How to Make No-Fail Sauerkraut and Other Ferments


 sauerkraut in jars

The somewhat-green sauerkraut on the left has just been made and fermentation hasn’t begun. The white sauerkraut in the middle was made 2 to 3 weeks ago and is ready to enjoy. The brown sauerkraut is over a year old; it is soft in texture and sour in flavor but still edible.

There is a foolproof method for making sauerkraut and other ferments and that is to use glass canning jars, filled to the very top with vegetables and brine. I adopted this method when I was doing a lot of recipe testing for my book, The Pickled Pantry, and I haven’t had a ferment go bad or taste funky ever since.

Why is it foolproof? Glass, unlike crocks, never develop the hairline cracks that make a crock impossible to sanitize properly, and the cracks allow contaminants in. A glass jar with a lid and screwband excludes air without the need to weight the food to keep it below the brine. When you want to check on the ferment, you can see how it is progressing without opening the jar and introducing airborne yeasts and molds. And, when you want to taste your ferment, you open and taste from one jar, leaving the rest of the jars in your batch unopened and unexposed to air.

If you taste the unfermented cabbage, it will taste salty. As fermentation proceeds, lactic acid is produced as a byproduct of the microbial action, and the sour should balance out the saltiness. The more salt you use, the slower the fermentation and the longer the kraut will keep without softening; the less salt you use, the quicker the fermentation and the faster it will soften and discolor.

As the fermentation proceeds, you will see bubbles of gas – carbon dioxide – rising to the top of your jar. It will even push some brine out, which is why I always place my ferments on saucers to catch the overflow. If the fermentation is vigorous, it may even leave some some of the vegetables uncovered on the top. This isn’t a problem as long as the jar remains closed. When I open the jar to taste the ferment, I’ll top it off with more brine (or just water if the ferment tasted salty) to keep it all covered. Then the lid and screwband goes back on.

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