If you are thinking of making your own delicious, homemade sauerkraut, the first think you’re going to need to know about is Lacto fermentation. Lactic acid fermentation is the process when glucose, sucrose and fructose are broken down anaerobically (without oxygen) by hungry lactobacillus bacteria. In the case of sauerkraut, we use salt to make the water undesirable for bad bacteria that could make us sick, while the good bacteria (lactobacillus) can make short work of all of the sugars held in the cabbage. The lactobacilli are everywhere and on everything; in our homes, on our food, literally everything. In your gut, the lactobacilli help your body to break down the food you eat and aid in absorption of vitamins that otherwise would pass thru your system. Because of this, lacto-fermented foods are a wonderful pro-biotic and are greatly beneficial to our health. This is also a great long term food storage method, and a skill that most have forgotten about. It requires little effort to create, and the health benefits are terrific.
Making kraut is ridiculously simple, but there are a few guidelines. All you need is a container of some sort, a way to keep your kraut under the brine, cabbage, salt and maybe a little water. The containers can vary from a bowl with a plate to keep the kraut down, to fancy crocks meant for this express purpose. Some people like to add garlic, onions, juniper berries, carrots, or other ingredients, but these are purely optional. We like to keep things simple around here so we stuck to cabbage with a little onion thrown in. It is best to use sea salt or canning salt. Don’t use plain ol’ table salt. Also, don’t use chlorinated city water for lacto-fermenting. Chlorine is made to kill micro-organisms, which is exactly what we do not want to do. Boil your city water to dissipate the chlorine, or get yourself some distilled or well water.
Here’s a pic of the fermentation crock we used to make this batch:
We made this batch with 4 white cabbages from the local grocery store. We started by peeling off the first couple outside leaves and coring them 0ut to get the gnarly cabbage chunks out. Then cut them in half and thinly slice them like so:
There is no set method to cutting everything up. The thinner you slice it, the sooner it will be ready. But, some people like big thick chunks of kraut, so experiment and cut it how you like it.
The ratio of salt to cabbage varies greatly as well. The minimum to keep the water salty enough to keep the bad bacteria at bay is about 3 tablespoons per 5 gallons. For this recipe we used the old 1 lb of salt to 40 lbs of ratio and weighed it on a scale. We had about 9 lbs of cabbage so we weighed out 3 1/8 oz of salt.
The next step is to put a layer of cabbage into the crock and mash the crap out of it with a potato masher or other fairly solid, heavy or blunt object. Then sprinkle a layer of salt and then layer on more cabbage. Repeat until you have no more salt or cabbage. Normally, as you mash the cabbage they release enough cabbage juice to make their own brine and don’t require any additional water. We weren’t so lucky. Our cabbages barely gave us any juice at all, much less enough to cover the mashed cabbage no matter how much we mashed.
So after thoroughly squashing the cabbage in layers with the sea salt tightly into the crock, we laid the weights on top of the cabbage. We then added just enough water to cover the cabbage (about halfway up the height of the weights).
If you are using a container without a lid, you will accumulate “scum” floating on the top of the water after a week or so of fermenting. Although it looks kinda gross, it is totally normal. Keeping the cabbage below the level of the salty brine keeps the mold away from precious kraut. Skim it off every couple days and let those bacteria do their job. Depending on the temperature of your house, kraut can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to complete. It also depends on your taste. Some like it super sour and krauty, others like it more mild. Don’t be afraid to taste it throughout the fermentation process to see how it is coming along. When it reaches the point that it tastes good to you, throw it in a jar and put it in the refrigerator. It will keep for a year or more.
Here’s a link to the Survival Podcast Episode on Lacto fermentation http://www.thesurvivalpodcast.com/episode-930-lacto-fermentation
TONS of great information on lacto-fermentation in that episode! (and way more in depth than this post)