How To Make Your Own Sauerkraut or Kimchi

Something you may not know about me is that I teach classes.

(Nope, not school classes.  Don't worry, haha!)

I teach classes on food in the community. 

Eating more veggies.  Fermentation.  Kombucha and Kefir.  Things like that.  

I've been doing it for over 10 years.  And I love it.

Really love it!  It's so much fun to meet new people and especially people with creative minds and openness to learning new things!


So I'm really bummed this year.  Due to covid, in person hands-on classes focused on making food together are not in the cards.  

In lieu of our annual "Slice it, Salt it, Stomp it" sauerkraut/kimchi class that we hold on the farm every fall, I wrote this blog post for you.

I invite you to try making your own sauerkraut or kimchi at home!   



How To Make Your Own Sauerkraut or Kimchi

Welcome to my free online class!  I call it "Slice it, Salt it, Stomp it!" which perfectly illustrates what we'll be doing today!

This class is about how to preserve your own fresh vegetables.

But, it is also about making a tasty new food that is still raw and rich in digestive enzymes.

Fermented foods are still alive and their taste reflects that. You’ll see bubbles, taste tanginess, and watch your food age and grow in flavor over time. The subject of fermenting vegetables is broad and complex with endless possibilities for variations and techniques. Today we’ll start with the basics: slicing, salting, stomping, and savoring homemade lacto-fermented veggies!


So what are sauerkraut and kimchi?

Sauerkraut and kimchi are a mixture of vegetables that have been fermented into a new food.  The basic ingredients in making them are usually cabbage, other optional veggies and spices/herbs, and salt.  No vinegar is used at all. 

The food is preserved not by the addition of vinegar, but by the added salt which helps to create the environment for fermentation to take place.  The fermentation is what does the preservation.

But fermentation is not like canning.  It is fresh, raw, never canned, and alive!  That's how it has the good bacteria in it that we've all heard about.


How the fermentation process works for sauerkraut and kimchi

There are specific recipes below for how to make sauerkraut and kimchi, but I will go over briefly how the fermentation process works so you know a little more before you get started.  

First, you chop your veggies and then add salt.  Then you work the salt into the veggies, using your hands or a pounder.  The salt begins to act on the veggies to draw out the juices that are natural to them.  (Cabbage and Chinese cabbage are especially juicy.) 

Then, after you stuff your sauerkraut or kimchi into your jar, the fermentation process begins.  After a day or so it begins to form bubbles within and the juices start to come up around the top of the jar.  This is the fermentation process producing gasses (this is what you want!).  That is the rapid fermentation part which lasts between 4-7 days or so.

The rapid fermentation process will subside and then you move into the slower, maturation phase of fermentation where the characteristic tangy flavor of sauerkraut and kimchi starts to develop.  This phase can last between a couple weeks and several months depending on what flavor and texture you want to achieve.  

So in a nutshell the fermentation process that creates changes in flavor and texture of the original veggie ingredients goes like this:

Raw, crunchy, crisp cabbage/other veggies  ----> softening texture, tangier and more sour taste  ------> even softer texture (can get mushy if you go a really long time) and even more sour taste

You pick where you like the taste along the continuum above.  


Why make your own sauerkraut/kimchi?

There are so many reasons!  

  • TASTE: fermented veggies like sauerkraut and kimchi have a delicious (and addicting) tangy taste that goes so well with lots of kinds of food
  • PROBIOTICS:  fermented veggies are chock full of probiotic bacteria (aka the good bacteria) to help you digest your food and keep your immune system healthy
  • COST:  making your own fermented veggies is WAY cheaper than buying them at the store!  
  • FLEXIBLE FLAVORS AND SALT LEVEL:  making your own fermented veggies allows you to put whatever ingredients, flavors, level of salt or hot pepper that you want.  
  • PRESERVATION:  making sauerkraut and/or kimchi is a traditional way to preserve veggies like cabbage for the winter.


Tools Needed?  AKA you can really do this at home!

Y'all, this is really accessible!  You don't anything that you don't already have in your kitchen!  Here's what to have on hand when you get started:

  • Glass wide-mouth pint, quart or half-gallon canning jars with lids (available at most grocery or hardware stores—you might have to ask them to order the half-gallons for you) OR stoneware crocks
  • large bowls, spoons, measuring tools, knives, grater, cutting board
  • potato masher or wooden pounder or a clean plastic quart yogurt container or clean hands!


So, let's get started!


Basic recipe formula for sauerkraut or kimchi (AKA fermented shredded vegetables in their own juices)

The ratio is about 5 lbs shredded vegetables to 3 Tbls salt. Size this up or down for whatever container you’re using. Approximately 1 ¾ pounds of vegetables fit into a quart jar.


Sauerkraut (1 quart):

  • Approximately 2 pounds cored and shredded cabbage (or chopped according to preference)
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • Optional additional ingredients for sauerkraut: caraway seeds (1 Tbls per quart), minced jalapeno or dried red chili flakes, grated carrots, minced onions, minced garlic, grated radish (daikon or other), grated rutabaga or turnip, grated kohlrabi, minced ginger root…Experiment! Any combo of these ingredients should be uniquely delicious!


Korean Kimchi (1 quart):

Traditionally kimchi is made with Chinese cabbage but you can also substitute regular cabbage if you don't have the Chinese version.

  • ½ to 1 head Chinese or regular cabbage (about 1-2 pounds), sliced/chopped according to preference
  • 1 cup carrots, grated
  • 1/2 cup radish, salad turnip, etc, grated
  • 1-2 scallions, chopped (or ½ cup onion, minced)
  • 1 tbsp ginger, minced
  • 1-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1+ tsp red chili flakes
  • 1 tbsp salt


Directions for making either kimchi or sauerkraut:

  1. SLICE IT:  Prepare all ingredients (see above) according to preference and combine into a large bowl.
  2. SALT IT: Add salt based on ratio mentioned above.
  3. STOMP IT: Pound or massage the ingredients together to incorporate the salt using clean hands or a potato masher or wooden pounder or even stick your hand into a yogurt container and mash with that until juicy, 5-15 minutes.
  4. Pack into a quart jar leaving one to two inches empty to the top of jar. There should be juices visible above the top of the cabbage in the jar. If this is not the case, return to bowl and pound again or add brine to bring juices above cabbage using recipe below.
  5. Put lids on, label, and leave out at room temperature for at least 3 days.
  6. At this point, you need to mature the sauerkraut. You can start eating it right away, but generally sauerkraut takes a little while to be really flavorful and fermented. Age it at room temperature until you like the taste. Depending on your preference this will take weeks or months. We typically leave ours out to mature for 2-3 weeks in hot summer and for 1-2 months in cool winter. When you like the taste put your kraut into the refrigerator. That way it will last several more months and continue to slowly mature further. Every sauerkraut/kimchi you make will be different, but generally you’re looking for tanginess, sour taste, and a softened texture.
  7. OPTIONAL: Sauerkraut can have a tendency to lose moisture over time. This is something you need to be aware of. Using the brine recipe of 2 Tbls salt to 1 qt. water to keep the liquid above the cabbage at all times ensures that you will be eating this sauerkraut for many months to come.


Important tips to keep in mind while fermenting…

  • MONITOR: Put your jar out on the kitchen counter so that you’ll see it every day and can check the progress. Monitoring is the most important thing to remember to do when your jar is fermenting!
  • BUBBLES: Your jars will get bubbly and be full of liquid—this is okay and good! It means they’re fermenting!
  • TEMPERATURE/TIME LENGTH: Generally you’ll keep your jars out to ferment at room temperature for at least 2-3 days and up to a week or even much longer. During the period that you leave your jars at room temperature, you will need to keep an eye on them because once the fermentation process starts you will need to monitor the progress. If the temperature is very warm (above 70 degrees) you may need less time at room temperature. If the temperature is cool, you’ll need more days. Taste them. If they taste good, tangy, and have softened some, they’re ready to eat and can be stored in the fridge.
  • RELEASE PRESSURE: You need to release the pressure that gets built up during this warm period of rapid activity. To do this, open the lids and let out the air that builds up. This is normal, and you will have to do it for every jar that you make at least once a day while they are at room temperature. If you neglect this step, the jars will likely overflow and could even crack and break from the pressure!
  • PUSH DOWN LIQUID: When you open the jars once a day take a fork and push down the vegetables if they’ve risen up. This helps them stay under the juices and aids the fermentation process. If there is not enough liquid to cover the vegetables at the top after you open the jar and push them down, you should add brine to cover (see brine for sauerkraut recipe above). SKIM ANY MOLD: You might find a little mold on the top of the jar of the ferments. Don’t worry, this is okay and normal—just skim it off. The fermented vegetables inside are still good. Sometimes something goes wrong and the ferment will smell and taste bad. Don’t worry; you won’t want to eat it anyway, but it won’t harm you if you do.


Recommended Book Resources

  • The Complete Idiots Guide to Fermenting Foods by Wardeh Harmon, Alpha 2012. Really clear and well explained with lots of great recipes for veggies, drinks, dairy, etc. Great resource for beginners with a focus on small batches in jars.
  • Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz, Chelsea Green 2003
  • Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon


Please stay in touch! You are welcome to contact me (or comment below) with any questions you have as you go along. I love getting progress reports!  Good luck!


And if you're looking for somewhere to get veggies to make your own batch, check out our farm's veggie preordering system here.


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