Make Your Own Sauerkraut

By Deb Botzek-Linn, University of Minnesota Extension Service

How about pork chops baked with sauerkraut, or a bratwurst topped with tangy kraut? The word sauerkraut means “sour cabbage” in German--it’s naturally fermented cabbage. Natural fermentation is one of the oldest means of food preservation, and it reduces the risk of foodborne illness and food spoilage.

Sauerkraut can easily be made and preserved at home with its basic ingredients of cabbage and salt. Be sure to use a tested recipe when making sauerkraut, as the proportion of salt to cabbage is the key to quality kraut. 

To make good kraut, begin by selecting disease-free, firm, sweet, mature heads of cabbage from mid- and late-season crops, Plan to begin cleaning and shredding the cabbage within 24 to 48 hours of harvest. A kraut cutter is the traditional way to shred the cabbage, but a modern-day food processor moves the process along and saves on the fingers.

Canning or pickling salt draws out the cabbage juice so it can be fermented. Using too little salt not only softens the cabbage, but also yields a product lacking in flavor. Too much salt delays the natural fermentation process. For every five pounds of shredded cabbage, mix in three tablespoons of canning salt. 

The choice of container to pack the cabbage in is important.  Old-fashioned earthenware crocks are traditional, and are still a good choice as long as they are not cracked or chipped.  Food-grade plastic pails that are sturdy and rigid make excellent containers.

The key words here are “food-grade.”  You do not want to make sauerkraut in metal containers of any type, or in plastic containers that were never intended for food use.

Once the cabbage and salt mixture is packed tightly into a suitable container, it’s essential that you cover the cabbage and liquid to exclude air, since the fermentation process requires anaerobic conditions.  A salt water (brine-filled), food-grade plastic bag is one of the easiest and best ways to both cover and weight down the cabbage.

Store the container at 68 to 74 degrees F while fermenting.  At these temperatures, the sauerkraut should be ready in three to four weeks.  Fully fermented kraut may be canned or frozen.

Sauerkraut is a low-calorie food--only 42 calories per cup. It’s a good source of vitamin C, but is high in sodium as a result of the salt used in fermentation.  You can reduce the sodium content, as well as the tartness, by rinsing sauerkraut in cold water before using.

(Deb Botzek-Linn is a food science educator with the University of Minnesota Extension Service Regional Center, St. Cloud)

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Writer: Deb Botzek-Linn, (320) 203-6056,  

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According to the most dietary guidelines, nutrient needs should be met primarily through consuming foods. Foods provide an array of nutrients and other compounds that may have beneficial effects on health. In certain cases, fortified foods and dietary supplements may be useful sources of one or more nutrients that otherwise might be consumed in less than recommended amounts. However, dietary supplements, while recommended in some cases, cannot replace a healthful diet. FREE Recipes
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