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Out of all ferments, sauerkraut is high on my list of favorites that I always have on hand. It tastes great and is very versatile. I enjoy it at almost every meal. With my eggs for breakfast, on top of pizza for lunch and as an accompaniment to most any meat dish (mmm, bratwurst and sauerkraut, mmm).
While it really is a simple ferment, just cabbage and salt, the following questions pop up and I also asked on Facebook what some of your questions about sauerkraut might be.
- Heaving, what is it, why it happens, what to do when it happens.
- My brine seemed to disappear in the fridge?
- “How long does sauerkraut need to ferment and why so long?” and “How long can I let it ferment before it goes bad? Could it ferment indefinitely?”
- How do I know when to move it to the fridge?
- “Is it too much salt that can make it smell beer like or get fizzy?”
- “Can I ferment purple cabbage?”
- Step by Step Fermenting Instructions
- “I have heard the longer you leave it out at room temp or warmer, the better the good bacteria growth. True or not?”
- How long does it last?
- Does sauerkraut give you gas?
- If I buy Bubbies, is it ok to drink the juice? Also, can I use that juice to start another ferment?
This is the most common question I see about sauerkraut. When sauerkraut hits it’s active peak, usually around day 3 depending on the temperature, it can heave, pushing up the cabbage and brine and can make quite a mess. I’ve had brine push up into the airlock and make a puddle around my jars.
The reason kraut does this (and most shredded vegetable ferments like carrots or zucchini) is because the gases created during fermentation need to push their way up and out. With a brine ferment like pickles, the air can move around the veggies through the water more easily. When the veggies are packed together, it’s harder for the air to get out so it pushes the veggies up with it.
There is no way to really avoid this happening (that I’ve found) but there are things you can do to prevent a mess. Be sure to pack your jar no higher than the bottom of the shoulder. This means the brine should just reach the shoulder like this:
I’ve been known to overpack jars, trying to squeeze in as much into one jar as I can to save space but it always ends in disaster. I now try to pack my jars only 75% full. Don’t pack it less than that because too much air in the jar initially can lead to mold since it may take a while for the ferment to push all of that oxygen out.
Once your kraut does heave, you’ll want to quickly crack open your jar and push everything back under the brine. Yes, you introduce oxygen doing this but it will quickly get pushed back out once you close the jar back up. I usually do this at least once or twice while it’s on the counter.
If you do everything right and you still end up with a puddle of brine around your jar, after you push everything back down, you can add more 2% brine to bring the brine level back up to 1″ above the veggies.
This is another common occurrence. First try pushing your kraut down. If there still isn’t much brine, you can add more 2% brine on top. You’ll want 1″ of brine above the kraut.
Sauerkraut is a loooong ferment. While most other ferments take just 1-2 weeks, sauerkraut takes about 10-12 weeks. Why so long you ask? According to Kathleen, owner of Pickl-It, histamines are produced during weeks 2 and 3 which many people are quite sensitive too. During weeks 3-6, the vitamin C is eaten up by the lactic acid bacteria but will regenerate it by the end of 10 weeks. A longer ferment results in fewer histamines and more vitamins. You know your kraut is done when it doesn’t taste cabbagey and it shouldn’t taste too salty.
To answer the second question, even in the fridge, the sauerkraut is fermenting and it will continue to ferment until all the food source is eaten up. At that point the LAB’s will die. Luckily that takes a long time, especially if fermentation is slowed down by putting it in the fridge. Leaving at too high temps will cause it to ferment too quickly. I’d love to view a ferment that is a year old to see how many LAB’s it still contains. I don’t have any that old at the moment but I hopefully will next spring if I can resist eating it all.
Even once the LAB’s do begin to die off, the ferment still has great nutritional value. It’s easier to digest, still has the great B vitamins and vitamin C as well as lactic acid that aids in digestion.
How do I know when to move it to the fridge?
Once the initial fermentation is complete, you can move the kraut to your fridge. This can be between 3-7 days. You shouldn’t see many bubbles going up and if you have pushed your kraut down after it has heaved, it shouldn’t heave anymore. The airlock might still be pushed up but not as high. It should be dropping down. If you are using an “S” shaped airlock, you can see the bubbles slow down.
The beer smell you sense is most likely due to yeast which is a normal product of fermentation. You just don’t want too much yeast because that can cause the ferment to create alcohol and can make the kraut mushy and even turn it pink. It’s not necessarily bad but can result in off tastes and a yucky texture. Adding more salt can actually help in that situation. Having a good anaerobic vessel is important here too.
Fizziness is caused by carbon dioxide that is created during fermentation. If your sauerkraut is still fizzy, it’s either still in the active first stage or the CO2 isn’t being released like it should (using a fido to ferment will cause CO2 build up). I keep my kraut in the fridge with a mini-airlock for at least 3 months. If you hear a pop when you open your fido, the ferment is not ready to be without the airlock.
Yes! It’s actually my favorite and I’m not sure why you don’t see it as much. It makes a beautiful pink kraut with deep purple brine. You might want to keep it away from children though. It stains! To use it, just sub purple cabbage for green. You can even mix purple and green cabbage for a really pretty sauerkraut.
I haven’t really done a good step by step post on making sauerkraut yet. But, KerryAnn from www.cookingtf.com has a great video out that takes you through the process in her video based e-course on lactofermentation: Lactofermentation Class.
I’ve heard this before and I’m not sure where people got this information. Traditionally, sauerkraut was stored in a root cellar that keeps food between 32-55F and they didn’t start fermenting cabbage until the weather cooled down in the fall. All of my resources say sauerkraut should be kept around 50F which is considerably cooler than my cold house (though not much, lol!). Keeping the ferment too warm for too long can result in overfermentation and a reduction in the number of good bacteria.
I recommend keeping the cabbage at room temp for 3-7 days, depending on how warm your house is. Once the initial active stage is complete, put it in cold storage. If you’re lucky enough to have a root cellar, put it there. Otherwise the warmest part of your fridge is the best place. Top shelf toward the front or the door is great.
Stored properly, sauerkraut will last at least a year or more though it rarely lasts that long in my house. Store in a good airtight jar like a Fido, Boss Pickler or a Pickl-it. I usually wait at least 3 months before removing the airlock
I brought this subject up to some fellow ferment freaks and Lydia from Divine Health said this which made me laugh, “Um, well probiotic rich foods in people not used to them can certainly get gas cause those good guys go in and munch munch munch creating a die off – and gas-o-liciousness for sure!” So there you have it. If you are not used to fermented foods and have a gut dysbiosis (imbalance of bacteria) consuming fermented foods can indeed cause gas.
If you are just starting out with fermented foods, take it slowly or you might regret it. Start with just a tablespoon a day and increase as you tolerate it. Many people find they tolerate the juice better than the sauerkraut. When starting ferments on the GAPS diet, Dr. Natasha McBride recommends starting with just the juice.
To answer your first question, yes! The juice is actually the best part. That is where the lactic acid bacteria live. Traditionally it was common for people to cook the kraut and drink the juice. Bubbies is a fairly good brand to buy. They do a quick flash pasteurization which kills just the bugs in the out layer of the jar but the majority of the kraut is still living. Making your own is the best but if you can’t, Bubbies is a decent option. Caldwell’s offers a selection of fermented vegetables as well that are excellent. http://www.culturesforhealth.com/ready-to-eat-foods/raw-cultured-vegetables.html
*ETA: Bubbies only ferments their sauerkraut for 2 weeks so it is not a complete ferment. People who are sensitive to histamines would have problems with eating this sauerkraut.
For the second question, using the juice to start another ferment is quite the controversial subject. Some swear by it, others shun it. Personally, I like the cabbage to go through all the stages of fermentation naturally. The bacteria you are introducing by “starting” the kraut with kraut juice is the later stage bacteria. Starting it in the way make the ferment skip steps. If you are unsure of using just salt and cabbage to make your sauerkraut, you can add a starter like Caldwell’s. Caldwell’s can shorten the initial fermentation period and adds the correct bacteria to the ferment.
If you have more questions about fermentation (sauerkraut or any other ferment), comment with your question. I might make this a regular post.