Sauerkraut - The Step by Step Beginner Guide Into The World Of Fermented Foods (With Pictures)

by Halley -Author at MIGardener

With harvesting being at peak season and plenty growing BIG, there is inevitably the question of, "What will I do with all this harvest!?" There are plenty of ways to preserving the life of that precious produce that you worked so hard to grow! One easy and super healthy way to preserve is to FERMENT! Fermenting is a hot food trend, because of its tangy, fizzy taste and its health properties. The plus side is that you can start making this at home, relatively inexpensively! Keep reading on for learning more about fermenting, and a beginner recipe to make your own sauerkraut.

What is Fermentation?
Fermentation is the process of anaerobic bacteria (lactobacillus Acidophilus just to name one) breaking down sugars in an oxygen-deprived environment. These bacteria are the same bacteria found in probiotic supplements and yogurt! So why do you want to take the oxygen out to ferment foods? The reason we want an oxygen-deprived environment is that Oxygen is your enemy when fermenting. Oxidation will cause all of your vitamins like vitamin C to go bye-bye. (insert sad face here).  Fermentation retains the color, texture, and nutritional content of the food without sacrificing anything. Fermenting is very popular amongst many countries. Germany has sauerkraut, while Korea has kimchi, and Latin America has curtido.

What are the health benefits of fermenting?
Like we stated earlier, fermented foods contain all the original vitamins and minerals as their fresh counterpart, but with an added bonus! Fermented foods contain probiotic bacteria that help to digest food better, absorb more nutrients, balance your gut flora (help to maintain candida overgrowth), and can even add essential B vitamins to your diet!

What Things can you ferment?
You can ferment pretty much anything, it is the brine and what you choose to ferment that makes the magic. Some things to consider fermenting; Cabbage, beets, carrots, and onions.

How To Make Sauerkraut:

Sauerkraut is what many call the gateway to fermented foods. It is easy to do,  and inexpensive to make, and takes very little knowledge about fermenting to achieve success.


5 liter (1.3 gallons) Fido Jar (for 10 pounds of cabbage)

Pickl-It Fido Lid Converter  Kit with Airlock (we found this one at Amazon)

Potato Masher or Your Hands!

Large Cooking Spoon


10 lbs of Cabbage (any color will d0)

Fennel Seed 2 tbsp

Caraway Seed 2 tbsp

Salt 4 tbsp

Let's get started!

STEP 1: Gather what you need
Make sure to have all your ingredients out, because once you start, the last thing you want is to be running around getting distracted.


STEP 2: Clean Everything
When fermenting it is extremely important to sanitize everything since bad bacteria grow just as easily as good bacteria! Give the good bacteria a fighting chance by simply washing your hands, tools, jars, lids, and produce before use.


Step 3: Switch out Lids
Remove the original lid from the Fido Jar, then remove the wire that is around the lid. Attach the wire to the new lid with the gasket to accept the airlock.


Step 4: Get a "cap" 
You will need to find something to cap the cut cabbage and hold it under the brine to keep it out of the air. You can use glass weights but I find those are quite expensive and unnecessary. Simply grab your cabbage, remove some of the leaves surrounding it, and set them aside. We will use those later as our cap.


Step 5: Chop your ingredients
Rough chop the cabbage, making both thick and thinner cuts of the cabbage. Varying sizes will ensure a better texture. One of the mistakes many people make when fermenting leaves is to have them all one size. Once the leaves ferment, the texture can become mushy. If you alternate between 1/8 and 1/16 inch thick slices, this will give you a much better texture when completed.


Place the chopped cabbage in a sanitized bowl. You may need to break in parts the following steps, as all of your cabbage may not fit in one bowl! We made this mistake the first time around and had cabbage overflow! Wet cabbage is a bear to sweep off the floor and was not fun to clean up after. Heed my advice and start with a massive bowl, or just divide into batches.


Step 6: Add your spices and salt
Add your fennel, caraway seeds and salt to help tenderize the cabbage. The salt is used to draw the moisture out of the cabbage and creates a saline environment that inhibits many types of harmful bacteria and mold. Do NOT use iodized salt for this step. Iodine can kill bacteria and prevent the fermentation process from happening. The brine solution will be about a 5% brine solution when all done. The reason sea salt is good is that it contains many beneficial minerals and micro-nutrients that are lacking from our modern day foods and often supplemented with multivitamins like phosphorus, bromine, boron, zinc, iron, manganese, and copper.


Step 7: The fun part! 
we want to extract the juices in the cabbage. This can be done with your hands or a potato masher. This can be very satisfying in a slightly odd way. After a long stressful day, or having built up frustrations, it feels so good to grip, squeeze, and mash the cabbage. This helps to extract the juices and expedite the process.


You want to make sure to pulverize the chopped cabbage as much as possible, to get the most water out of it. This water is important since it will become the brine!


Once your cabbage is very wet, we can transfer it to the jar. We decided to add a sweet red pepper from the garden to add a little color.


STEP 8: Fill the jar, and get pressing!
Once you have filled the jar, place the cap (from step 4) onto the top of the cabbage mash. Then, with the large spoon make sure to press down, so the brine is evenly distributed in the jar! Make sure to not fill up the entire jar. You want to allow 2 inches of space between the top of the lid and the brine, this is important as the brine ferments, more juice will be extracted from the cabbage and can lead to an overflow, which trusts don't want.


STEP 9: Seal the jar and put the airlock in
Next you want to make sure to put the airlock, this will (lock the air! ) ensure the fermenting process to happen. It is important to not fill the airlock all the way up but stop at the fill line indicated on the side. Filled too high the air inside the jar can not properly escape and thus leading to failure of the airlock and improper fermenting.


Voila! You are set...all you need to do is leave the jar in a dark location with a temperature between 60 and 75º F, fermenting will begin after 24 hours and you will notice more bubbles forming as time goes. You may try your sauerkraut as early as 3 days, however, we recommend the patient approach of waiting the full 3 weeks to allow the fermenting process to be complete. It is then that you can place your finished sauerkraut into smaller canning jars and place in the fridge or in a dark cool spot for between 3 and 5 months!

Note: Always trust your nose and if it smells foul, or grows mold, DO NOT EAT!

Congratulations, you now have learned how to buy some time to enjoy your fresh garden produce later!


Fermentation Troubleshooting:

What if my cabbage does not produce enough juice to cover the cabbage?
Don't worry! Many times if cabbage was grown in dry conditions the juice will not be produced that is normal. Simply make a brine using 1 quart FILTERED water (city water contains chlorine that can kill bacteria) and mix in 1 1/2 tbs. salt and use this to top off the jar. But be careful! Many times as the cabbage ferments, more juice is created and you don't want to have too much brine!

What if bubbles start forming a film?
Don't worry! A small film is totally normal but many people find it unsettling.  To prevent this, simply take 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil and let it float on the surface of the brine. It will not prevent the fermentation process but will inhibit the film from forming.

Can I add more salt later if I worry the brine isn't strong enough? 
NO. NO. NEVER. Adding more salt can rapidly change the salinity of the mixture and if the ideal salinity of the brine is 5%, I will bet 999 out of 1000 that you will mess something up and this can kill bacteria in a big way.

My Brine looks like it is going to overflow, what do I do?
The Brine can easily overflow if you neglect to decant some of the liquid. Simply take a sterile measuring cup and scoop out some of the liquid. Once the liquid stops rising, you do not need to watch this anymore. Brine can't be made from thin air, so it will only get so high before stopping. The general rule of thumb is between 1 1/2 and 2 inches of brine above the cabbage.

Can I pressure can my finished sauerkraut to make it last longer?
You may if you wish, but just know that the added heat and pressure will 100% kill off any and all bacteria, and removing the vitamins and antioxidants making your sauerkraut dead. We like food that is full of life and vitality, but if you want to add another month or so to the shelf life, be my guest.

-Luke from MIgardener


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