On Sauerkraut and Other Fermented Food

I had never eaten homemade sauerkraut until I started to make it last year.

I can’t say that I really like the store-bought canned stuff – but I really like a Reuben sandwich, and you do need sauerkraut for that.


In my quest for more local homegrown or homemade food and in learning new (to me) ways of preserving food (and prompted by a post of Food in Jar on Home-Made Sauerkraut), I decided to give homemade sauerkraut a try and turned some of my spring cabbages into sauerkraut in early July last year. I used whey to kick-start the process as my research indicated fast fermenting was needed in warm temperature.The whey was supposed to introduce lactic acid right away to help fermentation takes over before spoilage happens.. I made several small batches experimenting with the amount of salt and the spices used. Some were so-so, some were OK, and a couple were darn good. The big surprise though was fermented spicy ginger carrots. THAT was terrific, and hooked me onto fermented vegetables. I decided I would try again come fall.

In November, I followed the basic process described in a recipe published in Saveur Magazine. There is nothing – really! – to making sauerkraut: just elbow grease to chop or shred and then pound the veggies to release their juice. I suppose you could use the food processor, I prefer to shred by hand. I use my stone pestle and a metal bowl to pound the cabbage (Very therapeutic…), and I then tranfer to large glass jars, temping down well.

And then you just need the patience to wait a few weeks, the time for lacto-fermentation to occur and produce enough acid to preserve the veggies. 5 pounds of cabbage were turned into Sauerkraut on November 11, fermented until Thanksgiving, and gone in two weeks. Ah, yes, choucroute nouvelle!

I also fermented daikon radish (one jar thinly sliced, one jar grated), a very juicy veggie that did not need any pounding. But let me tell you: what sulfurous stink is released for a few weeks while the radishes ferment! eehew! Once done though, the smell is very innocuous, and the taste surprisingly mild.


And of course fermented carrots and ginger – again! – definitively a favorite for Keith & I.

On January 3, I krauted 8 more pounds of cabbage, adding a few juniper berries to each jar. It’s fermenting now and will be ready in a couple of weeks. I meant to do it on the first as a hopeful sign, but I was working on that day and was too poop to shred cabbage when I got home. But the 3rd, that’s almost the 1st, no?

Along the way, I learned a few tricks, mostly ways to ensure that the fermenting veggies are constantly under liquid. I prefer to use sea salt or pickling salt. Also it’s better to use one large jar than several small ones to minimize air contact – and there is no need for whey (and I don’t care for the taste it introduces, anyway. So, I now leave whey for pizza!) And that’s pretty much all there is to making sauerkraut (that and cool temperatures).

I will be fermenting vegetables from now on. The taste is delightful (none of the harsh acidity of canned store-bought sauerkraut), it keeps for a long time, and it’s a good way to add a little zing to dinner on those night when dinner is a little boring – and all without canning! And of course, it’s more than likely beneficial to your intestinal flora too! ANd did I say it taste good?

More questions? See what the guru of new fermentation – Sandor Ellix Katz – has to say here or on this Youtube video. Plenty of others are doing it too, here and here – illustrated with plenty of pictures to help you along the way.

If you haven’t tried homemade sauerkraut or fermented carrots (with ginger!), you don’t know what you are missing!

Locavore log: cabbage & carrots from the garden & The Farm at Sunnyside. Daikon radihes from Waterpenny Farm.

4 thoughts on “On Sauerkraut and Other Fermented Food”

  • I bought a crock years ago to make sauerkraut or pickles in, but still have never done it! As for the stink of fermenting daikon, i’ve read that in traditional Korean homes, where they make their own kim chi, the fermenting pots of veggies are buried in a special place in the backyard (i picture a root cellar rather than just a hole in the ground) and that gets the aroma away from the home (as well as keeping the fermentation in a cool, even temperature).

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