Easy sauerkraut

Picture of Easy sauerkraut
Sauerkraut made at home has live probiotics for your GI tract health, good source of Vitamin C (or why Viking raiders didn't get scurvy on long sea journeys, despite having no citrus), has no nasty phthalates or BPA from can liners because it isn't canned, and is very economical. If people knew how easy it is to make, no one would ever buy it. So here goes!
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Step 1: Tools and materials

Picture of Tools and materials
You will need:

- fresh cabbage,
- a way to shred it finely
(a food processor, or a hand-crank cone shredder of good quality, are both easy and quick), - salt
[so far as I can tell, it doesn't much matter what kind you use. That's a personal taste issue. It all makes kraut, because the purpose is allow fermentation by lactic acid-producing bacteria rather than spoilage by other bacteria, and all salt will do this]

The proportion of salt to cabbage I follow is roughly
3 TBSP salt to every 5 lbs cabbage.
I know that Kosher salt will measure differently than standard table salt, but Kraut is so forgiving, it really doesn't seem to matter. Let taste be your guide, and use less than the full amount, then taste, and add the rest if it seems desirable.


-a place to store it.
I use a glass gallon pickle jar, and it holds 4-5 heads of cabbage. Others may use a food-grade plastic bucket (but is there *really* such a thing as a food-safe plastic? Inquiring minds, wonder.) or if you are lucky, you have a stoneware or wooden crock specially made for pickling and fermenting. You will need something to weight the kraut down with, but more on that later.
It needs to be at a cool temperature, ideally in the 60-degree range, but can tolerate anything except "wam" and "cold" at which point, it will either spoil because it's warm enough that other microbes take over, or it will cease fermenting properly because it's too cold. That's why kraut was traditionally made in the fall. I keep my jar in the northeast corner of the basement. If you are unsure of the temperature you are keeping it at, a cheap weather thermometer helps. Just set it by the jar. Over about 75 or under about 60 degrees F may yield poor results.

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tonygoffe5 years ago
Hi, I love sauerkraut ..from my days at junior college in Miami in the 60's..  but  living in Jamaica, where the temp is never below 70 F in the house, so by what you say, it would NEVER ferment??  .. the fridge runs at least 35-40 F, so, THAT's too cold ? Any suggestions?     Oh, let me say that this is the MOST useful site I have come across, bar none !    This is particularly for those living in the developing countries where one often has to "make do"   tonyJamaica
maybe an ice chest? You could put jars of cool water in to keep it the correct temp.
megmaine (author)  tonygoffe5 years ago
Jamaica has its own glorious fermented traditions, not just ginger beer, but also fruits and root vegetables. The beauty of fermentation lies in its infinite versatility and availability in every part of the world, without the need for expensive equipment or electricity. You just have to choose fermented foods that work in your region and by the seasons there (Sauerkraut isn't traditionally made in summer even in the cold-climate regions of its origin).

If you want a similar dish to sauerkraut that you can make in Jamaica, you can check out my instructable on Tsukemono, which is a Japanese fermented cabbage that is done in days rather than weeks and can be made even in tropical climates. However, unless cabbages grow in Jamaica, it may be better to discover your region's unique treasure of fermented traditions that people in colder climates cannot easily duplicate.

Hope this helps, and I do hope you will share with us what you discover of Jamaica's wealth of fermented food traditions!

megmaine (author)  megmaine5 years ago
Oh, and to add: you can probably make sauerkraut at 70 degrees, but you run the risk of other microbes taking over. It may or may not come out as you like.
I have been making sauerkraut and kimchee for years at 80+ degrees with never a problem. Sauerkraut makes in about a week at that temperature.
Just finishing my first batch (6 days now, will wait one or two more) in the tropics of Malaysia. I've kept the kraut in the back of a kitchen cabinet. And it tastes fantastic! So I can vouch for what Henry says. Thanks for a great Instructable.
I make sauerkraut and kimchee all the time here in Panama. The only effect of the higher temperature is that the kraut makes quicker. Go for it.

Dig a hole 2 or 3 feet down in the sand/dirt.  The temp will be 50 to 60 deg F. (Think Kimchi)
Quester553 years ago
If you really want an extra treat, at the start, add Fresh Onions {Whole} & or Cucumbers {Pickles} At the top, As well as extra water to cover all. This is best when using Crocks of 3 Gal. or larger Mom's was a whom-ping 20 Gal. size, Purchased at an old cannery. In some cases, Whiskey or Wine barrows could work.
Quester553 years ago
If using a Crock, My mom had a Wood Disk Cut 2'' Thick from a Fresh Black Oak Log about 1 1/2 " smaller than the opening of the Crock to keep our Burlap covering & the cabbage in place. The wood was Air Cured & dried before use.
Quester553 years ago
Whenever we made Sauerkraut mom would get out a wooden slide cutter made for that purpose. These were large slicers but better to use than those Cheep plastic versions Ronco sold. The blades were made with Demaskus steel ? [Spelling maybe off] & needed to be washed & dried carefully for storage, but would retain a cutting edge better than most blades today. Just enter Cabbage Cutters on search & you'll find all kinds. Note, Cheaper isn't always better. as for Crocks, Check out your local Farm Supply Stores, Even your local Co-Ops Can get you one. Mine is rated at 3 Gal. is over 1 inch thick & has lasted me more than 20 years.
AR10NZ3 years ago
As a kraut / kimchee fan, my wife & I made about 1 1/2 gallons of kimchee 3 weeks ago. A neighbour came over, acted as official weigher of salt, finished off the last of last years kimchee ( still finely preserved in the fridge). She pronounced it " Yummy ! " We make it in the autumn, with Jereusalem artichokes, chokos, apples, garlic, onion, green onion, ginger, chillies, and nettles. We ferment in large glass jars, placed in buckets, in hot water closet. Jars are " semi sealed " with a plastic bag filled with water, which allows the CO2 produced to force some of the liquid out, to be retained in said bucket. Start to finish is short. Cheers, AR10NZ.
{tauney}5 years ago
Slicing by hand isn't that bad, so long as you have a sharp knife. I did two heads in under five minutes. Of course, I also cook for a living.
but honestly, if you use cabbage for your salads, it IS an easy task :-)

My Grandfather's parents were from the old country. Their traditional family recipe involved mixing shredded apples (peeled and cored) in with the Kraut. I have a spare brew-bucket, so I need to try this sometime. I would think an airlock would be useful, as pressure builds up. I'm surprised your glass jar didn't shatter, unless the lid was less than finger-tight.
megmaine (author)  WanderingOak5 years ago
Oh, my glass jar doesn't shatter because it isn't desirable or necessaryto seal it up. A cloth tied on with twine to keep out dust and bugs isall that is needed, or else a loosely placed lid that is merely set ontop and not screwed down.
Definitely no tight lids, as the gasses from the fermentation do need to escape!

Calis megmaine5 years ago
I think I may try this.  I will want a tight lid though to ensure no pests get in, so I will probably drill the lid and insert an airlock from my wine making supplies.

tonygoffe5 years ago
Drawe21, and Megmaine,  not close to sand(the coast) but will do the soil thing)   ...I know this is not a social-networking site, but .."Hi, "Megmaine",.. ( is that Meg from Maine )...looks like you've visited my home.. yes, we do grow cabbages here, and blueberries up in the 5-7000 ft Blue Mts. I, however, only  live at 2200ft up in the central hills, and used to process smoked marlin with a clod-smoke process. ( about to re-start with chicken and pork)...  At present, I "mine" and process local agates and jasper..  I'm thinking of doing a recipe, for here, but most of the ingredients are difficult to obtain in Maine (??)  Do you have an instructable on how to write an auto-biography ? I had a "sad-happy-life-changing-all-about-a-girl-and-international-travel" experience in the late 70's, time flies, the LESS serious it seems, retrospectively..some parts now REALLY hiarious! ( Youth wasted on the Young??  Oh yeah! )   Recipes..  Pimento Liquer, Mango Chutney, guava jams..etc any enquiries abt Ja. history, fruits, cooking traditions, etc..  I'll try and answer  (..Its OK, I have a Great anti-spam device my nephew in Wyoming set up for me..)  One Love from Ja.          p.s. INSTRUCTABLES IS AN amazing SITE..Pls continue.... 
krissi5 years ago
I enjoyed reading your insrtuctions on how to make homemade sauerkraut !I have been making sauekraut for yrs and will never buy sauerkraut again in the stores. It is so much less salty and you just can't beat the great taste of it! What we do is use 5 gallon pails to store the sauerkraut while it is fermenting. We use a large wooden shredder with a blade to slice the cabbage into smaller pieces. Then put that into the pail and we have a wooden stomper that we use to stomp down the cabbage adding pickling salt into  the layers of cabbage. About 2 tablespoons on each layer.When the pail is 3/4 full I cover it with cabbage leaves, add a plate on top of that ,then filled a empty milk jug filled with water to lay that on the plate. Now everything is weighed down. I ferment the kraut for 3- 6 wks checking it everyday. Also I check and scoop off any foam each day until ready. When it is ready we put the kraut in freezer bags and we freeze it.
megmaine (author)  krissi5 years ago
Thanks for the great description for a larger amount!

Do be aware that freezing may kill any or all of the probiotic bacteriathat are beneficial to your gut health and immune function, although itpreserves more nutrients than canning or other heat processing would.

However, it does store a fairly long time in a jar in the refrigeratorin case that is helpful, and if you have a sufficiently chilly basement,you can store the whole 5 gallons safely there, and eat it throughoutthe winter as they used to do before basements were overheated byfurnaces. The length of time it will keep depends on being stored in acold enough space, and having enough salt.
JettaKnight5 years ago
Kosher salt doesn't dissolve well in cold water. Pickling or canning salt is a wise choice for this. The salt concentration is key for creating the right "envrionment" that is inhospitable for nasty bacteria.
Here's an equation that ilustrates
9T of Morton Kosher Salt = 8T Morton Canning & Pickling Salt
megmaine (author)  JettaKnight5 years ago
Thanks for the helpful conversion and advice!
I haven't actually found dissolution in cold water to be an issue, since I don't "dissolve" the salt in water... I just mix it with the cabbage and it dissolves itself over time as the cabbage juices out. Kosher salt was just the kind I had to hand when I made the Instructable.

But it's great to have the conversion factor right there, thanks!
For those who might worry over it, my personal experience has been that it hardly seems to matter what salt I use, so long as I don't use too much or too little (there is a lot of room for variation there before it affects the kraut adversely), so let your tastebuds be your guide.

If you find iodized salt tastes objectionable, don't use it, and if you feel that gourmet sea salt adds that special something, go for it. But it all makes kraut. Still, good to note that the different coarsenesses will affect the amount, so use tastebuds as well as general measure.

JettaKnight5 years ago
Clean your hands thoroughly to avoid introducing anything nasty at this stage.
I've never tried sauerkraut before, but I love kimchi! Does kimchi have the same taste as sauerkraut, save for the spiciness?
megmaine (author)  meowmeowcatcat5 years ago
Not the same, but if you already enjoy fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut by comparison would taste like a mild fermented pickle. Imagine kimchi without garlic, ginger, or pepper, and it's similar (but who wants to imagine kimchi like that?) Sauerkraut is a basic element of German cooking much as kimchi is basic to Korean cooking. Kraut goes really well with many German dishes. If you want to try good sauerkraut as your first experience, try to get some either homemade or else handcrafted artisanal kraut, or failing that, some of the refrigerated fresh deli type. Supermarket canned would be the least likely to impress the palate. Happy gastronomic adventuring! -Meg
I like to eat sauerkraut plain from the jar. Kinda like spam.
megmaine (author)  Yerboogieman5 years ago
It is delicious as a pickle in its own right, isn't it?
It's really good on Ruben sandwiches with thousand island dressing.
Hvysteel5 years ago
I've always wanted to do this but just haven't made the time yet. One question, how long does this keep?
megmaine (author)  Hvysteel5 years ago
In the refrigerator, several weeks to several months depending on temperature, whether you reach in with unwashed hands or a clean utensil, and how ripe your kraut was when it first went in the fridge.
The BBD reference in the title of step 5 cracked me up! :-) I'm favoriting this. Someone was selling fermented sauerkraut @ our local green market and charging $8 for a quart jar.
Now I was thinking Cypress Hill.... :)
*Forehead Smack* I knew that!
But what popped into my head was Cypress Hill's Hits From The Bong. "Pick it, Pack it, fire it kinda has the same cadence.
We must both be old. :)
Cycrolus5 years ago
Awesome I need to try this.
Mmmm... Mmmmm... Goodd... looks tasty! I want to try this. :D Does it taste like commercial sauerkraut?

Very detailed 'ible. 5* and FAVED!
megmaine (author)  MadBricoleur5 years ago
Thank you! As for the flavor, I find it vastly superior to commercial sauerkraut, which is sold either canned, or at least pasteurized. The 'deli' type, which is pasteurized but not canned, tastes closer to homemade but isn't as healthful. The nicest thing about making it yourself is, you can customize it to your own preference by tweaking the salt, adding a little sugar and caraway if you like Sweet Bavarian Style Sauerkraut, adding dill seeds for a more dill pickle taste, etc. This stuff makes fabulous deli sandwiches such as Reubens and is good on any sandwich or wrap where pickles would be used. Also a good accompaniment to baked beans. The kraut juice is also great in vinaigrette, certain marinades, and taken straight to help settle a sick stomach. I must credit Sandor Ellix Katz and his book "Wild Fermentation" with my discovery, enjoyment, and success with sauerkraut, kimchi, and other wonders of home fermentation. Thanks for your feedback and very glad you enjoyed this instructable! -Meg
I got Sandor's book too, and tried kraut with it. It was so easy, and sooooo good! You can make "Preserved Lemons" in a very similar way, by quartering lemons and salting them. I did those in the fridge and in about 3 weeks they turned into gooey, salty, yummy lemon great for use in cooking.
A pic of my sauerkraut. 1 purple cabbage, 2 green cabbage and about 5 lb of carrots. Great Instructable.
I've made coleslaw with purple cabbage and the Cuisinart I inherited from my Mom. Never thought of SauerKraut, but I may have to try. I wonder what Jicama would be like in it?
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