Sauerkraut is one of those foods that we either love or dislike a lot. No one serves it at a fast food restaurant or a school cafeteria and if it wasn’t for a reuben sandwich, Americans may have never known much about this strange dish at all. But sauerkraut has an interesting history, dating thousands of years back to ancient China and believed to have been fed to the workers during the construction of the Great Wall. Rice wine was used for fermentation of cabbage in those days and Genghis Khan himself was responsible for bringing the kraut to Europe during his quest.
In its recent history, sauerkraut has become a staple of European cuisine and salt has replaced rice wine. Dutch and Germans eat it with everything and even the Soviets dabbled heavily in kraut. As someone who grew up in the USSR, I recall eating veggies and fruits only in season and then canning them for winter. If sauerkraut wasn’t being made at home under a press in a big bowl, then we were going to shop for it at the market. Tons of babushkas were set up with fermenting barrels of kislaya kapusta and my grandma and I would sample until we found the most delicious one. Some kraut was too mushy and some was too sour or not sour enough. Some samples were dry and some were not fermented all the way. I always marveled at the fact of how no kraut tasted the same. When my Grandpa made it, it was perfect, juicy and crunchy. We would eat it as a side dish with just about any meal. Often, we would cook potatoes, dice them up and toss them with kraut and a dash of olive oil. To this day I love potatoes and sauerkraut and have been known to make my wife cringe when I pile up my home made kraut on top of mashed potatoes. Yum.
Making sauerkraut is fun and easy and if you eat as much of it as I do, its also very economical. Cabbage and salt are cheap, and thats all it takes to make delicious kraut. Store bought sauerkraut is expensive and its nutritional benefits are compromised. By utilizing my family’s traditional sauerkraut making technique and combining it with new information I found on the web, I now make seriously diggity dank sauerkraut. After a few ruined batches and more trial and error I learned a few things. First, the best kind of cabbage to use is the white cabbage. Its sweeter than other types and produces more juice. Purple cabbage is tough and does not soften very easily so I wouldn’t recommend using it alone. If you would like, you could add a little bit to your white cabbage and make pink kraut. I have used carrots and daikon radish to add to my batches too and it turned out delicious. But today I want to tell you about my favorite recipe.
The most important thing I learned about making sauerkraut is to use the proper ratio of cabbage and salt. I use 2% salt to 100% cabbage. Since I like making my kraut in a 32 oz mason jar, I was able to figure out the exact amount of cabbage to use in order to avoid brine spilling over or not having enough in the jar. After I shred the cabbage I weigh out 550 g of it and put it in a mixing bowl. I weigh the salt next and look for 11 g. I found pink himalayan salt to be the best for my kraut but you can use any salt of your choice.
After I add salt to the bowl I begin to massage the shredded cabbage. I choose to wear kitchen gloves during this part to avoid direct contact with salt. Five minutes should be enough but sometimes it takes a few minutes longer. Once you see that the cabbage is breaking down and releasing juice, you are close.
Now its time to put it in the mason jar. I use a canning chute to avoid making a mess as I stuff the jar with cabbage. All the juice from the bowl is added to the jar as well.
Now its time to put a press on your kraut to insure proper fermentation. I use an 8 oz jelly jar filled with stone pebbles. Rachel loves picking stones on the beach and was gracious enough to let me have the perfect ones. So I put the little jelly jar inside the kraut vessel and press down. You will see the juice floating to the top. I use a cheese cloth to cover the jar and a band to hold it in place. The cabbage needs to be covered with juice at all times to avoid spoilage.
Then I place it on a kitchen counter away from the sun and give it a press every time I can. Little foamy bubbles on the surface are a proof that fermentation is taking place. Impatiently I have eaten it after three days but my most perfect batches take five days. Lets just say that I start tasting it on day four and on day five I remove the cheese cloth and screw on the lid. Now I stick it in the fridge and crave it. I have eaten too much at once before and my stomach was mad as hell so I try to pace myself.
Recently my wife and I surrendered to a gluten-free lifestyle and sauerkraut is essential to our gut’s health right now. According to this study by Dr. Mercola, a sample of home made kraut was sent to a lab for a probiotic count test and the results were off the charts. 4-6 oz of sauerkraut yielded ten trillion bacteria. The comp they use is 100 count probiotic capsules equal 2 oz of kraut. That is staggering! I eat 2 oz of kraut just staring at an open fridge right out of the jar!
In this article, Organic Facts describes the plethora of health benefits of sauerkraut. While its probiotic power is second to none, this superfood also packs a ton of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. All cruciferous veggies are great for our health but they are especially beneficial for breast cancer prevention and cabbage and sauerkraut are at the forefront.
I will wrap this up by saying that my grandfolks still make sauerkraut their way at the age of 89 and 87 (I think this is the part when I knock on wood and pretend to spit over my left shoulder three times). I’m not going to say that sauerkraut is the key to their longevity but I’m not going to say it isn’t. And while Rachel hasn’t exactly embraced sauerkraut as her favorite, I think she is taking steps in the right direction. She has already made and eaten some spring rolls stuffed with cabbage and liked them, so it’s only a matter of time until she moves the kraut bowl closer and starts digging in this crunchy goodness too.
- 550 grams shredded cabbage
- 11 grams pink Himalayan salt
- Add salt to cabbage and massage with hands for 5-10 minutes
- Put cabbage and juice in a 1 quart mason jar.
- Press down into jar until all cabbage is covered with liquid.
- Insert smaller jar into mason jar and weigh down with rocks.
- Cover with cheesecloth and screw on lid.
- Leave on counter, out of sunlight.
- Start testing for desired doneness on day 3-4. (I like mine at day 5)
- Once finished, cover and store in the refrigerator.