Purple Sauerkraut

This may be the ultimate DIY Basic — just two inexpensive ingredients and some microbial magic and you get fresh, delicious sauerkraut.  If you’ve never tasted fresh sauerkraut — the kind that you get in the refrigerated section, not in the jarred vegetable section — you’re in for a taste treat.

Purple Sauerkraut

For pennies on the dollar you can make sauerkraut that is better than most you can buy.   In addition to the tangy, crunchy deliciousness of fresh kraut, you get an impressive nutritional kick.  Loaded with vitamin C, fiber, and probiotics, sauerkraut is a great addition to your plate.  And using purple cabbage instead of green adds the additional benefit of being rich in anthocyanins, which are excellent for your health.  Plus, it keeps in your fridge for months.  What’s not to love?  Here’s what you’ll need to get started making your own sauerkraut.

fermenting equipment: 1/2 gallon glass jar, airlock and lid, pickle weights.  A kitchen scale is also very helpful for this recipe.

For reliable ferments, I use this basic equipment:  a large lidded glass jar, porcelain pickle weights that fit the jar, and an airlock lid.  There are many equipment variations, but they all boil down to a couple of key principles:  the correct cabbage to salt ratio, keeping the cabbage under liquid during the active fermentation period, and avoiding contamination while the ferment is getting going.

chopping purple cabbage
cabbage and salt, just before mixing and packing into the jar
close up of my fist pressing down firmly on the cabbage/salt mixture in the jar
top down view of the just packed cabbage and salt, with porcelain pickle weights wedged into place to keep the cabbage under the naturally formed brine
Fermentation almost complete — the color of the cabbage has changed from violet purple to fuschia purple.  This is because of the changing acidity of the mixture.  It’s cooking and a cool science project all in one!  Notice the airlock lid enclosing the jar — this allows gases to escape while keeping air out, helping to protect the microbial community inside the jar.

You can eat your sauerkraut fresh out of the fridge, or simmer it with sausage or pork chops, or sauté with apples and caraway for a traditional German side dish.  All are delicious.   I grew up with my father making pickles and sauerkraut, and I honor his memory by keeping this tradition alive.  Enjoy!

Purple Sauerkraut
(makes 1/2 gallon of sauerkraut)

1 very large head purple cabbage* – 2 1/2 – 3 LBs total
kosher salt

Prepare your 1/2 gallon jar by rinsing the interior of the jar with boiling water, then setting it upside down on a clean towel while you prep the cabbage.  This will ensure that there are reduced levels of unwanted microbes in the jar.  The lactobacillus bacteria that will cause the fermentation to happen are already on your cabbage, and your goal is to foster conditions in the jar that will favor these bacteria.  By giving them what they need, they will cause the cabbage to turn into delicious, tangy sauerkraut.  You’ll help them do this with a clean jar, and just the right amount of salt.

Slice the cabbage head in half, and remove the solid core.  Then using your sharp chef knife, slice the cabbage into small slivers — like you’d do for a rough slaw.

Weigh the cabbage using a kitchen scale.  I use metric setting for this recipe as it makes determining the right amount of salt really easy.  You want to have a 2% salt to cabbage ratio.   How to figure this out?  super easy — you weigh your cabbage in grams, then multiply by .02 to determine how much salt to add.  For example, for every 1000 grams (1 kg/2.2 LB) of sliced cabbage, you’ll use 20 grams salt.   Salt is available in many densities — making volume measuring more difficult to manage than weight.  Weighing your salt and cabbage is simple and the key to success for this recipe.  To fill my 1/2 gallon jar, I used 1 1/2 kg cabbage and 30 g salt, and there was a small amount of cabbage left over after stuffing the jar.

Place the sliced cabbage and salt in a large mixing bowl.  Using your clean hands mix the cabbage and salt together.  Let sit for 10 minutes, lightly covered.  This will begin to draw the water out of the cabbage leaves (osmosis – more kitchen science fun!) and make packing the jar easier to do.  Then pack the cabbage/salt mixture into your jar, very firmly pressing down on the mixture to release juices and remove any air bubbles trapped in the leaves.  REALLY push the cabbage down, and you should see a purple liquid begin to exude from the cabbage.  When you’ve packed the jar almost to the sloping shoulders of the top, it’s time to place the pickle weights on the cabbage.  I use a two piece porcelain pickle weight system, as shown in the photos above, and it’s really foolproof.

If your cabbage is just level with the liquid then you’re all done.  If not, start by letting your newly packed jar sit for an hour.  The leaves will continue to release moisture over time.  If the level of the liquid is still below that of the leaves, you’ll need to add a bit of brine.  To make the brine, simply mix tap water and salt together until it tastes like sea water.  Really!  This is a quick, fast way to make a good brine and approximates a 2% water and salt mixture pretty well.  (fun fact – your tongue is an amazing chemical analyst)  Pour in enough brine to just cover the leaves.

Finally, top the jar with your airlock lid.  Set jar out on a counter at room temp.  The ferment will likely be done any where from 5 days to a week.  As long as your cabbage leaves are always under liquid, this should yield excellent sauerkraut.  In case there’s a small amount of foam at the top, and bubbles in the mixture — this is normal.  If you see a fuzzy growth in the airspace above the kraut, of it it looks really cloudy or weird, you may have an issue with a failed ferment.  The final judge of this process is to taste the kraut — if it tastes tangy, and like kraut then it’s likely a good ferment.  If it tastes bitter,  smells really stinky in a bad way, or feels slimy, you should toss it and try again.

When the kraut is tangy and tasty, remove the pickle weights.  The kraut may expand and not be entirely covered with liquid any more.  This is totally fine because your sauerkraut is pretty resistant to mold growth.  Replace the airlock lid with the regular lid that the jar came with, and store the kraut in the fridge.  It’ll keep for several months in a cool, dark place.  The fermentation will still continue — though very slowly.  Track how your kraut tastes over the weeks, and months.  You may prefer a more mature ferment!  And don’t toss the kraut juice.  It’s loaded with probiotics, and is tasty, too.  Maybe a beautiful dirty martini with a bit of purple kraut juice is in order!

This is a long post, and I appreciate your reading it all.  People have been fermenting food for as long as we’ve grown it — longer, probably.  It’s a process that is in just about every food culture out there, and is so interesting to do.  Interested in more fermenting info?  Read Fermented Vegetables.

* look for a nice heavy, tight, fresh head of cabbage.  Opt for organic if it is available.  Green cabbage is great, too, but your kraut will be pale green rather than fuschia.

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