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What Is Sauerkraut?
Sauerkraut is a side dish of finely shredded raw cabbage, fermented through lactic acid bacteria which gives it its signature sour flavor. Occasionally studded with fragrant caraway seeds, sauerkraut has a long shelf life due to that fermentation; it will last for months when kept in a cool, dry place like a cellar, and even longer if kept in the fridge.
Sauerkraut is gluten-free and vegan, and high in Vitamin C. Thanks to its fermentation process (known as lacto-fermentation, in which lactobacillus produces lactic acid which converts the sugars in the cabbage), fresh sauerkraut is also packed with health benefits, including beneficial bacteria and probiotics.
What Do You Need to Make Sauerkraut?
Sauerkraut is incredibly easy to make; all you need is:
- Shredded fresh cabbage
- Sea salt or kosher salt
- And a large glass jar or Mason jar to store the sauerkraut
The cabbage is combined with salt and packed in tight; the liquid from the cabbage acts as a brining solution, which over a few days or weeks transforms the cabbage into a fizzy, crunchy, sour condiment that’s a step above anything you’d find in a grocery store.
3 Tips for Making Homemade Sauerkraut
Get innovative with these three tips to make your sauerkraut stand out.
- Green cabbage is most common, but you can use red cabbage, too. For striking fuschia-toned sauerkraut, substitute red cabbage for green.
- To make larger batches, keep your cabbage-salt ratios the same, and upgrade the size of the container.
- Stay on the chilly side. Warm temperatures lead to mushy sauerkraut, so try to keep temperatures regulated, or store in the fridge to be extra safe.
3 Dishes to Serve With Sauerkraut
Straight from the fridge, sauerkraut is a crunchy, salty, and complex snack. But it also goes great with a variety of dishes:
- Brats. Perched atop smoky, grilled brats and accompanying heavy beer hall fare (like they do in Germany).
- Sandwiches. Thanks to its texture and puckering flavor, sauerkraut is also a killer addition to a meaty sandwich that might benefit from a pickle or two.
- Salads. Top a healthy green salad with a scoop of sauerkraut for acid and crunch.
Easy Homemade Sauerkraut Recipe
Prep Time15 min
Total Time20 min
Cook Time5 min
- 1 medium green cabbage
- 1 ½ tbsp kosher salt
- 1 tbsp caraway seeds (optional)
- The first step in any fermentation project, no matter how basic, is cleanliness. You’ll need clean equipment, a clean product, and clean hands since you’ll be using them to incorporate the salt into the cabbage.
- Discard the outer leaves of the cabbage and the head of cabbage, then slice into quarters. Remove the core, and thinly slice or shred crosswise. (Depending on how long you like your cabbage ribbons, you can halve each quarter again for shorter strands.)
- In a large mixing bowl, sprinkle the salt on top of the cabbage. Massage the salt into the leaves with your hands for about 5 minutes, until leaves are beginning to feel wilted and watery. If using caraway seeds, add to the large bowl and mix to evenly distribute.
- Transfer the cabbage, including any liquid, to your jar, tamping down occasionally to make more room. Cover the mouth of the jar with a cheesecloth, and secure it with a rubber band.
- Over the next 24 hours, press down on the cabbage with a clean wooden spoon, releasing more liquid and further submerging the cabbage.
- Over the next 3-10 days, as it’s fermenting, keep the jar out of direct sunlight. After three days, taste the sauerkraut and adjust the amount of salt—when it’s to your liking, screw on the cap and place it in the fridge. Alternatively, you can continue to experiment and allow it to ferment further. If you see any white froth, scum, or mold sitting on the surface, don’t worry: Scoop it off (including any cabbage that happened to be floating at the surface) and continue fermenting. The rest of the submerged sauerkraut is perfectly fine.
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