Growing up, I was disgusted by sauerkraut: the look and smell of it made me want to gag. Sauerkraut was a (gross) topping that my father put on his hot dogs, and that was it. I never ever would have guessed that I’d eventually have an enormous jar of it fermenting on my kitchen counter, and more of it in my fridge. Or that I’d be giving it away as gifts to fellow sauerkraut lovers, all the while touting its nutritional benefits.
Nope, it’s only recently that I’ve been introduced to it (similar story here).
I’m hooked, and I’ll tell you why. Then I’ll show you how to make it yourself – it’s so easy.
Traditionally fermented cabbage (aka sauerkraut) is an incredibly healing food that works wonders on the digestive tract because it’s full of enzymes and probiotics, and also has the ability to stimulate stomach acid production. This is really good news if you’re struggling with any aspect of digestion.
The probiotics in sauerkraut strengthen your immunity by helping to build up and support the protective mucosal membrane lining your intestines. This is really good news if you struggle during the cold and flu season.
Oh, and sauerkraut has 20 times more bioavailable vitamin C than fresh cabbage. (What?! You heard that right.)
It’s hard to go wrong with sauerkraut, really. I have a little every day! Eat a spoonful or two with your meals. If you have very severe digestive issues, however, talk to your nutritionist – you may opt to have just a little of the juice instead of the cabbage itself.
Okay, now for the practical: how to make sauerkraut yourself – the traditional way, using just salt and water. Do not buy sauerkraut from the grocery store. (This brand from a health food store is okay…but why buy something when you can make it yourself?) Read on.
I’m a visual person, so I included pictures to help. Click on the image to make it bigger!
Here’s What You Need:
1 head cabbage – I’ve only ever used green, but try other colours too
1-2 TBSP ground sea salt
1-2 cups filtered water
Large 2L wide-mouth glass jar
Smaller jar (must fit into the mouth of the larger jar)
Mandolin (optional but useful)
Here’s What You Do:
1. Remove and put aside one of the outer leaves of the cabbage – you will need it later.
2. Shred the cabbage into a large bowl. A mandolin works well for this.
3. Add the salt – about 1 tbsp per kg of cabbage.
4. Massage the cabbage and salt with your hands for a few moments, then allow it to sit for 15-30 minutes. The cabbage will start to “sweat” and liquid will form. If there’s not a lot of liquid, you can add some water as you see fit.
5. Add cabbage to the large jar, pressing down very firmly as you go, with either a wooden spoon or your fist, if it can fit inside the jar. It is important that the cabbage is very compacted, with no trapped air, and that it is completely submerged in its own juices. I usually have to add water to it.
6. Take the reserved outer cabbage leaf and place on top of the compacted, submerged cabbage. Remove any pieces of cabbage stuck to the inner sides of the empty, top part of the jar – otherwise they will rot.
7. Put a smaller jar on top to use as weight to keep the cabbage submerged. There should be at least a couple inches between the cabbage and the top of the jar, to allow room for fermentation gases to escape.
8. Place a towel over the jar and let it sit on the counter and do its thing. You can sit the jar on a plate to catch overflow if you notice the water levels rise. I’ve never had an issue with that, as the jar I use is gigantic.
9. At room temperature, it should take about 5-7 days to ferment; at a cooler temperature it will take longer. Do a taste test after 5 days. Once you’re satisfied, move it to the fridge and store it there. It will keep for a long, long time – and will only get more beneficial as time goes on.
Does it seem overwhelming or difficult? It’s not, I promise. Putting it together is simple, and then all you have to do is wait while it does all the fermentation magic on its own.
If you’re not confident about giving this a go without a little extra support, that’s totally understandable. In that case, you’ll want to check out Fearless Fermentation, a series of awesome video courses on all things fermented. Fellow Toronto nutritionist Sarah Ramsden has designed these courses for beginners. She includes videos, recipes, troubleshooting guides, and online support via the Fearless Fermentation community on Facebook. I highly recommend this!
Challenge: Go out and grab a head of cabbage, and make sauerkraut this week. As always, let me know how it goes!
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