Homemade sauerkraut! I’ve always loved sauerkraut and this homemade sauerkraut hits the spot. This sauerkraut is tangy, crunchy, and CHEAP to make.
- Small head cabbage, about 2.5 lbs. Pick one that seems heavy for its size.
- 1 tablespoon pickling salt
- Quart-sized glass mason jar and lid (better if wide-mouth)
- Large nonreactive bowl
- Nonreactive spoon, funnel, or small cup
- Wash jar and equipment with hot soapy water. Dry.
- Remove rubbery outer cabbage leaves. Cut out core/stem. Rinse the cabbage.
- Cut head into ¼” slices or thinner. Chop slices to form 1”-2” strips.
- Place cabbage in bowl. Sprinkle salt over cabbage. Let sit for 10 minutes to allow some juices to be drawn out.
- Mash with hands roughly squeezing for 10 minutes. You’re going to want to squeeze the shit out of it with both hands. Squeeze small handfuls and then rotate the bowl. Your hands and forearms should be physically exhausted after ten minutes. You should start to see some liquid in the bottom of the bowl like this:
- Place cabbage and juice in jar using spoon/funnel/small cup.
- Squish and pack cabbage down as much as possible with blunt object: small jar, cup bottom, spoon, etc.
- If there isn’t enough liquid to cover the cabbage, mash cabbage some more with the end of spoon or something similar.
- Note the liquid level may rise or fall from time to time (see lessons learned) so make sure the top of the liquid is below the shoulder of the jar when you pack it. Take out some cabbage if the jar is overfilled.
- If there still isn’t enough liquid to cover the cabbage, add enough brine to cover at a ratio of 2 teaspoons salt to 1 cup of water (5% brine).
- Place lid on loosely to allow gases to escape.
- Keep out of direct sunlight.
- Let sit for a minimum of 3 weeks, the longer then better. Taste from time to time and place in fridge when you like the flavor.
- Remove scum buildup if any forms.
Freshly packed sauerkraut
Week to Week Flavor Profiles
- Week 1 – Mild, crunchy, not much flavor or tang
- Week 2 – Same with slightly more tang
- Week 3 – Slightly more sour
I’m going to let my sauerkraut sit out for several months and occasionally update here how it tastes. I heard one sauerkraut manufacturer state they let theirs ferment for 5 months. When I compare my 3 week sauerkraut to a store bought kind, it just doesn’t have the same crisp, tenderness and acidity that I’m looking for. Hopefully it will in time. I will keep you updated!
Sauerkraut Gone Bad?
The first time I attempted to make homemade sauerkraut I failed. It smelled funny after three days. It didn’t smell like mold or anything that I have smelled before, but it was not pleasant.
There’s a chance it was actually fine and I just wasn’t used to that particular smell but I played it safe and threw it away.
It’s hard to nail down what caused it to “go bad” but here are some possibilities:
- I used a metal spoon to transfer the cabbage to the mason jar. The metal may have reacted with the cabbage somehow to produce an off taste.
- I covered the mason jar and kraut with a towel to keep it dark. I later learned this wasn’t really necessary and also that towels can hold a lot of unwanted bacteria.
- I thought I packed the kraut into the jar pretty well, but I did notice a few tiny air bubbles along the sides of the jar. Maybe it was enough oxygen for unwanted bacteria or fungi to produce? Doubtful.
- It may have got into the upper 70’s in the kitchen. I don’t think this would cause the kraut to spoil but it’s a possibility.
It’s not common for sauerkraut to spoil but here’s a great sauerkraut troubleshooting guide if you also think your sauerkraut may have gone bad.
The important thing to remember is to occasionally smell and inspect the sauerkraut during the fermentation process.
The Fermentation Process
Sauerkraut is fermented using bacteria found natively in cabbage in a process called lacto-fermentation. You can read more about the science of lacto-fermentation here.
When salting vegetables for fermenting, the salt to vegetable ratio is very important. You want enough to create a productive environment for the fermentation bacteria but not too much that it tastes too salty. With homemade sauerkraut and most other sauerkraut, the cabbage is dry-salted (as opposed to brined). When dry-salting vegetables for fermenting, the general consensus for the salt ratio seems to be 1.5%-2% by weight.
I use Morton’s pickling salt, which has a weight of 0.635 oz per tablespoon. So to get approximately a 1.6% salt to cabbage ratio for a 2.5 lb head of cabbage, 1 tablespoon of salt is used.
Brine Level Dropped
After about two weeks the brine level dropped below the top of the cabbage. I had to add about 1/4 cup brine solution to re-cover it. I’m not sure this was totally necessary due to the acidity of the kraut at that point but I did it anyway. I’m not sure if the brine level dropped due to the fermentation process, temperature, pressure, or evaporation. If anyone has ideas on this I would love to hear them!
How did your sauerkraut turn out? Have a way to improve this recipe? Let us know below!