Lacto-fermented sauerkraut has so many things going for it: natural probiotics that aid the digestive and immune systems, tons of beneficial enzymes, lots of vitamin C…in my opinion, it’s truly a superfood.

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If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of lacto-fermentation, don’t be intimidated by the word. It’s just the official term for the chemical process of “culturing” that takes place in the presence of lactic acid producing bacteria. This change increases the nutritional profile of the food being cultured, and makes it less prone to spoilage.

Beer, wine, cheese, olives and yogurt are foods you are familiar with that have been made using the lacto-fermentation method throughout history. Kimchi, tempeh, miso, kefir and kombucha are some more examples of lacto-fermented/cultured foods.

Nowadays, some of these foods (like commercial pickles, sauerkraut, and some yogurts) are mass-produced and are not actually lacto-fermented, though: they are preserved with sugar and vinegar or even cooked and pasteurized which kills the live enzymes and negates most of their health benefits.

So I think knowing how to make your own lacto-fermented foods is a valuable skill.

The cultural origins of sauerkraut are sort of murky. According to one of my favorite lacto-fermentation reference books, Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods by Sandor Katz , lacto-fermented cabbage was probably first made in China. It later became popular in Europe, particularly in Germany, where it is called sauerkraut (in France, it’s called choucroute). Katz says that adding apple to sauerkraut, something I like to do, is Russian in origin.

The way I make lacto-fermented sauerkraut, in small batches, is very simple. I’ve blogged about it before, and all you need is cabbage, salt, glass jars and some time. Other additions, such as caraway seeds, are optional…nature does the rest. While it’s helpful to have a food processor to do the shredding for you, it is absolutely not necessary. I shredded everything for this recipe by hand in a couple of minutes.

You can use all green cabbage or a combination of red and green like I have here. One small head of cabbage will yield about one quart of homemade sauerkraut, but I figure as long as you’re making one, you might as well make two. It keeps well and if you enjoy sauerkraut, I promise you’ll eat it up quickly. As is the case with all of my recipes, I recommend you use organic ingredients whenever possible.

Red and Green Kraut

Yield: 2 quarts
Adapted from Living Raw Food by Sarma Melngailis

Ingredients:

*1 small green cabbage, cored and shredded (a food processor is great for this, especially if you want a very fine texture, but you could also do your shredding by hand)
*1 small red cabbage, cored and shredded
*1/2 Tb. caraway seeds- optional
*3 Tb. Himalayan or sea salt
*1 shallot, peeled and sliced thin- optional
*1 red apple, shredded- optional, but I like the bit of sweetness this provides (make sure to peel if it is not organic)

Directions:

1. In a large non-metal bowl, mix the cabbage with the optional caraway seeds and salt. Use your (clean!) hands to really work the salt into the cabbage, then allow to rest for 15-20 minutes. The cabbage will wilt and a salty brine will develop.

2. Add the shallot and apple and mix well.

3. Spoon the mixture into two quart-sized, wide-mouth mason jars, and as you do so, press down firmly with a pounder (the back of a wooden spoon will also do) until the juices come to the top of the cabbage. The top of the cabbage should be at least 1 inch below the top of the jar (this is because there will be some expansion while it is lacto-fermenting and you don't want it to overflow out of the jar). If there is not enough liquid, add enough filtered water so that the cabbage is just barely covered.

4. Screw lids on to the jars (screw them tight) and keep at room temperature for about three days. Open the jars and see if the liquid is bubbly- if it is, you can transfer your jars to the refrigerator, where they will continue to lacto-ferment at a slower rate. You can eat your homemade sauerkraut right away, or wait a week or two for the flavors to develop further.

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I eat sauerkraut on all sorts of sandwiches and in wraps (both veggie and those with meat), and I like it with scrambled eggs. It also makes a very healthy snack on its own. If you want to learn more about lacto-fermentation, Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats is a great book with lots of interesting recipes.

If you find that you really like making sauerkraut, you may want to invest in a Harsch Gairtopf Fermenting Crock Pot. It uses ceramic weight stones to eliminate all chance of mold and has a special water sealing system that allows fermentation gasses to escape without allowing air to enter. You can make 3 gallons of healthy sauerkraut at a time with this crock.

This post is linked to Sustainable Eats’ Lacto-fermentation Blog Carnival and Kelly the Kitchen Kop’s Real Food Wednesday!

A few more of my posts about lacto-fermenting:
Homemade Yogurt
Pickled Cukes and Garlic Scapes
Lemon Cucumber Pickles

 

19 Comments

  1. 1

    Heather Loves Healthy Vegan Recipes — April 6, 2010 @ 7:34 pm

    Awesome post!! Wild Fermentation is one of my favorites too, and my boyfriend made some sauerkraut from his recipe. We haven’t kept it up but thanks for the reminder that we should!!

  2. 2

    Enith Hernandez — April 6, 2010 @ 8:08 pm

    Do you keep the bottle in the refrigerator? I am SO doing this, thanks!!!

  3. 3

    Eric Nissen — April 6, 2010 @ 10:51 pm

    Why the non-metal bowls? I only have metal. Is it really necessary to buy a non-metal one?
    Do you screw the lids down on the jars or do they just rest on top? I’ve seen recipes that call for just cheese cloth on top, which makes me ask.

  4. 4

    Ed Schenk — April 7, 2010 @ 4:31 am

    I’ve been meaning to do this. It would go well with home made Polish sausage!

  5. 5

    Paula — April 7, 2010 @ 9:15 am

    I am wondering if the cabbage at some point can be “canned” to extend shelf life as I will have LOTS of cabbage to process and can’t store all my jars in the fridge. If so, how long on time for processing and would you use a pressure canner or water bath? Thanks so much, this recipe looks AWESOME!

  6. 6

    Barbara @ moderncomfortfood — April 7, 2010 @ 10:11 am

    My German-American grandmother used to put up sauerkraut very much like this and lived in a midwestern town that had a sauerkraut festival (!) every year. I did love her version, but never managed to get her recipe. Now, happily, I can use yours. Thanks so much for sharing both your recipe secrets and detailed info on the health benefits of real sauerkraut!

  7. 7

    drwinnie — April 7, 2010 @ 11:50 am

    Enith- keep the jars at room temp for 3 days and then store in the refrigerator…

    Eric- I am accustomed to using non-metal bowls (glass or a large plastic tupperware type) for recipes like this as metal can react with some foods and cause an off-taste. With cabbage, though, it may not matter, so just use what you have. I do screw the lids down on the jars. You can put a layer of cheesecloth in between if you like, but you need the lid to be on tight because lacto-fermentation is anaerobic…

    Paula- I am not an expert on canning (far from it… I never do it), but as far as I know, lacto-fermented foods really aren’t meant to be canned. I appreciate the issue of not having enough refrigerator space for storage…I have the same problem!

  8. 8

    Lisa Marie — April 7, 2010 @ 10:20 pm

    Hi Winnie!
    Love this post about lacto-fermentation — I just finished a round of antibiotics and can’t wait to try this! Thanks!

  9. 9

    Margo — June 19, 2010 @ 8:48 pm

    I’ve never made sauerkraut, but your recipes are inspiring me. I did want to add, though, that I lived in Russia for several years and where I was (Siberia) a lot of people made their own sauerkraut and put it in big barrels on their balcony (served as an expanded freezer 8 months of the year). One way they used sauerkraut was in soups, such as borsch and schi [you might see these transliterated other ways from the Russian]. They also sometimes mixed it with other things to make a salad, or use it as filling in pirozhki (filled pastries). I always bake my pirozhki, because I try to limit my intake of greasy foods, but where I was fried was probably more common. Sauerkraut and mashed potatoes or sauerkraut and fried onions are other examples of pirozhki fillings using sauerkraut.

    Sauerkraut was really sort of a staple where I was, as cabbage and root vegetables were the most common vegetables in the area. They kept the root vegetables from their dachas (summer garden homes) in root cellars for use throughout the year.

    Just some other ideas on how to use sauerkraut and some related cultural tidbits from Russia.

  10. 10

    Cortido (Salvadoran Sauerkraut) | Healthy Green Kitchen — August 8, 2010 @ 1:53 pm

    [...] enjoy “regular” sauerkraut well enough (I’ve blogged about it before: here and here), but was looking for something else to make with my homegrown cabbage in honor of the [...]

  11. 11

    Comfortable, Commendable Cabbage - Real Cheap Food — January 14, 2011 @ 3:15 pm

    [...] like to make my own probiotic fermented sauerkraut, which is far cheaper and infinitely more delicious than the soggy, drab cellulose that they sell [...]

  12. 12

    Jennifer — April 20, 2011 @ 8:09 am

    How come you don’t use whey? Is this salty?

  13. 13

    Susan — April 24, 2011 @ 7:28 am

    If you make lacto fermented sauerkraut (or other veggie) can you store them in vacuum storage bags (like using a food saver) once the sauerkraut is finished in the crock? Once vacuumed bagged, would it be shelf stable, or would you need to store in the refrigerator or freezer? Just wondering as I thought this would be great way to store it w/o having to heat it like canning. Also, you can purchase the things for the food saver that vacuum seals jars, would this work to make it shelf stable? Just wondering as I saw on Cultures for Health that the are selling raw lacto-fermented veggies that are vacuum sealed in bags and wondered if this would work for the home kitchen. I have a lot more room to store it in cabinets than in my refrigerator.

  14. 14

    jennifer — May 19, 2011 @ 8:57 am

    Can I use whey to do this and use less salt?

  15. 15

    csa share 11/3/11 — December 16, 2012 @ 3:25 pm

    [...] Lacto-Fermented Sauerkraut [...]

  16. 16

    kendall — January 16, 2013 @ 10:39 am

    Can you cook with the fermented sauerkraut once it is finished or will the heat kill all of the good probiotics?

    Thank you!

  17. 17

    Fermented Cabbage and Cucumbers | Jaime's Clean Food Kitchen — January 28, 2013 @ 10:02 pm

    [...] I experimented with my first fermentation project by making sauerkraut.  The kraut is currently fermenting on my counter and I will find out on Wednesday if it was a [...]

  18. 18

    Fermentation Newbie | Jaime's Clean Food Kitchen — January 28, 2013 @ 10:03 pm

    [...] I experimented with my first fermentation project by making sauerkraut.  The kraut is currently fermenting on my counter and I will find out on Wednesday if it was a [...]

  19. 19

    Carolyn — January 14, 2014 @ 7:54 pm

    Oops, I got so excited that i added the apple and shallot in before adding the salt. Will this affect the fermentation process?

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