Making Sauerkraut

A batch of Tex-Mex sauerkraut fermenting.

I have always liked sauerkraut, usually as in with brats. Well, as an older adult anyway. As a kid you wouldn’t have been able to get me to touch the stuff. Now, it’s German potato salad, brats, and sauerkraut, yummy! With a nice German beer, of course.

With my hermit lifestyle, I’m doing a lot more experimenting and have discovered a whole wide world of sauerkraut. My eldest daughter, Elian, has been preaching the gospal to me for years about “fermented” foods. I had ran later across an article in Mother Earth News on fermenting not too long ago. When I used to think about “fermenting,” it was about beer, wine, and such, not cabbage and other veggies.

Then, just a few months ago, attending a continue education workshop for counseling (mental health) on the gut-brain connection and health, the speaker brought up fermented foods for their pro- and pre-biotics, and their many health benefits., both mental and physical health. The universe was trying to send me a message maybe?

Then, several months ago, Elian brought me a pint of jalapeño sauerkraut. She and her business partner, Lance, own and run the Clemson Area Food Exchange, which is an internet farmers’ market specializing in locally grown, mostly organic produce, meat, eggs, and crafts. Someone had ordered the jalapeño sauerkraut but not picked it up. She had plenty of fermented sauerkraut on hand already. Plus, she likes a little spice, but honestly, jalapeños? I tried it. It was indeed “spicy.” I loved it!

Let’s distinguish between fermented and regular canned sauerkraut. Both are fermented the same way: chop up your cabbage, or run them through a food processor if your lazy like me–although, I usually prefer hand-chopping most of my veggies. Next pound the chopped cabbage a little with a tenderizing mallet or some such implement to help release the juices. Then sprinkle in salt. The salt and juices create a brine solution. Next, put the cabbage in a jar or container for their fermentation, packing it down into the jar and covering with more brine. The salt is conducive for growing the probiotic bacteria like the ones needed in your gut for health. It is important for the process that the sauerkraut be kept covered and submerged in the brine, which I will go into below. Then you let them incubate for several weeks until fermentation stops. The bubbling stops at that point. In truth, you have to look really carefully for the little bubbles. I usually just let it go three weeks or so. At this point, the fermented sauerkraut is just chalked full of pre- and probiotics.

Probiotics are the bacteria that we want in our gut. The prebiotics are what the probiotic bacteria need to grow–like vitamins, minerals, and other good stuff. When the sauerkraut is canned in a hot water bath, it kills all the probiotic bacteria. but it will keep for years as such. For the fermented, uncanned kind as this blog is about, when the fermentation process is finished you put a lid on it and store it in the refrigerator. It will keep for a couple of months like this and keeps getting better as those little good bacteria are in there still doing their thing.

A little and biology and biochemistry here. Fermenting sauerkraut is an anerobic process, meaning no oxygen (or air). This allows the many species of probiotic bacteria to grow and pretty much keeps out the fungi and mold. Anerobic fermentation is what goes on in our gut. Fermentation with yeast, which is an aerobic process, meaning it takes oxygen, results in alcohol and/or vinegar. Okay, enough of this, back to my sauerkraut story now.

I had cabbages coming off in the garden and was going to make regular, canned sauerkraut from some of them. However, listening to the universe, my daughter, the continuing education expert, and Mother Earth News, I decided to take two of the six heads and make one into fermented regular (as in unflavored) and the other into a SouthWest version. I had found a recipe for the latter on the Internet. Sitting for three weeks in my pretty much unused dinning room fermenting was a big batch of regular sauerkraut from four heads of cabbage that I would can the old fashioned way in a hot water bath, and the two that would not be canned. It was smelly in there, and I kept the door closed pretty much for the next three weeks while Mother Nature did her fermenting thing.

In the meantime, in came my house cleaning person, she took one look, and said, “Oh, I see your making sauerkraut.” It turns out she makes it all the time and has quite a list of various recipes she has tried. She gave me several good ideas on various recipes and several different ways to eat it.

Jumping ahead now, at first I liked the unflavored, regular version the best. The Southwest version needed more jalapeño. Its recipe, obviously for a gringo’s pallets, was not spicy enough like the pint Elian had given me. I eat it now on all sorts of ways: in sandwiches or all types, salads, as side dishes, even on nachos, and still experimenting. Finished eating both batches. The jar above represents my second Southwestern version (recipe below). The plastic cup seals the jar, keeping it anerobic. The beer bottle in it is a weight filled with water to hold the plastic cup in place, otherwise the fermenting gases would push the cup out, breaking the anerobic seal.

Recipe for Southwestern version, modified slightly from the Internet recipe:

  • one head of cabbage chopped and pounded (the published recipe called for two)
  • 4 tablespoons of salt (non-iodinized, e.g. kosher, sea salt)
  • one bunch cilantro, chopped
  • one bunch green onions, ditto ( I used regular onion for this recipe as I did not want to get back on my bike and pedal to the store. The green onions are more appealing.)
  • 4 cut up jalapinos, seeded
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • pack into a jar and cover with brine (4.5 teaspoon salt/quart water) as needed to create and maintain anerobic conditions
  • Let sit at room temp for about three weeks, checking periodically, adding brine as needed and removing in mold, etc that may start growing on top
  • Cap and store in refrigerator

probatches of my canned sauerkraut