Sauerkraut 101

Sauerkraut 101

Ah Fermenting…how I love thee!  Fermented foods are so nutritious and SO easy!  Fermented foods are loaded with gut enhancing bacteria which boosts your immune system.  70-80% of your immune defenses are located in your gut!  Serotonin-the “feel good” neurotransmitter (enables you to experience good moods) is actually manufactured in your gut!  So, it stands to reason that you really want to treat your gut well, and give it lots of beneficial bacteria!  I normally buy a 50 lb sack of cabbage from a local farmer, and I make this in very large batches, that last us all through the year.  I do this because fermenting cabbage actually increases the vitamin A and C content by 200%!!  Those are two vitamins that our bodies NEED during the winter months when the immune system is defending against so many cirrculating viruses and bacteria.  You might be wondering how on earth I make 50 lbs of sauerkraut?  I found that it’s actually easier to make this in bulk than in small batches.  The weight of the cabbage actually helps draw out the moisture that you need to cover it.  It’s what’s called a “self-brining” ferment because no additional water is necessary normally.  I’m going to post more on fermenting in future posts, so keep an eye out for those!  I will be sharing where you can get all the cool equipment-if you get into it like I have!  Or you can always keep it simple and use mason/ball jars.

Be sure to keep this post in mind as Autumn approaches.  Cabbage is not in season until the very end of summer/beginning of fall.  So it is plentiful then-and buying in season generally means a lower price.  However, I encourage you to buy  good quality organic/non GMO cabbage for maximum health benefits!  Cabbage prices tend to also be cheaper around St. Patrick’s day.

Here are the steps I use for making sauerkraut:

There are many flavor variations-this is for standard kraut.

I begin by purchasing organic cabbage, washing it, and shredding it with a serrated knife.  Leave 3-4 Large cabbage leaves intact.  I usually get 4-5 heads because I make it in a 2 gallon crock.  This yields about 5-6 quarts in the end.

Place shredded cabbage into a LARGE plastic bowl.

I add 2 TBSP Himalayan Pink Salt for each head of cabbage.

I cover it with a lid or large towel for about an hour to allow the salt to draw out some of the cabbage juice.

Waiting for the salt to draw the liquid from the cabbage to make a brine

I add around 1 TBSP caraway seed for each head of cabbage.

Then I use the kraut hammer to pound the cabbage until there is plenty of cabbage juice beaten out of the leaves.  This part normally takes me around 30 min or more. This is a good activity to do on a day when you are feeling frustrated!  🙂  I love my kraut hammer, and no I cannot tell you where I got it because it was actually a Christmas gift from my husband!

This tool makes this task much easier! I highly recommend getting one of these!

Using a clean plastic spoon (plastic because metal can react with your ferment) I scoop my cabbage, out of the bowl and pack it firmly into the crock using the kraut hammer to pack it tightly.  I pour all of the cabbage juice (aka brine) over the top into the crock.

I use 2 gallon crocks-I have several. One for plain, and one for a mirepoix kraut that is my absolute favorite! I’ll share the recipe with you in a future blog post!

Make sure this “brine” covers your kraut by about 1 inch.

Use your intact cabbage leaves to cover the top of all the shredded kraut, and make sure they are also under brine.  This helps contain little floaters.

Cabbage leaf covering

Next place your crock weights on top of the intact leaves.

Remove any stray floaters with a plastic spoon.

These are 2 gallon sized crock weights from Ohio Stoneware

Label your crock with a piece of masking tape that has the date 6 weeks from the day you made it.  6 weeks allows your kraut to go through all the stages of fermentation, thus increasing the good bacteria counts, and it allows different kinds of good bacteria to form.

I allow my kraut to sit in an undisturbed area (my home office area) for one day uncovered.

On day two I cover the crock opening with saran wrap.  This allows me to look into the crock frequently.  You will see some slight bubbling and this means it’s doing it’s thing!

Bubbly Sauerkraut!

After 6 weeks has elapsed, take the saran wrap off the top,  pH test it, then taste it!! I have read that Kraut will never be at an unsafe alkaline level…but I’m a little paranoid with blind trust on ferments, so I pH test it.  The pH should be between 3.0 and 4.5.  Anything below this is too acidic for my tastebuds, and anything above 4.5 could allow pathogenic bacteria to be growing in the ferment.  If it is above 4.5 cover it and allow it to ferment longer.   6 weeks allows for all 3 stages of fermentation to occur so you are getting the maximum amount of beneficial gut bugs!

Using a plastic or wooden spoon, scoop your finished kraut into mason jars,  still making sure that the kraut is covered by brine in the mason jars.  If you need a bit of help in the brine department, you can use a bit of spring water to cover.

Weight it with a baggie of clean marbles, and place in the fridge!  I always label the jars with the date that I jarred it.

Ferments are most beneficial when enjoyed cold, or only slightly warmed…heating too much-ESPECIALLY in the microwave will kill off all the good bacteria you have waited so long for!

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