Although fermented cabbage has been around in some form or another since ancient times – Roman author Pliny the Elder wrote of the stuff in the first century A.D. – modern methods for making sauerkraut were developed sometime between the 16th and 18th centuries. It’s primarily known as a German staple, but most other European countries use it in their traditional dishes. It’s pretty easy to understand why it was so popular: it keeps for a long time without refrigeration. Dutch, German, and English sailors found that the vitamin C-rich kraut prevented scurvy on the open seas, and the fact that it was salted and fermented made it ideal for long voyages without other preservation methods.
As the name would suggest, sauerkraut is quite literally sour cabbage. The sour flavor comes from the process of lacto-fermentation, similar to the pickling of cucumbers. But instead of soaking the cabbage in a vinegary brine solution, sauerkraut preparation requires only salt and the lactic acid bacteria already present on raw cabbage.
Is sauerkraut good for you?
You may have heard before that sauerkraut, or fermented foods in general, have a number of health benefits and you should eat more of them. Here’s what we know.
Health Benefits of Sauerkraut
More than just a delicious, tangy flavor, the beauty of sauerkraut also lies in its considerable health benefits:
Rich in vitamin C
Contains lactobacilli, a class of friendly bacteria that may aid digestion and immunity
Isothiocyanates, compounds shown to prevent cancer growth1
Manganese, vitamin B6, folate, and fiber from the cabbage itself
But most of us get our kraut at the grocery store. Going that route means you’re probably losing all the good stuff through pasteurization which involves heating to high temperatures. There are refrigerated brands that have not been pasteurized, but I personally like to control the process and ingredients to get the quality I want.
So, why not make your own? It’s incredibly easy. All it takes is some cabbage, some other vegetables if you’d like to include them (carrots, different colored cabbage, garlic, onions, beets, even apples), a storage vessel, a bit of sea salt, and patience. If you can chop and sprinkle salt, you can ferment your own homemade sauerkraut.
Is Sauerkraut Keto?
Coming in at 3g of carbs per 1/2 cup serving, sauerkraut is a keto food. Eat it on its own, or use it to add zing to other foods like soups and stews, pork chops, burgers, and more.
How to Make Homemade Sauerkraut: the Recipe
Time in the kitchen: 15 minutes
1 head organic green cabbage
1-2 organic carrots (optional)
5-8 organic cloves of garlic, chopped (optional)
2 Tbsp. fine sea salt
Fermentation jar: ceramic fermentation crock or a large wide-mouth mason jar (no plastic or metal)
Smaller mason jar to use as a weight
Before You Start, Sanitize Everything
Even if your cutting board, knife, mixing bowl, wooden spoon, and mason jars are clean, clean them again with soap and hot water. The fermentation process encourages microbes to breed, and you want to grow the ones you want, and not the ones you don’t. Allow your equipment to cool before starting.
Making Sauerkraut at Home
Begin by chopping your cabbage. I used green, but you can throw in some red cabbage to make the batch pink. You can include the heart, as the fermentation process will soften it. Tip: shred your cabbage as finely as you can. We’re going for is high surface area, because more surface area means more fermentation and exposure to the juices. Dump it into the mixing bowl and add salt as you go.
I like to include carrots and garlic here, but it’s not required. I like intense flavors, so I’m going to peel and grate the carrots and dice the garlic to get the most out of both vegetables. Drop these into the bowl and sprinkle in the salt as well.
Mix the ingredients together in the mixing bowl. Allow it to sit for a few minutes, and allow the salt to draw out the juices. You want to stimulate the natural juices of the vegetables, because they’re going to be your brine. You can help the process along by smashing the cabbage with the wooden spoon.
Start packing your mix into your fermentation jar. Just make sure you can cover whatever vessel you use. Pack it down hard, going slowly to make sure each addition is completely compressed in the jar. This will extract water and ensure the fermentation process goes smoothly.
Continue to press the mixture down with the wooden spoon until all of the cabbage is under the brine. Fit the smaller mason jar into the larger one to keep all of the vegetable submerged. Cover the whole thing loosely with a cloth or towel to keep bugs out.
For the next day or so, press down on the top several times a day to make sure the mix is submerged in brine. If it seems dry, you might have old cabbage. That’s fine. Just add a bit of water to cover everything, along with 1/4 teaspoon of salt.
Check your kraut every day. The volume will reduce as fermentation begins, and that’s exactly what you want.
That’s basically it. So really, it’s all about waiting. The actual preparation takes just a few minutes.
How Much Salt Should You Use?
To achieve a finished product with the perfect balance of tangy and salty, aim for a 2% brine.
For the most accurate calculation of how much salt to use, you’ll need a food scale. Set it to grams, and weigh your cabbage. For every 100 grams of cabbage, you’ll need 2 grams of salt.
You don’t have to have a food scale to make sauerkraut – the ingredients list above will come pretty close to the correct concentration.
How to Know When Your Sauerkraut is Ready
Start tasting your kraut after the third day. It should be tangy by now, and you can begin to gauge just how pungent you want it. The taste will get stronger as time increases. Every time you eat some, make sure you pack the rest of it in just like before: tightly packed, submerged, and with a weight pressing down.
How to Store Sauerkraut
Though sauerkraut is usually ready to eat in 3-7 days, if it’s cool enough, sauerkraut can improve for months. If you live in warmer climates, you might want to move your kraut into the fridge after a few weeks. If you store it, remember, it’s alive. Cover it with a loose lid or a banded cloth. Your ferment could release enough gas to pop the top and leave you with a mess.
How to Make Sauerkraut in a Crock
Making sauerkraut in a crock is exactly the same as making sauerkraut in a mason jar. Using the same methods, pour your mixing bowl of salted vegetables into your fermentation crock. Put the weights on top, add the lid, and your kraut should be ready in a few days.
Mold vs. Kahm Yeast
In most cases, your sauerkraut is totally protected by the brine, but things can go wrong. Mold should be discarded, but kahm yeast won’t ruin your ferment. Here’s how to tell the difference:
Mold. If you see fuzz, dark circles, colors, a raised texture, a funky smell, or any other indications of mold on the top, toss the whole batch and start over. It happens to the best of us.
Kahm yeast. Kahm yeast is white or slightly off-white, and looks almost like a thin layer of plastic wrap is sitting on top of your ferment. There can be bubbles, or it may have a stringy appearance. You can skim it off if you wish.
You can do a Google image search for “mold vs. kahm yeast” to get a side-by-side comparison of what both look like.
Cabbage is cheap, so even if yours goes moldy, you only lose a few dollars. Don’t let fermentation intimidate you. Once you try it, you’ll be hooked, and you’ll probably start experimenting with lacto-fermenting other vegetables. Have fun with it.
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.