How to Make Perfect Sauerkraut
How to Make Perfect Sauerkraut
By Adam Marianski
It is almost impossible not to make great sauerkraut. To make any good food we have to start with good quality fresh material. Here, Mother Nature has created a vegetable that is perfectly suited for fermentation. Cabbage contains plenty of minerals, vitamins, water and sugar and all those nutrients are a ready to eat meal for bacteria. Even fermenting bacteria are present in sufficient numbers to start fermentation. There is no need for starter cultures or chemicals, cabbage has all that is needed.
The Importance of Adding Salt
In simple terms, fermentation is spoilage of product by bacteria. Cabbage like many moist foods will spoil if left unattended. Although lactic acid producing bacteria (fermenting type) will start fermentation, nevertheless the amount of acid that is produced is insufficient to inhibit the growth of spoilage bacteria and the cabbage will rot, unless it receives help from us. All that the cabbage needs is around 2.5% salt in relation to the cabbage weight.
All bacteria hate salt, but friendly lactic acid bacteria can tolerate elevated amounts of salt much better than spoiling bacteria. This small amount of salt inhibits the growth of spoiling bacteria, yet allows lactic acid bacteria to ferment the cabbage. The process is controlled now and the cabbage should ferment well. Salt is not added for flavor, but to save the cabbage from rotting. Another benefit of adding salt is that it immediately draws juice from the shredded cabbage.
The Importance of Right Temperature
Cabbage is a resilient vegetable and can tolerate temperature drops below freezing point. It will also ferment in a wide range of temperatures, however, the best quality cabbage is produced at around 70 F (21 C). The fermentation will proceed faster at higher temperatures, but the quality will suffer as certain strains of lactic acid bacteria will not take part in the process. Staying below 80 F (26 C) is a smart choice. Depending on temperature, it takes from 10 to 20 days to produce sauerkraut.
Elimination of Air
Molds are a continuous nuisance when cabbage is fermented in open containers. If they are not perfectly tight, air will be present inside and molds will grow on top of the cabbage. This is why sauerkraut must always be submerged in liquid to minimize its exposure to air. Even so, there will be some nutrients in cabbage juice that will help mold grow as long as they find air. Usage of water channel fermenting clay crocks and glass fermenting jars with air lock should be encouraged as they prevent mold formation.
Shredding and Packing Cabbage
Cabbage must be sliced or shredded in order to release its juice. Salt will start the process, but the cabbage must be packed tight and weighed. In about 4-6 hours, the fresh shredded cabbage should be submerged in juice. Cabbage that was already stored may contain less water and the juice production may be poor. If it is not fully submerged on the second day, the additional brine (salt and water) should be introduced to fully cover sauerkraut. Tight packing forces the air out of shredded cabbage. The air bubbles will travel to the top.
Lactic acid bacteria start feeding on sugar and break it into lactic acid and carbon dioxide (CO2), also known as soda gas. In water channel or air lock containers the increasing gas pressure will force the air out of the container, but will prevent the outside air from sipping in. There will be no mold, nor slime on top of sauerkraut. In open containers, the mold and slime need to be regularly scooped and discarded.
White cabbage, red cabbage and Chinese cabbage ferment very well. Red cabbage is the sweetest and releases juice fast, however, it discolors other foods.
Adam Marianski has written many books on sausage making and food preserving. He runs the website Food Preservation Methods where you can find more about making sauerkraut.
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