Homemade Sauerkraut Question

homemadecountrylife(Zone 8A CA)September 3, 2011

Ok, so I'm doing something crazy and fermenting my own sauerkraut and I was wondering how you can know for sure when it's done. It's been fermenting in my glass jar for a week now and I'm pretty sure it's close, but it doesn't taste "kraut-y" enough. Is there a better sign then just having a taste test? And should I "stir" it or fluff it up every other day or something? I haven't seen any mold, scum or even any fermenting bubbles at all.

In case anyone was wondering why I am doing this, my local grocer had cabbage 8 pounds for $1 (I ended up buying 5 pounds). Since our family loves sauerkraut, I thought I would try to make our own instead of paying $4 a jar every month :(

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I've made sauerkraut a couple of times, and I think it's great fun to do my own fermenting. Congrats on jumping into this for the first time! My experience is that the taste test is really the only test that matters. When it tastes the way you like it, it's done.

A book that has helped me a lot in making sauerkraut, kimchi, and other fermentables is Wild Fermentation, by Sandor Ellix Katz.

Here is a link that might be useful: Wild Fermentation on Amazon

    Bookmark   September 3, 2011 at 8:10AM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Not crazy at all! Many of us regularly make our own sauerkraut and you'll find many discussions here about it. I linked the how-to instructions for you below if you need them. Please use them rather than the Wild Fermentation book, especially if you plan to can it.

But yes i can is correct that the taste test is how you tell when it is done. How fast it ferments all depends on the air temperatures where you have it fermenting and if you used the proper amount of salt.

I'm surprised you haven't seen any sign of bubbles. But whether or not it develops any scum all depends on how it is sealed off.

If you can give us more details on exactly how you made it we might be able to help more.


Here is a link that might be useful: How to ferment

    Bookmark   September 3, 2011 at 9:53AM
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homemadecountrylife(Zone 8A CA)

Whew! Everyone else says I'm crazy :)

Dave, I used the same methods as your link. But the taste is not very salty (I used 2 1/2 - 3 TBL of salt) and not very briney flavored at all. The cabbage still has a bit of crunch to it, which is surprising since we keep the house at about an average temp of 82 during the day. We live in the High Desert and the summer temps have been at 103 - 107 for the last week.
I sealed it off with a ziplock baggie filled with water, and covered with a towel to make it cooler and dark. Not my ideal weight system, but the mouth of the jar is narrower then then the width, so not much can fit or weigh it down.

I do have a picture but I don't know how to add it.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2011 at 11:18AM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

If you note the temps called for in the instructions it sounds like your air temp might be too hot for fermentation. Can you move it someplace about 10 degrees coller?

You might want to add a smidge more salt. And with the baggie seal you shouldn't get any scum forming. Filling it with brine rather than plain water works best in case it leaks you won't have water diluting the brine in the jar.


    Bookmark   September 3, 2011 at 11:28AM
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homemadecountrylife(Zone 8A CA)

I don't have anywhere cooler. Can I place it in the fridge? I haven't seen anything saying I can, but that would be the only place cooler then anywhere else in the house.

If I add more salt should I mix it into my cabbage or just sprinkle it on the top? And I love your brine bag idea! I have it double bagged at the moment, just in case the water bag does leak, but this makes alot more sense.
I added whole outer leaves of the cabbage on top of the shredded leaves, just in case there was some mold or scum, then I could just remove the top layer - in theory.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2011 at 1:09PM
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The Joy of Pickling has several different recipes reflecting different cultures' approach to a fermented cabbage. Look for it at your library (though if you get into pickling I highly recommend buying the book).

On temperature:

"Sauerkraut that ferments at lower temperatures (65 degrees F or lower) has the best flavor and color and higher vitamin C levels...But fermentation is slow at low temperatures: at 60 degrees F, the curing may take 5 to 6 weeks. Sauerkraut fermented at 70 to 75 degrees, however, also has good flavor and is ready in only three weeks or so. Above 90 degrees F, the kraut will ferment in just eight to ten days, but most of the work will be done by homofermentative bacteria, which produce lactic acid but not acetic acid and other flavors which contribute to the complex flavor of a really good sauerkraut."

Basic recipe uses only cabbage and salt (you can leave out the juniper berries)

"This recipe uses 15 pounds of cabbage, as much as will fit comfortably in a 3-gallon crock. If you want to make more or less sauerkraut, the adjustments are simple. Just use 3 tablespoon salt for each 5 pounds of cabbage. You can fit 5 pounds of cabbage in a 1-gallon jar, 25 pounds in a 5 gallon crock or bucket.

If you use fresh-picked cabbage, it will easily release enough liquid to cover itself. If the cabbage has been stored for a few weeks, though, you may have to add brine to the crock.

15 pounds trimmed fresh white head cabbage
9 tablespoons pickling salt
3 tablespoons juniper berries

1. Working with 5 pounds of cabbage at a time, quarter and core the heads. Shred the cabbage very thin, about the tickness of a quarter. Add 3 Tbsp of the salt and 1 Tbsp of the juniper berries to the first 5 pounds of cabbage, and throughly mix the ingredients with your hands. (I do this right in the crock, but if you're going to ferment the cabbage in gallon jars, do the mixing in a large bowl or nonreactive pot.) Pack the cabbage into the crock, bucket, or jar. When it has softened and released some liquid - as it probably will have done by the time you've shredded the next 5 pounds - tamp it down very firmly, using a potato masher or your hands. Shred, mix, and pack the rest of the cabbage in the same way, 5 pounds at a time.

2. When all the cabbage is mixed and packed, weight it to keep it immersed in its brine and thereby protected from air. You can use a food-grade plastic bag (such as one meant for cooking a turkey in), or more than one bag, filled with brine in case of a leak. (I use three 1-gallon freezer bags, which I carefully place in a 3-gallon crock to seal out all air.) To make the brine, use 1.5 Tbsp salt per 1 quart water."

(I will skip how to cover with a plate since you said you're using a jar, a plastic freezer bag should work fine for you.)

"Cover the container with a towel or other cloth (I use a pillowcase). Put the container in a cool place.

3. Within 24 hours, the cabbage should be submerged in its own brine. If it isn't, dissolve 1.5 Tbsp salt in 1 quart of water, and pour enough of this over the cabbage to cover it. Check the sauerkraut once every day or two to see if scum has formed. If you do find scum, remove it, and wash the plates and weights."

(Note - you can just pour some of the brine out of your brine bag into the cabbage since it's the same proportions, and if your bag gets scummy use a fresh one - pour the brine out of the scummy one into the fresh one you're stuffed into the jar - or wash the bag off - rinse well - and replace. Ive never had a problem with scum using brine bags for pickles, though I haven't made kraut.)

"4. Start tasting the sauerkraut after 2 weeks. It will be fully fermented in 2 to 4 weeks at 70 to 75 degrees F, or 5 to 6 weeks at 60 degrees F. It will be pale gold with a tart, full flavor. Within 2 days after fermentation is complete, little bubbles will have stopped rising to the surface.

5. When the sauerkraut is ready, you can store it in the refrigerator or another very coolplace (at about 38 degrees F), tightly covered.

6. If you're lacking refrigerator space or another cold storage place, then can your kraut. Pack the cold sauerkraut and juices into pint or quart mason jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace at the top of each jar. Close the jars with hot two-piece caps. In a BWB, process pint jars for 20 minutes, quart jars for 25 minutes (Make sure the water in the canner isn't too hot when you add the jars, or they may break.)

7. Store the cooled jars in a cool, dry, dark place.

Makes 6 quarts"

I think that warming the jars slightly (not boiling!) before packing the kraut in will help them not to break, but still just make sure the water in the canner is only warm to the touch, not scalding and not boiling, when you put them in. Maybe Dave will have more specifics on this since he has canned kraut and I haven't.


Here is a link that might be useful: Linda Ziedrich's blog

    Bookmark   September 3, 2011 at 1:40PM
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Linda Z says some people use cabbage leaves when using a plate to cover, for the reason you mentioned about scum. Though I haven't had a problem with bags. But I would not use the outer leaves - you shouldn't use outer leaves for the kraut either. I believe I read somewhere that they are more likely to be contaminated (not to mention tougher), though Linda does not mention that in her book.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2011 at 1:44PM
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Homemadecountrylife, I don't know if you plan to can your sauerkraut or not, but while others may have a different opinion, I recommend against it for a couple of reasons.

First, the processing will make the texture much softer and squishier, which can be a real disappointment after all the time you put into creating it.

Second (and more important to me personally), the heat from the processing will kill the fermenting bacteria, and those bacteria bring so many health benefits to fermented foods.

Whatever you choose to do, though, isn't it great to have a site like this to gather insights and experiences from others? I chose to sign up here after checking it out and finding that it seems to be a particularly positive and well-intentioned group of folks.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2011 at 1:56PM
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Well, if you only bought 5 pounds, that will make 1 gal (actually less since Linda Z says it will fit in a 1-gal jar for fermenting). Sounds like you'll have no problem going through that before the next batch is done! Do you have enough fridge space for say 3 quarts of finished kraut?

    Bookmark   September 3, 2011 at 5:05PM
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homemadecountrylife(Zone 8A CA)

I'm sorry, I was at church tonight and I'm canning tomatoes tomorrow bright & early, so I only have a minute.

But I don't anticipate having much to can after fermenting. If I get 1 quart jar, I'll be happy. I'm not going to can it, because there is no need since it would be our only jar. I did add more salt to the jar, and now I really smell the kraut. Huh. I do notice I don't have as much natural brine, should I add some brine, at this late of date?

    Bookmark   September 4, 2011 at 2:53AM
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You won't have any trouble with the temperatures. I try not to ferment until our house temps drop into the upper 70s but I know the pantry where I put my ferments is warmer so I'm sure it's been up to 85 before and worked fine, just faster. I wait on sauerkraut until fall for that reason but my temps will still be high seventies.
I froze my sauerkraut last year. Stayed crunchy and alive.
I'm going to try Kim Chee for the first time this fall, along with lots of kraut. Ran out of kraut and we're craving it!
Feel free to add onions, apples, peppers, spiced,whatever sounds good to you. Apples and onions with pink cabbage and a little caraway seed is our favorite.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2011 at 12:00AM
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You can add brine. I made the mistake of not adding brine and the top of one of my jars was out of the brine. It got dark and yucky. I had to pick that section off, add brine and go on. It was fine after that but I was worried at first. Now, I make sure if it's too dry after the first day to top off with a little brine to make sure everything has a little liquid on top.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2011 at 11:27AM
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homemadecountrylife(Zone 8A CA)

SUCCESS!! I checked one of my jars this afternoon and after 11 days, it's Done!! It was slightly darker then I thought it would be, but I had pulled the towel off of it for the last 3 days, so I think the light must have affected it. The top 1/4 inch was a little darker for my comfort so I disposed of it, but the rest of the kraut was fine.
I was able to get 1 1/2 Quarts out of 2 1/2lb of cabbage! I knew it would break down and give me less then I thought. But this is a wonderful amount, since I still have the other half fermenting on my counter top. I might can that other half just in case we don't get to it immediately.
~ By the way, my husband was impressed.. And that says alot, since he's not really into the "canning and fermenting thing" :) Me, I'm pleased as punch and extremely excited :)

Tracydr, do you freeze to cabbage heads until fall, then ferment them? I'm sorry I wasn't understanding that part.
Thank you for the tip about checking your kraut after a day to see if it needed brine. I will do that the next time. The last jar of kraut could've used that, but I just kept pressing it, and pressing it down every time I was in the kitchen so finally it developed the brine it should have had. I hope that was the right thing to do.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2011 at 10:55PM
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homemadecountrylife(Zone 8A CA)

Ok, so my sauerkraut is done fermenting and I stuck it in the fridge for the moment. I want to can them tomorrow, I just don't have time tonight. But I have two questions:

1). The jars don't have alot of brine in them, can I add some brine to them just in case they "dry out" a little more?

2). And I have 1 pint in the fridge, how long will it keep in the fridge?

Thank you for any help :)

    Bookmark   September 8, 2011 at 7:19PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Like Tracy said you can always add more brine. In the fridge, 3 months if sufficiently brined.


    Bookmark   September 8, 2011 at 7:32PM
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homemadecountrylife(Zone 8A CA)

Thank you so much, Mr. Dave, I really appreciate the information! I just wanted to make sure it was ok to can the new brine with the old, as a precaution.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2011 at 9:31PM
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wertach zone 7-B SC

I took the plunge with some cabbage while it was on sale this weekend. I followed the National Center for Home Food Preservation's recipe, but added an extra tablespoon of salt for good measures.

I put about 5 lb.s, 2 heads, in a sterilized one gallon glass container, an old pickle jug. I packed it down and the juice was above the cabbage. I placed a freezer bag filled with brine in the top to weight it down. Making sure there were no air gaps and covered with a clean towel.

The juice from the cabbage has came up above the bag, should I remove it or leave it alone? It is not spilling over.

It has been 3 days since I started it and no bubbles yet. The temps range from about 60 at night to 70 during the day. Should I be seeing bubbles?

    Bookmark   January 30, 2013 at 2:35PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

It is messy but normal and safe and it may spill over as more liquid is drawn out of the cabbage. I usually sit the jars in a deep bowl to catch any overflow. Next time just don't fill the jar quite so full.

If any scum form on the liquid above the bag just skim it off.

As to the extra salt - you will likely find the finished kraut to be way too salty to eat so I would plan to taste and rinse it well before storage. If you get it to where it tastes ok then plan to drain it and store it in a normal salt-level fresh brine mix.


    Bookmark   January 30, 2013 at 2:42PM
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wertach zone 7-B SC

Thanks Dave, I added the extra salt since I didn't know how many pounds I actually had after trimming and wanted to be safer. They weighed 8 pounds at the store.

I like my Kraut on the salty side anyway. First shot and a learning curve, so hopefully I will have it down pat by the time my cabbage is ready this spring.

I need to learn that I need to use the little thingy that keeps my fingers off of the blade on my cutter! LOL

    Bookmark   January 30, 2013 at 4:11PM
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wertach zone 7-B SC

I'm getting a little worried. It has no odor at all. The juice at the top just tastes like salty water. Its been over a week and No bubbles yet, unless they are escaping around the bag.

It hasn't overflowed the jar and hasn't been disturbed except moving the cloth to look, taste and smell. No scum on top either.

I think it may be too cool in my house for it to ferment. I keep it from 64 to 68.

From "Complete Guide to Home Canning,"

Store at 70� to 75�F while fermenting. At temperatures between 70� and 75�F, kraut will be fully fermented in about 3 to 4 weeks; at 60� to 65�F, fermentation may take 5 to 6 weeks. At temperatures lower than 60�F, kraut may not ferment. Above 75�F, kraut may become soft.

Should I be worried?

    Bookmark   February 4, 2013 at 11:34AM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

That's a little too cool. It may work but take longer and it may be soft. Try to find a warmer place like up high on top the fridge maybe? It will be warmer higher up toward the ceiling.


    Bookmark   February 4, 2013 at 12:07PM
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wertach zone 7-B SC

I moved it to the top of the fridge, thanks. I put my thermometer on there as well. it still reads the same as room temps! 65 degrees.

It is a high efficiency fridge though, well insulated.I put the thermometer on top of my water heater also. It reads the same. So I dug out a new thermometer to double check. It reads the same.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2013 at 3:27PM
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wertach zone 7-B SC

I tasted it today, It's not fermenting. It just tastes like too salty cabbage. It's crunchy and with a little rinsing to get the salt off it would be good to eat or put in soup.

Do you think I should give it more time or start another batch with less salt?

    Bookmark   February 8, 2013 at 4:24PM
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wertach, if I've read this correctly, you started your batch just two weeks ago. The temp you are fermenting at is from "64 to 68" and....

"Start tasting the sauerkraut after 2 weeks.. It will be fully fermented in 2 to 4 weeks at 70 to 75 degrees F, or 5 to 6 weeks at 60 degrees F. "

I'd wait. May just be because of the slightly cooler temperature. Allot can happen in another 2-4 weeks. I'll just bet it will be worth it!

    Bookmark   February 12, 2013 at 5:39PM
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wertach zone 7-B SC

I drained off some of the juice, about half, and replaced it with distilled water Friday. I added some lemon juice, a suggestion from another site.

I tasted it a few minutes ago and it is starting to ferment, I think!

It had bubbles and a little Sauerkraut taste. It didn't taste lemony. It tastes good but not finished.

Replacing the juice with distilled water took a lot of the salt out. I think that was the problem and maybe the lemon juice helped?

I hope I can get my act together before my spring cabbage is ready!

    Bookmark   February 14, 2013 at 3:18PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Never heard of adding lemon juice. Or distilled water for that matter. What is it supposed to accomplish?

At such low temps 6 weeks for fermentation is common.


    Bookmark   February 14, 2013 at 6:22PM
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wertach zone 7-B SC

The distilled water was suggested to remove some of the salt. The lemon juice was from the recipe below.

Here is a link that might be useful: sauerkraut

    Bookmark   February 15, 2013 at 11:44AM
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