How to Make Perfect, Homemade Fermented Sauerkraut
Fermented foods can be a simple and tasty way to incorporate probiotics into your everyday diet.
But, if you’re only using store-bought ferments, all of the health benefits can become outweighed by the hefty price tag.
Which is why learning how to ferment your own food can be such a valuable skill! Both for your health, and your wallet.
Fermenting foods is definitely not as daunting as it may seem. Once you learn the basics, you can transform so many foods into fermented, probiotic-filled versions.
My favorite fermented food to make is sauerkraut. I love the tanginess of the fermented cabbage, and it pumps up the flavor on so many meals. Which means that I’m likely to top many of my meals with sauerkraut, providing my gut with plenty of probiotics and nutrients throughout the day.
In this post I’ll walk you through:
What exactly are fermented foods
The health benefits of eating ferments
An easy way to make your own homemade fermented sauerkraut
If you’re interested in bringing your gut health game to the next level, this one’s for you!
What are fermented foods?
Fermented foods are foods that have gone through the process of lacto-fermentation. Which is where the natural bacteria on the food feed on the sugar and starch in the food, creating lactic acid.
Fermentation is really a process that is mediated by the food you’re fermenting. We just have to provide the right conditions for it to occur.
Lactic acid produced through fermentation acts as a natural preservative. In fact, fermentation was used for food preservation long before it got popular in alternative health circles.
And when done correctly, this process not only preserves the food but creates beneficial enzymes, Omega-3 fatty acids, and multiple strains of beneficial probiotics.
The most common bacterial species that is present in fermented foods is lactobacillus, a lactic-acid bacteria. But certain ferments, such as kombucha, also contain beneficial yeast.
You can ferment almost anything. As long as there are bacteria and food for those bacteria present with the right conditions, fermentation will occur.
The most common fermented foods are sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, kefir, pickles, miso, tempeh. And you can even ferment beverages like kombucha and kvass.
Fermentation vs Rotting
The difference between beneficial, healthy fermentation, and food spoiling or rotting is the environment in which the bacterial growth takes place.
In intentional fermentation, you’re controlling the environment for the bacteria to live, often by using salt. So only the beneficial bacteria that are safe to consume will survive.
When food spoils, bacteria are basically running rampant. There’s no controlled environment in place dictating which types of bacteria will thrive.
So, if you provide an appropriate environment for fermentation to occur, you can be fairly certain that your ferments will only contain the bacteria that you actually want to be eating. Ones that will benefit your gut health!
Health Benefits of Fermented Foods
Fermented foods are just exploding with health benefits!
The most obvious benefit to consuming fermented foods is probiotics.
Probiotics help keep so much more than just our digestion running smoothly. Here’s an article I wrote on just a few benefits of healthy gut bacteria, if you’re interested in learning more.
Supplement versions of these beneficial bacteria can be costly. So learning to make your own fermented foods that contain probiotics can really help you save some money.
Fermented foods are also naturally acidic. So, when consumed before or with a meal, they can help to increase stomach acid levels and facilitate better nutrient absorption from your food.
One side effect of fermentation is that the bacteria produce certain molecules, known as conjugated linoleic acids (CLAs).
CLAs have a host of benefits including being able to lower blood pressure, acting as antioxidants, and providing anti-inflammatory effects.
Consuming fermented foods has also been shown to enhance cognitive function due to the intimate gut-brain connection.
People Who Shouldn’t Consume Fermented Foods
While the benefits of eating fermented foods are clear, not everyone at every stage of health will benefit from consuming ferments.
People suffering from the following conditions may not tolerate fermented foods well, and should speak with a trusted medical professional before attempting to introduce fermented foods into their diet.
Fermented foods contain high amounts of histamines. So if you’re dealing with a histamine intolerance, eating these foods will likely exacerbate your symptoms.
Fermented foods also contain large amounts of bacteria and/or yeast. So if you’re dealing with an overgrowth of any kind, avoiding these foods may be necessary.
How to Make Homemade Sauerkraut
Now that we’ve gone into detail about why we should be consuming more fermented foods, let’s learn how you can make your own fermented sauerkraut, right in your home.
Making your own fermented food is so much more cost effective than purchasing them in stores. And when you know how to do it correctly and are following a trusted method, there’s really not much that can go wrong.
So, here are the steps that I use to make my own homemade, fermented sauerkraut!
What You’ll Need:
1 medium to large head of cabbage
Chop a medium to large head of cabbage into small pieces and place them in a large bowl. I can usually make two full 24oz jars of sauerkraut from one large head of cabbage.
**Make sure you save the outer leaves of the cabbage and the stem. We’re going to use them later!
This step takes some patience, but trust me, it’s so worth it! You’re going to kneed or pound the cabbage-salt mixture. And you’re going to keep doing it until the cabbage reduces significantly in volume or until it produces a good amount of liquid. Again, these aren’t exact measurements, but you’ll definitely start to see the cabbage mixture decrease in volume and start producing liquid. For me it takes about 10 to 15 minutes of pounding with a spoon to complete this step.
Stuff the pounded cabbage mixture into a wide mouth mason jar. You’ll want to really pack it in there with a spoon, nice and cozy! Leave about two inches of headspace between the top of the packed cabbage and the mouth of the jar.
Add a piece of the outer cabbage leaf that you saved to the top of the cabbage mixture in the jar. You can just tear a piece a little larger than the mouth of the jar and securely place it on top of the cabbage. The purpose of this leaf is to keep the cabbage submerged and in place during fermentation.
If your cabbage isn’t covered with brine, add a little salt to some drinking water to create additional brine, and pour it over the cabbage mixture. You don’t need a ton of brine initially, but you do want to keep the cabbage mixture submerged and wet during the entire fermentation.
Here’s where you get to be a little creative. In this step you’ll need to cut the saved cabbage stem to fit on top of the cabbage mixture so that it reaches about a half an inch below the mouth of the mason jar. The purpose of this stem is to provide a shelf for the brine catch cup in the Perfect Pickler System. And this doesn’t have to be perfect. It just needs to be able to support the cup while the lid is screwed on.
Attach the Perfect Pickler System to the wide mouth mason jar. This involves placing the brine catch cup on top of your cabbage stem shelf, and then screwing on the Perfect Pickler Lid. After the lid is screwed on, fill the Air-Lock tube with water up to the fill line, and push it into the lid. Here are some instructions for how to use the Perfect Pickler System, if you’re still confused.
Wait! I usually let my sauerkraut ferment anywhere from 10-28 days. You’ll know it’s working because bubbles will start to form in the brine, and the cabbage will start to fade in color and become softer looking. The longer you let your cabbage ferment, the more tart and sour your sauerkraut will be. Longer fermentation times, like 1-2 months can also decrease the histamine load in the sauerkraut. So if histamines are an issue for you, I’d recommend waiting awhile before you finish the ferment.
Once the cabbage has fermented for as long as you’d like, it’s time to remove the Perfect Pickler system and enjoy the health benefits of your fermented food! Just unscrew the lid and take out the cup, and cabbage stem and leaves, and enjoy. Your sauerkraut will stay fresh in the refrigerator, pretty much for forever. Remember, fermentation preserves the food, so there really isn’t any expiration date. But, if it starts to smell less than fresh, use your best judgement and toss it.
And remember, fermentation is really one big science experiment. If you’re first batch doesn’t turn out how you like, don’t worry! Make some adjustments in your next batch, and eventually you’ll make something that you really enjoy.
Let me know in the comments below what your favorite fermented foods are, and if you’ve done any at-home fermentation before!
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