Nov 152012

Oh, real food.  How I love you!  It seems like I’ve been on this real food journey forever but it was really only about five years ago that I first read Nourishing Traditions, which changed my diet, my viewpoint and my life from then on.  I’ve since read dozens of other books, cookbooks, and scientific literature, immersed myself in blogs, watched documentaries, listened to seminars, experimented on myself with recipes and foods, and even begun my journey to become a holistic health coach.

One of the big ideas from Nourishing Traditions that has stuck with me is the health benefits of lacto-fermented foods.   When I first started blogging I even made a fermented food a day, for a whole week once!  But unfortunately, realized that some of them didn’t quite fit our palate, no matter how hard we tried.

It doesn’t matter if you have real/organic/fermented foods in the house if no one wants to eat what you’ve made.  Make what you want to eat.

Lesson learned and, over the last few years, we’ve really figured out what works for us as a family and what we love to eat, and make again and again in terms of lacto-fermented foods.  For us?  We always have a steady supply of sauerkraut in the fridge, and occasional forays into lacto-fermented jalapenos, salsa, pickles, dilly beans and mayonnaise.

I’m going to share with you my technique for making one of our family staples – dairy-free, lacto-fermented sauerkraut.  Not a recipe – a technique. Because sometimes your cabbage is huge from the farmer’s market, and other times it’s small from the grocery store. Sometimes you have a big family and want to make a lot, or maybe you’re just starting out on this journey and want to make a little. Perhaps you want to enjoy your sauerkraut with homemade pastrami and rye bread(and want to season it accordingly.  Yes, I admit to making homemade condiments specific to one sandwich!), or maybe you’ll have it on the side of some bratwurst or Mexican food.  Regardless, here’s my technique and enjoy!

Lacto-Fermented Sauerkraut Technique

Step 1) If you have a kitchen scale (which I recommend, we use ours all the time!) weigh your cabbage. Most of your average grocery store cabbages will weigh about 3 pounds. Some I’ve bought at our local farm store are enormous and upwards of six pounds.  Weigh your cabbage.

Step 2) Choose your Seasonings.  On the day I photographed for this recipe, I made a version of cortido, a Mexican-influenced sauerkraut with carrots, garlic (4 cloves in this batch – the rest of the ingredients are as photographed), jalapenos and onions (and I’ll occasionally throw in a radish if I have it!)  I also love making sauerkraut with garlic and caraway seeds (when I enjoy it with pastrami and rye sourdough bread, or a bratwurst) or juniper berries, apples and bay leaves.  Yum!

Step 3 ) Clean and core your cabbage and other ingredients and process through the grating blade of your food processor.

Step 4) Decant, as you go, into the largest bowl you have! This is one cabbage.

Followed by the seasoning vegetables

Followed by the second cabbage and mixed up.

Step 5) For every 3 pound cabbage – add 1-1/2 Tablespoons of salt.  Add it in layers as you fill the bowl with cabbage and seasonings and then, with clean hands, mix thoroughly.

Step 6) When I first started making sauerkraut, at this stage I pounded the veggies with a big pestle, for five or ten minutes, to draw the liquid out.  Since then, I’ve learned that if you’re just patient and let the veggies sit for about twenty minutes on their own, the salt will draw the liquid out all by itself.  So really, just walk away.  Walk AWAY. Come back in twenty minutes and your sauerkraut will be ready.

Step 7) Fill your fermenting container with the sauerkraut, pressing down firmly so that the liquid covers the top.

Step 8 ) In a gallon size Ziploc bag, make a brine with 3 Tablespoons salt to 3 cups of water.  Seal bag, put into another bag and seal again.  Place this on top of your sauerkraut to make sure that your sauerkraut stays submerged in liquid.

Step 9) Allow the sauerkraut to ferment for 10 to 14 days, making sure that the sauerkraut stays submerged. If any mold or scum forms on top, remove it and discard. Add more brine to the bags, if necessary.

Step 10) Once the sauerkraut is done fermenting, decant into jars and store in a cool place (like your fridge or a cool cellar) and enjoy!

For more lacto-fermented recipes – check out Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods by Sandor Katz.  I’m also a big fan of The Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich.

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  8 Responses to “Lacto-Fermented Sauerkraut – in 10 simple steps!”

  1. I started making sauerkraut this year for the first time, and my dad is hooked on it! His grandfather used to keep a barrel in their basement, filled with kraut (we’re Polish, by the way). Curious about using a plastic bag, though — I thought I read somewhere that you shouldn’t use any plastic when fermenting. But maybe that’s just a myth? I usually make small batches in mason jars, cover the cabbage with one of the outer leaves, and then weigh it down with a shot glass filled with water. Whatever works, right? At any rate, you were the person who introduced me to lacto-fermenting YEARS ago, so thank you! I am now totally addicted!

    • Hi Carol!

      Yeah! What a great comment!

      You can use food grade plastic for fermenting – some people use those big five gallon buckets for pickles or sauerkraut, especially when they have a huge crop of cucumbers or cabbage from the garden, though I generally prefer glass myself, if I have it available. In regard to the plastic bag, it is only for a week or two that it is on top so I don’t really worry about it. You could certainly use glass as well, but with the wider surface area in this particular jar, I found that none of my small plates would fit through the top, so my only option for wide disbursement was a bag. Good question!

      Maybe we’ll have to share recipes one of these days – what is your favorite LF food? 🙂


  2. This is a beautiful post. I’d like to make sauerkraut. However, I don’t understand why the water in the plastic bags has to be a BRINE. Did I miss something? Is the brine somehow penetrating into the kraut? Is there some fermenting magic here that is eluding me? Thank you for the post. I can’t wait to try this. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

    • Hi M!

      Great question! I should have mentioned this in the post . . . The brine in the bag is so that, if the bag leaks, it doesn’t dilute the salt in the sauerkraut (which is needed to keep the bad yeasties at bay). If you chose to instead use something that couldn’t leak (like a mason jar) to weigh down your sauerkraut, you could easily use water, or even simply very clean rocks on top – no liquid required! A brine bag is what I generally use when making lacto-fermented pickles in this giant 2-gallon jar, so I just repeated my normal process when making this batch of sauerkraut.

      Hope this helps and good luck making your first batch!


      • Thank you, Sarah. I think my mind was going in the “in case it leaks” direction, but I needed confirmation from an expert. I see sauerkraut in my future! Have a lovely day and God bless.

  3. I just made my first batch of sauerkraut, and can’t wait for it to be ready. I’m definitely going to try this recipe!

    By the way, I was wondering where you got that beautiful statue of Mary and child?

  4. So excited to try it! thanks for the making it look easy!

  5. This is my first time on your site and I love it! One of the things I am impressed with is that you are actually replying to the questions ask by people like me who just need a bit more info…thank you for that. Now…I have a question. My neighbor gives me all the cabbage I could ever eat but it doesn’t make “heads”. Its more of a curly leaf kind. Not sure of the name. We love it and use it in cooking like the “head” type but it does have a slightly different taste. If you are familiar with this other kind of you think it would make good kraut as well? I guess as long as I shred it? Kinda hard to shred just leaves but I’m game to try it. What do you think?

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