Friday, February 16, 2007

Sauerkraut 101

This is my first try at making sauerkraut and my first time playing with spontaneous fermentation. I've been interested in doing sauerkraut for awhile not only because I think it's delicious but also because I have a family history of home sauerkraut making. My mother's grandfather, a German immigrant, used to keep a huge weighted barrel in his basement filled with fermenting sauerkraut.

Sauerkraut seems like it is easy enough for just about anyone to try. At its core it only requires two ingredients, salt and cabbage and about 10 minutes to prepare. In the right ratio salt draws moisture out of the cabbage and protects the good lactic acid bacteria (including our friends Lactobacillus, and Pediococcus which are both used in the production of sour beers) from other microbes that want to invade. After the cabbage is salted you simply apply a weight to the top of the cabbage and wait a few weeks for the magic to happen.

Other spices (juniper, caraway), fruits (apples) and vegetables (onions) can be added to the sauerkraut for flavor or texture, but for this first try I'm going to stay basic.

I sliced up 2 heads of regular green cabbage (3 lbs, after removing the stem and outer leaves) and mixed with 34 grams of kosher salt (2.5% by weight). Then I pressed the salted cabbage into a large Tupperware container put the lid from a smaller container and used a water filled mason jar to weigh it down.

I used Iodophor on the container and lid, but only soap and water on the knife and cutting board. Sanitation is important in making sauerkraut, but it is not as crucial as when making beer because the cabbage is covered in natural yeast and bacteria anyway and the salt is there to protect the fermentation.

After 24 hours the liquid drawn out by the salt was only half way up the cabbage. So I poured a brine made of 2 tsp of kosher salt and 1 pint of water onto the cabbage.

After another 48 hours the mixture was putting off enough sulfur aroma to cause me to move it out of my room and into a cabinet in the kitchen. I wish I had a cellar.

After about a week the distinct smell of sauerkraut was apparent. I had to top off with more brine because it had started to evaporate. I suspect that my rig is getting caught and not efficiently putting pressure on the kraut.

After another week I took a look at the kraut and there were several small, blue colonies of mold floating on top of the brine. This is not a serious issue as they are simply on the surface. I took the weight (mason jar) out and skimmed off the mold, replaced the weight and put the rig back on its shelf.


Anonymous said...

I just started my first batch:

I can't wait to see how it turns out!

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I've got the same V-slicer and just used it to make my first batch of kraut in awhile. I'll have to get a bigger crock so I can do more than a head or two at a time.

Anonymous said...

I made some Kraut for the first time this summer with some cabbage right out of the garden. I've had a lot of well-intentioned sauerkrauts from friends and sustainable food advocate types. But I never liked the stuff they made, it was never very sour and was really crunchy. I know you stated in the post about the canning that you enjoyed the crunchiness, but I like it soft. If you want to get it soft it requires some more time and a day of sore hands. Squeezing the sauerkraut before fermentation to masticate it releases more juices and also requires less salt (healthier I guess if you care). Those old-world German women must've had strong hands.

Anonymous said...

You've got to pound the kraut to get more water out of it. Pound and pound and pound until there is enough liquid to cover, *then* put the weight on and wait.

Turns out crunchy and divine. I prefer using red cabbage, as it starts out blue and turns red as the Lactobacillus takes off. . .