The Weird, Wonderful Magic of Making Sauerkraut at Home
Roll up your sleeves—it’s time for a fun (and tasty) kitchen science experiment.
One of the easiest intros to fermentation, making sauerkraut is a fun way to spend a weekend afternoon with your Little Sous. The setup is quite simple: A head of cabbage, plenty of sea salt, some good-old-fashioned elbow grease, a big bowl, and a clean mason jar are all you need.
A little bit of science: Thanks to the naturally occurring lactic acid bacteria (called lactobacillales) found on all plants, there’s no need to add a starter to kick off the fermentation process. That magical bacteria (or probiotics) makes sauerkraut gut-friendly, helping your body fight bad bacteria, and the lactic acid they produce during fermentation stops the growth of other bacteria that would otherwise cause the food to spoil!
To get started on your kraut adventure, have your Little Sous remove a few outer leaves from a head of cabbage, then help him shred the remainder with a knife or the slicer attachment of a food processor. Pause together to appreciate the massive amount of shredded cabbage that one head produces; it’s always a little bit of a shock. (The kind of cabbage you choose matters. Red cabbage will create a bright magenta kraut, green cabbage will give you the traditional pale and crunchy result, and Napa cabbage will be much softer, thanks to a higher water content.)
Add the cabbage to a big bowl and have your kid sprinkle it with about two tablespoons of kosher salt. You don’t need to add water—that’s where the elbow grease comes in. Roll up your sleeves, put on some fun tunes, and start massaging, squeezing, kneading, and essentially beating up the salty cabbage with your hands. When you’re cooking with kids, shortcuts are often welcome. You can shave off a few minutes of collective cabbage squeezing time by sprinkling the cabbage with the salt in a large bowl and letting it sit for a half hour before you get to the squeezing.
Pause together to appreciate the massive amount of shredded cabbage that one head produces; it’s always a little bit of a shock.
After a few minutes, you’ll start to notice the cabbage soften and begin to release liquid. Eventually, there will be enough salty liquid (the brine) that you can start to pack the cabbage tightly into a wide-mouth, quart-size jar and allow the brine to rise to the surface. Small hands are perfect for this step! Once your jar is packed and all of the cabbage is submerged under brine, take those outer leaves you set aside and smoosh them on top of your kraut to help keep the shredded bits from escaping above the brine.
To keep the cabbage under the water, place a small jar filled with water or a clean paperweight atop the kraut, set the whole jar in a bowl to capture any spillage as the kraut starts to ferment and bubble, and let it ferment for a few days. How long it goes is up to you and your child—start sampling a bit after four days and let it go until you love the taste. Once you’re satisfied, move the kraut to the fridge where it’ll last longer than anything else in there.
That’s it! Once you master this basic method, you can explore the wide world of kraut variations by adding spices and use it on other veggies (like shredded carrots). Go forth and ferment!
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