Fermenting, in general, is an age-old custom: it helps break down nutrients in vegetables and pre-digests food, making those nutrients easier for our bodies to absorb. Fermented vegetables have high levels of Vitamin B, microbes, and probiotic bacteria. It’s also a good seasonal practice to get into, as it helps keep your favourite vegetables around longer in your day-to-day diet, especially when they go out of season. Whether fermenting is a long-held family tradition or you’re trying it for the first time, making your own sauerkraut in small batches at home is a satisfying process.
The fresher and healthier the cabbage, the stronger the microbial action will be. We encourage you to grow your own, or source your cabbage when it’s in season from an organic or biodynamic farm. Enjoy with goulash, sausages, dumplings or even just on its own.
While the name is authentically German, what we now know as “sauerkraut” (meaning ‘sour cabbage’) originated in ancient China. The Chinese slaves fermented their cabbage in rice wine during the construction of the Great Wall of China. It made its way through Europe centuries later, when Genghis Khan took the loose threads of the recipe and disseminated it throughout his own raids and travels. Fermenting cabbage allowed for the preservation of this vegetable through cold conditions to sustain thousands of workers with something healthy during heavy labour. While we no longer have the same burdens to carry, the testament of sauerkraut carries through as a hearty, healthy companion to winter, getting you through cold months with plenty of micronutrients. In his now-legendary book written about fermentation, The Art of Fermentation, Sandor Katz writes that the “iconic sauerkraut is the Bavarian style”, made with caraway seeds and served warm and sweet with sugar. Our Sauerkraut recipe – from Gewürzhaus’ co-founders Maria and Eva – follows this traditional approach, serving it with German favourites Oma Rosa's Gulasch and Silesian Potato Dumplings.
The key things you need for sauerkraut are a head of cabbage, caraway seeds and salt. Plus, make sure you’ve got these tools handy for the process:
It ultimately depends on two things: the amount of cabbage you have (or whatever you may be fermenting) and your own personal preference. Our recipe for sauerkraut calls for 1.4% salt, meaning 14g of salt per kilo of cabbage. This is why you need a scale: weigh your cabbage using your kitchen scale, and if following our recipe, use 14g of salt for every kilogram of cabbage. You can veer and experiment with the amounts – tailor it to your preference – but remember to consider that salt weight may change depending on the salt you use (14g of Himalayan Pink Salt may not visually look the same as 14g of Kosher Salt), depending on the salt’s density and size.
We recommend Himalayan Pink Salt for use in fermenting due to its mineral-rich profile, being less processed than other salts (meaning no chemicals went into the production of the salt). Salt is not only a factor in taste; it also affects the texture of your sauerkraut. The amount of salt used affects the crunchiness of your sauerkraut. Using too much can transform its taste into something inedible (who wants soft, slimy sauerkraut?). While, with too little salt, it won’t be properly preserved and might invite mold or slime to move into your jar. So, always weigh your salt.
The general equation to calculate the amount of salt by weighting your vegetables: grams of salt ÷ by the total grams of the vegetables = your salt % Meaning, if you have a kilo of cabbage, adding 10g of salt will get your ferment to 1% total salinity. In our recipe, where we had 1000 grams of cabbage, we used 14g of salt to calculate 1.4% salinity. Keep this in mind in mind when you want to increase or vary the amount of salt in your ferments.
Salt is the fundamental ingredient that reacts to the fermentation time; next to that, we need to consider the temperature. In cold temperatures, fermentation generally happens slowly. The role of salt is to inhibit the growth of bad bacteria, which will result in the spoiling of food. Using the appropriate amount of salt will help determine the speed of the fermentation and avoid spoilage. If you’re fermenting vegetables in the summer months, the heat will increase the rate at which fermentation happens. To counteract this, you can use more salt to control and slow down the fermentation by a little bit or choose to vary the temperature by doing the ferment in the fridge. If you are fermenting in winter, safely stick to the 1.4% we’ve put in our recipes, so you know that in two weeks’ time, you’ll produce delicious, tangy, and crispy sauerkraut. Now that you know the equation, feel free to experiment to work out your ideal salt-to-veggie ratio especially if you find 1.4% is not salty enough. Make sure that you know the volume of the jars you’re planning to put the sauerkraut into, so that you can factor that into the amount and avoid any wastage.
The simplest form of sauerkraut is just cabbage with salt, which is where we start in this recipe.
Read through these steps in detail below.
Before you start, sterilise your clean jars and glass lids by placing them in a cold oven and heating them for 20 minutes at 130C. No need to preheat your oven. You must sterilise to avoid contamination: the last thing you want is mold growing over your sauerkraut. Ideally, do this a few hours before you begin as the jars need to be cool before filling.
For sauerkraut, keep your cabbage leaves relatively thick (1-2cm) – you don’t want to end up with thin, mushy cabbage leaves. Consider the size of your container too – if you’re using something smaller, it may be easier to chop them into smaller bits to make it manageable to fork out once you’re eating it! Once you’ve chopped it, put it into a large bowl and check the weight. Then, measuring out 14g per kilo of cabbage, add the 1.4% salt. For crunchy sauerkraut, toss the salt through. For softer sauerkraut, toss the salt through, then massage into the cabbage for a few minutes until the salt and cabbage are combined. You’ll notice a little bit of liquid start to come out at this process. Add the caraway seeds and toss through the cabbage.
Fill the cabbage into your jar, adding a small amount at a time. Make sure to press down several times firmly with your fist to remove any air bubbles in between layers. The liquid that has started to form in the jar is natural – do not get rid of it or drain the sauerkraut. The liquid should cover and sit over the cabbage and seeds to avoid contact with oxygen during fermentation. You will need a weight for this part of the process to keep the kraut sitting below the liquid. Insert the cabbage weight into the jar, press down firmly and then seal the jars.
As mentioned, the process for fermentation can vary based on the temperature, the amount of salt you’re using and what you’re fermenting. In this recipe for sauerkraut, we’ve opted for 2 weeks. Set your jars on the counter or cabinets out of direct sunlight for 14 days and let the juices flow. You’ll get crispy sauerkraut at the end of the process.
Cabbage is an easy segway to start fermenting your other vegetables: just remember, keep it seasonal, make sure your vegetables are as fresh and organic as possible, and keep your measurements tidy. You’ll be fermenting like a pro in no time.