out the crock, we got to work. With Gary and Ashley’s help and experience, I felt more confident in outlining the process for you here. I’ll check back with you in a few weeks and let you know how our sauerkraut turned out. Meanwhile, here are a few books that helped us learn the basic fermentation process:
Since I’m fairly new to fermentation, I decided to start with a basic sauerkraut, which only requires salt, cabbage, and water. Spices can be added to make a flavored sauerkraut or kimchi. If you feel like experimenting, the same method can be used for other vegetables, including cucumbers, onions, beets, carrots, kohlrabi, red cabbage, and rutabaga. You can even combine a variety of vegetables in a kraut medley if you’re really feeling adventurous.
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UPDATE: Our kraut turned out great! It took about 5 weeks to achieve the flavor and texture I was going for. This sauerkraut was so much better than the store-bought kind… it was salty, pungent and the lactic acid made it tingle on my tongue. It’s delicious and way cheaper than store-bought probiotics. Good for your gut, good for your tastebuds… can’t beat that!
Have you tried fermentation before? Did it turn out the way you hoped it would? What is your favorite fermented food?
Thanks for stopping by! I am fascinated by the story behind the food – why we eat what we eat, how the foods of different cultures have evolved, and how yesterday’s food can inspire us in the kitchen today. Read more...