It’s Winter: Time to Make Sauerkraut at Home (If I Can, So Can You!)

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For years I hesitated to try making sauerkraut.  I guess I thought the process was too mysterious and difficult. Last year I tried making it for the first time and it came out wonderfully.  What I discovered was, it isn’t difficult at all. Basically, you chop cabbage, add salt, and let it sit.  In a couple of weeks, you have sauerkraut.  O.K., I exaggerate a bit, but truly, it is not complicated.

All right, I hear some of you wondering, “why would I even want to make sauerkraut at all?”  And if you’ve only eaten that mushy stuff out of a jar or can, I don’t blame you.  Take my word for it, fresh, homemade kraut is something else entirely. And nutritionally, it combines the great profile of cruciferous vegetables with the probiotic goodness of all naturally fermented foods. Vern Varona, in his book, Macrobiotics for Dummies, puts it this way: “Researchers have shown that the process of fermenting cabbage produces isothiocyanates, which are known to prevent cancer growth….Sauerkraut also has strong detoxifying properties. Containing plentiful amounts of probiotic bacteria, which create lactic acid, sauerkraut aids digestion by restoring a healthy balance of beneficial bacteria throughout the intestinal tract.” Not convinced? Once made, it’s a convenience food, as it will keep in your fridge for weeks, maybe months, no cooking or further preparation needed. True, it is salty, so think of it as a pickle or a condiment.  Eat it in small quantities, a couple tablespoons at a time. If you’re still worried about salt, give it a rinse. It’s great in sandwiches or as a condiment with rice and other grains. My easy, step-by-step directions are after the jump.

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Photos: Top--Cutting the red cabbage. Above--By the fifth day it's already looking like sauerkraut, although still crunchy and only lightly fermented.

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Making Sauerkraut at Home, Nine Days Later

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On January 14th I wrote a post and put up a photograph of my sauerkraut-making project on day one. Today, nine days later, my sauerkraut-to-be looks like this. The color is great, the taste is mild and not all that salty, and the texture, still a bit crunchy. It’s very edible now, but I think another week or so of fermentation will yield something more closely resembling classic sauerkraut. Today, I added a quarter cup of lemon juice, because the cabbage is amazingly sweet considering that there has been no sweetener added and because lemon perks up the flavor of almost everything.  Once I’ve replaced the weight, all the cabbage will again be submerged in the brine. I’ll keep checking every other day, and later I will probably add garlic and more lemon juice. So far, knock on wood, everything is going perfectly, no mold or unpleasant smells at all.  In fact, it’s going so well, I’ll soon start another batch to serve on a Monday night in Palo Alto. A step-by-step description of sauerkraut making is here. We should have the final word on how this batch turns out in a week to ten days.

Making Sauerkraut: Do Try This At Home!

Making sauerkraut, day one: nine pounds of salted red and green cabbage packed into a 5 liter glass jar (mixing red and green cabbages should yield a pretty pink kraut).

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Many of the foods I write about on this blog I’ve been making for years, even decades. On the other hand, one of the reasons I enjoy blogging is that it motivates me to tackle projects I’ve been meaning to do, but never seemed to have gotten around to, like making sauerkraut. I realize that sauerkraut (“sour cabbage” in German) is not universally loved, but it ought to be. Fresh, quality kraut is delicious–tangy, crunchy, slightly salty. It’s high in fiber, low in fat, shares the health-giving benefits of all the cruciferous family, and most importantly, contains the friendly probiotic bacteria which help keep our intestines happy. It’s downside would be that salt is an important ingredient, so people who need to be cautious with salt should probably eat sauerkraut only in small quantities, rinsing it first with water. Sauerkraut, like yogurt or miso, is a live food and needs to be eaten raw. Canned or pasteurized, it loses most of its flavor, texture and nutritional value.

In the photo above, we see the result of day one in my sauerkraut making project. I’ve chopped nine pounds of red and green cabbage, and I’ve mixed in six tablespoons of quality sea salt and packed it down with a big wooden spoon. Next step is to place a weight on top and cover it all with a clean cloth.  What will happen next is that the salt will draw water out of the cabbage thus creating a brine in which the cabbage ferments. In order to ferment healthily, the cabbage needs to be covered with brine, so if it isn’t covered by liquid after 24 hours, I will add enough salted water so that it is. After that, it’s mostly watchful waiting, checking every day to see that the cabbage is safely soaking in brine, and that everything is o.k. In two to four weeks, the sauerkraut will be ready (this project is not for the impatient!). Later on, I will post to let you know how my sauerkraut is doing. You’ll find step-by-step instructions for making sauerkraut, along with photos, here and here. If you’ve experimented with sauerkraut making, I’d be delighted to hear what you’ve learned.  Please comment!