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Brine-Fermented Sauerkraut

Every autumn, there are certain things I am compelled to do. Perhaps it’s the change in the weather that drives this compulsion; the urgency of the leaves turning and falling; the weakening sunlight.

I find myself taking silent inventory of pantry provisions: 4 jars pickled beets, 10 jars apple butter, 3 jars brandied figs… I freeze and can and preserve and dry almost compulsively. I realize I am not unlike a squirrel, its cheeks full before the waning season.

Apple butter is one of my yearly preserving pursuits. I typically make several batches of the stuff through some feat of nesting fever. I have a love-hate relationship with the process: hours of stirring and splattering and sticking, pounds upon pounds of apples reduced to a few small jars, and enough chopping and straining for three people.

But again, it’s an urge strong enough to make me not mind the inevitable burns I will get on my forearms while attempting to stir the lava lake of molten apple pulp. An urge strong enough to make me forget, every time, about how I will need to scour the stovetop and the floor afterwards.

This is the same urge I yield to when I make my annual batch of sauerkraut.

Sauerkraut might be in my blood. According to family legend, one of my great aunts would make sauerkraut beneath an old oak tree, only on the full moon. Sounds a bit like witchcraft, and if you’ve ever made sauerkraut before, you know that it feels a bit magical.

Sauerkraut is one of the easiest things to make in the pickle realm. Chop cabbage, add salt, wait. Okay, so there’s a teensy bit more to the process than that, but not by much.

Sauerkraut is the gateway fermented food. It’s straightforward and simple, the materials are inexpensive, and the payoff is fairly quick. It keeps well, and it’s far more delicious than anything you can buy. You may have seen gourmet sauerkraut at your local natural foods store. It often comes in an attractive jar, and it will cost upwards of six dollars.

The ingredients? Cabbage and salt. Maybe some caraway seeds. You can make a gallon at home for six dollars. So roll up your sleeves and embark upon a fermentation journey with me.

I first made sauerkraut because of Sandor Katz, author of Wild Fermentation and The Art of Fermentation. As it happens, Sandor Katz referenced the Joy of Cooking when he first started to get into fermented foods. Small world.

According to both JOY and Katz, the proper ratio of cabbage to salt is 5 pounds to 3 tablespoons. Katz gives recipes for low-salt or salt-free sauerkrauts, but for our purposes, we’re going to start with the basic salted sauerkraut. Salt not only helps preserve the cabbage, but it keeps the cabbage crunchy. You may use sea salt (widely available from supermarkets of all stripes), canning salt, or kosher salt, although, as kosher salt is coarser, you will need to use slightly more (about 1 1/4 times the table salt you might normally use). The only salt I've been told to avoid is table salt (due to anti-caking agents and additives in this salt, which may turn your brine cloudy). However, I have in fact made delicious sauerkraut with iodized salt. Kraut is a very forgiving ferment--which salt you decide to use is irrelevant. What matters is that you use enough salt--3 tablespoons (1 3/4 ounces) per 5 pounds vegetable matter. We tend to keep kosher salt around more than iodized--kosher is generally better for cooking, as you can add pinches of it without worrying about oversalting your food. However, table salt will work fine here.

This is a very versatile recipe. You can use any variety of cabbages—green, red, savoy, napa, or a blend of different cabbages. You can add apple, caraway or dill seeds, shredded carrots, turnips, beets, and so on. The only thing to keep in mind is the ratio of vegetables to salt: five pounds to three tablespoons.

 
Brine-Fermented Sauerkraut
Makes about 1 quart

Quarter:
     5 pounds firm, unblemished cabbage heads, outer leaves removed
Remove the cores, and thinly slice or grate the cabbage on the large holes of a box grater. I like to dice the cores and add them to the kraut as well.
Place the cabbage in a large bowl with:
     3 tablespoons canning or pickling salt, sea salt, or kosher salt (if using kosher or sea salt, weigh out 1 3/4 ounces or 54 grams, which is the equivalent of 3 tablespoons--do not use coarse sea salt, as the chunks are too large to dissolve properly in this application)
Massage the cabbage. You can do this with squeaky-clean hands or with another utensil, such as a spoon or even a potato masher. I like to use my hands because it enables me to better manipulate the cabbage and get it to release more water. However, do wash your hands thoroughly every time you work with a fermented product so as not to introduce harmful bacteria. As you do this, you’ll notice that the cabbage begins to release water and wilt. Continue to massage the cabbage for up to 30 minutes. This length of time is not mandatory by any means, but it won’t hurt, and if your cabbage is particularly resilient, you may need to massage it for longer.
Pack the kraut into a small stone crock or a half-gallon Mason jar. Press down firmly to submerge the cabbage beneath the brine.
Ideally, the cabbage has released enough water on its own to create a brine in which the cabbage remains fully submerged. However, some cabbages are drier than others. I find supermarket cabbages to be on the dry side, while farmer’s market cabbages release more moisture. If your cabbage does not release enough water, make a brine of:
     1 ½ tablespoons canning or pickling salt (or sea salt) per 4 cups distilled water (I prefer distilled over tap water for the simple reason that tap water may introduce contaminants--if you have faith in the quality of your tap water, it should be fine to use that)
Pour this brine over the cabbage to cover it. At this point, you need to weight the cabbage to keep it submerged. I almost always use a freezer-safe zip-top bag (freezer safe bags tend to be more durable) filled partially with brine of the same strength as you used for the cabbage, above. The bag conforms to the shape of the container you use and is easy to manipulate.
Cover the crock or vessel to keep out flies, but make sure it can breathe. I use a square of kitchen towel secured with a rubber band for this purpose.
Check the kraut once or twice a week. Within a few days, it should start to bubble—this is an indicator that fermentation has begun. Stir the kraut regularly to prevent scum from forming on top. If some scum does form, don’t worry. Simply scrape it off and discard it, then stir the kraut well.
When the bubbling stops, within 3 to 6 weeks or so, the fermentation is complete. At this point, you may pack the kraut into a quart jar and refrigerate it. Some prefer their kraut a little less sour. Feel free to taste the kraut as it matures in the crock. When it reaches the point that you like the taste, refrigerate it. Refrigeration will not stop the fermentation process, but it will slow it down significantly.
Kraut keeps indefinitely. JOY gives a shelf-life of “several months,” but I have year-old kraut in the fridge that tastes wonderful. If your kraut goes bad (in this case, it would be slimy and have a strong, disagreeable smell), discard the kraut without tasting it, and wash and bleach your fermentation vessel. A word of encouragement--I've never made a bad batch of kraut.

Comments

Debbie Jalil's picture

thanks so much for the easy-to-follow directions! I can't wait for my first batch.
Ashley Veldstra's picture

This looks cool. I didn't know you could stir the kraut to prevent scum. I have a question: Can cover the cabbage with the brine you mentioned instead of adding dry salt and massaging it? I can see needing to get the air out of the cabbage leaves, but I really like the texture of un-squashed cabbage. Thanks
meg's picture

The massaging process helps release the water in the cabbage leaves, and while this does affect the texture of the cabbage, it's the fermenting process that really changes the texture. I've never heard of making kraut by just pouring brine over the leaves. That doesn't mean it can't be done, but it's just not something I'm familiar with. Maybe instead of making kraut, you should try a quick pickle--just make a brine with vinegar and whatever spices you want, heat it, and pour it over the cabbage. This way, the texture will be crunchy but you still have something sour à la sauerkraut. Hope this helps.
Betty's picture

Thank you. Two years ago I canned shredded cabage with brine and it was great. However the recipe for the brine was from a friend of my daughter-in-laws and we both seem to have misplace the recipe. I wish I knew the exact spices and herbs we used. I know cinnamon was one of them.
katherine's picture

Can kraut be canned? and if so how
meg's picture

Yes, it can be. I never can mine simply because it lasts so long--I've kept kraut in the fridge for years without canning. May people don't like to can it because the process kills all the beneficial probiotics. But if you do want to can it, simply wait for the fermentation process to end (3-6 weeks depending on the time of year, temperature, etc.)--it will have stopped fermenting when it stops bubbling. Then, heat the cabbage and jars until hot, pack it in pints as normal and process for 15 minutes in a water bath. Fully fermented kraut will be acidic enough so this is safe.
Betty's picture

It can, I did it with a pressure canner and brine.
karen rotella's picture

I used 15# cabbage, kosher salt in correct ratio. Placed in a large crock with a weight. I put it in our walk-in cooler at work, and no fermentation has occurred yet, one week. Is it too cold in the refrig? Can I take it out and leave it in the kitchen?
meg's picture

Hi Karen, I would take it out and leave it at room temp for a while--at least until fermentation gets going. Sauerkraut will continue to ferment very, very slowly once refrigerated, but it needs a room-temp jump start at first. In fact, I leave mine at room temp until it tastes the way I want it to, then I refrigerate it. Just be wary of flies and gnats--they are the enemy. I use a piece of cloth or kitchen towel and a rubber band or twine to keep them out. Good luck!
Cari's picture

I used Savoy cabbage and after an hour it hadn't released hardly and liquid. So, I made the brine as you suggested, poured it over, weighted it, covered it and left it for a week. I just peaked at it and the brine is cloudy and thick. Do I need to throw it out? It's been in a cold basement, but not refrigerated.
meg's picture

When you say cloudy and thick, do you mean slimy? The brine shouldn't be slimy or smell rotten. If that happens, you should toss it. But the brine will get cloudy--that's normal. It's even normal for some scum to form on top. No worries--just scrape it off. Being in a cold basement will make fermentation slower. You might think about bringing it into a warmer room for a while just to jump start it. If it still isn't fermenting, you can even add a little bit of plain yogurt with live cultures or find some unpasteurized sauerkraut and inoculate your batch with some of the brine from it. Both those things contain lactic acid bacteria, which is what you want. Let me know if you have any other questions. Best of luck on your fermenting journey!
Ninu's picture

Hi, I made my first batch in a mason jar and I didn't realize that the brine didn't cover the cabbage. It's been a week now, and it looks fine on top, but I haven't opened the jar to take a close look. Should I remove those pieces that weren't submerged and then refrigerate and eat the rest? Thanks! next time I'll make a brine before letting it sit on the counter.
meg's picture

Hi Ninu! So glad you tried the sauerkraut recipe. Honestly, I think that your cabbage is probably just fine. The only time to be concerned is if the kraut develops black mold on top (even white or blue mold is harmless--just scrape it off and stir the kraut, re-submerging it in brine), or if the kraut smells rotten or is slimy. One week in kraut time is not very long, so I think it should be fine. Just make up some more brine and top off the jar or find a way to press the kraut underneath the brine.
Ninu's picture

Thank you so much! Ill do that! ;-)
Eric's picture

Hello, I'm pretty new to doing my own lacto fermentation, but what I've experienced so far is that I achieve better results when I keep my ferments in an anaerobic environment (no mold, no spoilage). I believe the reason you see white scum (mold) at the top of your kraut because you continually introduce oxygen by not keeping the environment air tight, no? I'm curious as to the reasons behind your method of making kraut. Also, I've always had thin strips of kraut (using a kraut cutter/mandolin). Is there any reason you chop yours up into bits? It seems to me this may make for inconsistent textures. I'm sure it's still far better (and healthier) than the store-bought stuff. Thanks in advance.
meg's picture

Eric, I actually don't chop mine into bits. I shred it, but there are some bits that get cut up smaller--inevitable when using a knife. By the time fermentation is done (or at the point I like it, anyway), you can't even tell there are some larger and some smaller pieces. I simple prefer to use a knife rather than a mandolin. There's actually not much of a difference between the open crock method and an "anaerobic" method. Anything that sits under the brine is in an anaerobic environment. Lactic acid bacteria are anaerobic bacteria (they can survive in aerobic conditions, though). As long as the vegetables are submerged, you're going to get plenty of good lactic acid bacteria growth. Scum is a naturally occurring thing. Besides, if you're stirring your ferment daily, it is very unlikely that you'll see any scum at all. Here's a great article on the subject by my favorite fermentation guru: http://www.wildfermentation.com/aerobic-vs-anaerobic-fermentation-controversy/ However, you should use whatever method you like. I've been really happy with my ferments using this method, but if you like a different method, that's awesome! There are multiple paths to the same end. Happy fermenting!
LUKE's picture

If you don't use anything metal in the process or for stirring, you won't get any scum. Same goes for taking pickles out of a jar. I'm not sure why this works though!
Jamie's picture

I was wondering if I can add to the saurerkraut after it has been fermenting for two-three days already. I want to make something a little more flavorful and want to add jalapeno, ginger, and daikon but am not sure if it is too late.
meg's picture

Absolutely! It's not too late at all, Jamie. I like the way you think.
Sherri's picture

After five weeks into my second batch of kraut I pulled my mason jars down and had this 2 mm thick beige scum/film on the top that came off in one piece. I see I'm still making the rookie mistake of using iodized salt. The kraut smells good, but there's always a nervousness to diving into an unknown mold/yeast/bacterium. Any idea to what I did wrong or what that plastic-ish product was on the top?
meg's picture

Hmm, I can think of a few things that might be the problem. Have you been stirring your kraut regularly and making sure it was submerged under the brine? If not, the surface makes a great environment for funky molds and yeasts. You really do have to weight the kraut down. Scum forms quite often on sauerkraut, but the important thing is to skim it off as soon as it appears so it can't grow exponentially. Another thing that might have caused this thick mold scum is excessive heat. You said you pulled your mason jars down, which makes me think you had them up high somewhere--maybe on top of your refrigerator? In any case, having them up high somewhere, especially during the summer, means they might have been too warm, which would enable mold to flourish. I don't think the iodized salt was the problem. The good news is, if your kraut smells good, it's probably okay ("bad" kraut smells like an overripe compost pile), but you are taking a risk nonetheless. I'm not sure what the scum was--if it was pink, I would say that it could be yeasts, but really it's probably just thick mold from not stirring the kraut and making sure it was submerged--sort of like how if you leave kombucha alone for a long time, the mother just gets thicker and thicker. One good trick is to put a plastic bag filled with water on top of the kraut. This prevents direct exposure to air and keeps the kraut below the brine.
Rodney's picture

Anyone know if I can add fresh cabbage to a mostly-fermented batch of sauerkraut?
meg's picture

Yes, you can do this, but only to a point. If you continue adding fresh cabbage to already fermented kraut, you might end up with some texture issues--some of the kraut is very firm and crunchy, and some is very wilted and fully fermented. Adding fresh cabbage will also affect the pH and salt content--both things are important for food safety. I don't see a problem with doing this once or twice, but I wouldn't recommend doing it consistently. One option is that once you've eaten most of your kraut, remove it from the crock, then mix up a fresh batch of cabbage and salt, pack it in the crock, and put the older, already fermented kraut on top. This will act like a starter and speed up fermentation for the new cabbage.
Tim's picture

After the fermentation was complete and I put the results into the refrigerator I find there is not much brine left and I wish there was more. Can I add water, should I add water with salt or is it too late and any additional water will decrease the probiotics?
meg's picture

I don't see why you couldn't add more brine. The sauerkraut will continue to ferment in the fridge, albeit at a slower rate, so any brine you add will shortly be teeming with probiotics.
Sherri Gibson's picture

22 grams of salt across the board for a 2% brine or 27.5 grams for a 2.5% brine A stronger brine=more sour
meg's picture

Yes! You can definitely vary the salt content of the brine to achieve the kind of ferment you want. Thanks for bringing that up, Sherri!
T's picture

I think i had one or 2 gnats dead in my bucket does it mean i have to toss the kraut out. Also u say it has to smell foul too be honest i dont like the smell of kraut to e honest so i am not sure. I never got any scum except a little on the plate if i make it again i think i will use then plastic bag method or clear plate so i could see what the kraut is doing and to see it better. Too be honest i took the pkates off this morning and had an emergency so i tossed a towel over the bucket and had to leave so i think thats how a few got in. I just feel nervous about it and I did can all of the kraut and processed ot already wasnt until the last batch i noticed two gnats in the brine. If i ruined ot after 25 lbs of cabbage i will cry ;( and probably not sure i will attempt again
meg's picture

One or two gnats is not a problem--it's when gnats get in and have time to...well...reproduce that there's a problem. As for the smell, if it smells like rotten garbage, that's bad. But otherwise, if it just smells sour (and sauerkraut can smell pretty strong), that's perfectly fine. However, if it has gone bad, there will be other signs as well--visible signs of spoilage like brightly colored or black molds. Trust me--you will know if it's bad. It's pretty obvious when something is rotting and not just fermenting! I think you're probably just fine, especially if you processed your kraut.
Jay's picture

Would it have been alright to add water just to cover the cabbage? Most recipes I read say not to add water but to let the cabbage sit in its own. However, I did come across one that said to cover with water. Does it make a difference? Thanks!
meg's picture

It all depends on the cabbage. Sometimes, when I make kraut there's enough water that comes out of the cabbage to submerge it. Other times, the cabbage is a lot drier and needs added brine. I wouldn't add plain water--you want to make sure not to affect the salt percentage of the brine. But if you make a brine and then add that, it's just fine. I don't think adding brine affects the quality of the kraut at all. By the time it ferments, no one will know the difference. Just go by how juicy the cabbage is.
Greg's picture

my kraut seemed like it came out fine. I used one of those croc's that you keep water around the channel at the top. I left it in for 9 weeks. it looked like it came out great but when I got to about the bottom third of the kraut it looks slimey. is this because I left it ferment too long? is it ok to eat?
meg's picture

It's really hard for me to say if it's okay or not without seeing it for myself, but if it smells wrong or looks putrid, I would say don't eat it. One person's "slimy" is another person's "limp," so again, it's hard for me to say for sure. I would go with my gut on this one--if it doesn't seem right to you and you're uncomfortable with it, don't eat it.
Sandra F's picture

Thanks for your thoughtful article. I can really relate to your urge to can and put stuff up! I am sitting in a pile of jars right now. I laughed at your comments on apple butter. That stuff is dangerous! I just wanted to share that I saved myself a few burns by reducing it in a slow cooker with the lid askew instead of boiling it on the stove. Of course, that only works for small batches (unless you have a lot of slow cookers!)
meg's picture

There's something about late summer to mid fall--I wind up canning way more than we can eat! Luckily, I have friends that are happy to help with this problem. Thanks for the slow cooker recommendation! I am currently without a slow cooker, but will certainly try that method when I'm able to.
Lee's picture

Stupid question, but what if the saurekraut tastes fishy and you end up with a sore stomach for days. My "gut" tells me food poisoning. There was no mold or foul smell but it definitely tasted off and now ouch
meg's picture

Not a stupid question at all. Although, I've never encountered a fishy-tasting batch of sauerkraut. I'm guessing it was contaminated by yeasts or some other bacteria. I'm sorry that happened! Never fun to deal with food poisoning.
Deb Brenner's picture

My kraut is fermenting for 4 weeks now in a food safe pail. I have the kraut, covered w Saran Wrap, with a plate on top of that, weighted down by two rocks in double zip locked bags. I took off bag of rocks and noticed mold inside bags w rocks. Also there was mold on top of the plate. I skimmed off all mold and wiped plate. There was 1" brine slightly brownish color, I lifted plate, (there was some suction), at an angle and lifted plastic, the brine seeped Down into the kraut. Not sure but thinking there would be some mold particles floating in brine. Did I ruin my kraut? Is it bad now? The first two weeks I had bubbles and it smelled like sauer kraut. Now it still kinda smells like kraut, but weaker? I repacked put Saran Wrap, plate, n water filled bags ontop for weights. Why did rocks get moldy if sealed in not one but two bags? Very confused. Suggestions?
meg's picture

I have no idea why the rocks got moldy--my only thought is that maybe some of the brine got in the bags with the rocks and caused them to mold. Or maybe the rocks were wet when you put them in the bags, and they grew some mold because of the humidity. I also can't tell you definitively whether your kraut is ruined or not. I would go by the smell test. It shouldn't smell rotten. Also make sure it's not slimy at all. Another thing to look for is black mold--black mold is not a good sign. One bit of advice I would offer, though, is that there's really no need to put the plastic wrap, then the plate, then the weights on top of the kraut. I find that simply keeping it covered with a cloth tied with string (to keep out flies and dust mostly) is adequate. I also stir my kraut daily, or every other day. This prevents mold from growing. If the kraut keeps rising to the top, I'll put a plate on top to keep it submerged, but I find that doing much more than that deters me from checking the kraut often enough. If it's a big hassle to get to the kraut, I'm much less likely to stir it often enough, and I might not notice when it's done fermenting or if some mold starts to grow. I don't think the presence of mold is the end of the world--for the most part, you can just skim it off. Maybe taste a tiny bit and see if it tastes like kraut?
Deb Brenner's picture

Thank you for getting back to me. The rocks were on a shelf in my house for 2 years so they weren't wet. Thinking from fermenting cabbage? There was some black grey n white molds. I went to a class at the extension office n did how they told me? I missed checking one week, no suds just the mold? Never did they mention stirring every day... Would you stir in suds or remove then stir? The weird thing is is that it doesn't smell as strong as sauer kraut like it did the first few weeks. It didn't taste bad. Guess I'll wait n c in the next 2 weeks... N check bottom for slim? Thanks for your help... Might conquer a new batch?b
meg's picture

The reason I like to stir my kraut every day (or every other day) is because it forces me to check for mold and skim it off. It also allows me to make sure the kraut is under the brine completely and that nothing strange is happening. I would remove the suds as you go. I have to say, though--I would throw this batch away. Black mold or red mold is bad--you don't want to eat that. For the future, just make sure that you're adding about 2% salt to the weight of the cabbage (that's about 2 tablespoons salt per 5 pounds cabbage)--too much salt and fermentation can be inhibited. Also make sure you aren't keeping your crock in a very warm place or a very cold place. 60-70 degrees is ideal.
Alejandro's picture

Hi! I am in the middle of my first sauerkraut batch and am very excited/nervous :) One thing im having doubt about is what to do once I start eating the sauerkraut and the brine starts going with it? I opened it today to tried it (i think it is gong well although i think I over did it with the salt hehe) but then after eating some I realized there wasnt enough brine left to cover the entire thing again. Given that it was a bit too salty I decided to add some water to it without anything else to be able to cover the cabbage again, but now im starting to get nervous and not sure if that would ruin the process? Any comments would be greatly appreciated :)
meg's picture

I think that what you did is probably just fine, particularly if it's on the salty side. Do you know how much salt you used initially (percentage or just amount of salt and weight of cabbage used)? Generally, if you need to add more liquid, you should make a 2% brine and pour that over. However, once the sauerkraut is mostly done fermenting, you can pack it into jars and refrigerate it. At that point, it's not as crucial that the brine cover the kraut. The refrigeration process (and the acidity of the kraut itself) prevents funky things from growing. I've kept kraut in my fridge, not totally covered by brine, for over a year without any problems.
Randall Linn's picture

I have fermented cabbage for several years now with not one batch ruined. I am not an expert but have several friends who have started their own saurkraut. I also make fermented pickles which I enjoy. I have never stirred my kraut but remove the scum as it forms. I think as long as I keep plenty of brine (1 inch)over top I am OK. I know that processing the kraut/pickles kill the probiotics but I still process for 15 minutes in a hot water bath. As of right now I have a batch I just pulled from the basement thats been there 4 months at 55-60 degrees that I will process in morning as I have been busy. I have fermented kraut for 6 months before with no problems. Can't wait to eat the first batch. Thank you so much for your advice as I read all I can on the subject. PS: To those using Mason Jars, make sure the jars allow the gasses to escape. you can buy jars that allow gasses to escape but not let in bacteria. I like to do it the way my mother did, in a crock!
Mark's picture

I have made kraut by just pouring it over the cabbage. I like to think it yields a crunchier end product. This is the first I've heard about leave the top open to breath. All the "real" fermenters have airlocks that are meant to be filled with water. It would be really nice to know what specific gravity the brine should be at before fermentation. You can tell from reading all the "expert" sites that nobody can really give a straight answer on the brine concentration. I don't like the "close enough" method even though it may be "close enough" for kraut.
meg's picture

We have an airlock like the one you mention, but I disagree about your "real" fermenters comment. You can ferment foods very successfully without an airlock. In fact, people have been fermenting without airlocks for thousands of years. I like airlocks. We have several that we use with a mason jar setup. But I wouldn't say that you can't be a fermenter without an airlock. Further, I like the massaging method because it allows the kraut to create its own brine. You don't need to worry so much about brine concentration because you're adding a set amount of salt to a set amount of cabbage every time. As water leaches out of the cabbage, a brine is born. There is no "right" brine strength. You can even make salt-free sauerkraut by using white wine as a brine. I don't like to go above 3 tbsp salt per 5 lbs cabbage for palatability reasons--much more and it's too salty. If you just want to use a brine without massaging, I would go with 2-3% salt.
Mark's picture

When I said "real" fermenters, I was referring the Polish and German fermenters that have been made the same way for hundreds of years. They all have a trough that the lid sits in and is filled with water so as to provide a seal. Once the lactobacillus gets started, I don't know if it really helps anything to introduce new bacteria and microbes, not to mention dust if you don't have some cheesecloth on your jar. I have tiny little orange fruit flies that can get into the beer keg airlock in the summer. They love the smell of homemade beer. As for massaging, I have made it both ways. If I skip the massage, I just make some brine and cover the shredded cabbage with it. I am a long time beer maker and cook of all sorts of things. I like repeatability. Leave your beer keg open and it will quickly spoil. I like to measure ingredients. That said, sometimes I will wing it but you have to taste, taste, taste to make sure your not ruining your recipe. Pikl-It has a salt calculator but they don't recommend 2% for anaerobic kraut. One thing about the internet, everybody has their own little secrets for making the same thing. If you're looking for the right recipe, you probably won't find it. As an example, I searched through probably 50 pork 'n bean recipes for the right one. I decided to narrow it down to about 8 core ingredients. I was left with about 30 different "secret ingredients" that I did not use. Once I am happy with the 8 ingredient pork 'n beans, I may add some other things, but not right now.
meg's picture

Hi Mark. Just saw your comment. I've been coveting one of those crocks with the little water moat on top. I currently have a great little ceramic crock with a lid, but no moat. I usually just take the lid off and secure a piece of flour sack towel over the top with a rubber band (mostly because the lid isn't perfectly snug, and I suspect flies could get in if they wanted to). I apologize if I misunderstood your first comment. There's quite a bit of (angry) debate about whether airlocks should be used or whether open-crock fermentation is the way to ferment. Personally, I think both methods are effective. Some think that airlocks and watertight crocks are the only way to go and that open-crock fermentation is best. I used to ferment with the open crock method exclusively (but always with a flour sack towel tied securely over the top--I don't know anyone who would advise you to simply leave the crock totally open to the elements), but recently have purchased some airlocks that fit on the top of Mason jars. I usually don't ferment more than 1/2 gallon of kraut at a time, so the half gallon jar is perfect for this project. It also takes up way less space in our tiny apartment!
Mark's picture

By definition, fermentation is an anaerobic process. I have no doubt people have some success with aerobic kraut but their results will likely not be as good. A 2% brine solution is only good for anaerobic fermentation of kraut. If you want to do aerobic, you will need a higher salt concentration and possibly risk an unpalatable product (if you add too much salt). At 2% AEROBIC you are actually hampering lactobacillus production. For normal room temp kraut fermentation, do a 2% brine, but do it in an ANAEROBIC air-locked fermenter! That's what fermentation is all about. If you're letting your kraut "breathe" you may be limiting the quality of your end product. By the way, a 2% brine is 76 grams of salt to 1 US gallon of water. If you don't have a food scale, it's definitely a must have for any chef who's worth his/her's salt. :)
meg's picture

I think we're in complete agreement, Mark. Even open-crock fermented kraut is largely undergoing anaerobic fermentation. The only exposure to air is at the surface of the brine. Everything under the brine (and everything should be completely submerged in brine) is undergoing anaerobic fermentation. The main concern with the open crock method is that sometimes mold or "scum" (yeasts) can form. I prevent this by stirring regularly, which is something I have to do anyways as the CO2 produced tends to push the kraut above the brine. I rarely have any mold growth at all. I think people usually run into mold growth because they don't check on their kraut often enough. Even when I do use my airlock setup, I end up opening the jar to press the kraut down, so I'm not sure how completely anaerobic the process actually is. As for the brine concentration, my recipe is based on the fact that you are adding 3 tbsp kosher salt (about 54g) per 5 lbs cabbage/vegetables and massaging the cabbage until it releases enough water to cover itself. I have never measured the amount of water released in this process, but it is certainly much less than 1 gallon. The brine I give instructions for in the recipe is only to be used in the event that you can't massage enough water out of the cabbage to submerge it. In that case, though, you've already added 3 tbsp salt to the cabbage and will be adding more in the small amount of brine you'll need to finish covering the cabbage. We use a scale often, but we like to provide US standard measurements because most people don't have scales yet. The one area of debate that most people get stuck on is that with the open crock method you are introducing some aerobic bacteria. However, this is not inherently a bad thing. It is largely understood that with the airlock method, you get much more anaerobic bacteria than aerobic. Many people assume that this is better for you, but there is no evidence to support that notion (the assumption is that since anaerobic bacteria are "good for you," then more anaerobic bacteria must be better--not necessarily true). I think it is possible that if you leave your kraut at room temp in an open crock situation for a long time, you can run into quality issues. We refrigerate ours as soon as it is sour enough for our tastes, never longer than 60 days. I hope this clears things up? Again, I think we mainly agree here. I've done a lot of research on fermentation and safety and have tried to base my recipe on that.

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Mash to a paste in a small bowl:
           2 cloves garlic
            1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Whisk in:
           2 tablespoons...