The Back Story
This is our Guinness World Record-setting Sauerkrautathon sauerkraut recipe. It is pretty special, even without that accolade!
Despite the length of this recipe, I promise, it is very quick and easy to make (as well as deeply satisfying). For the Guinness World Record in 2018, it was made by over 150 members of the public, many of whom had never made sauerkraut before. If they can do it, you certainly can!
This recipe is simple and delicious and contains both prebiotics (foods that your bacteria selectively use for your benefit - contained in the vegetables) and probiotics (beneficial bacteria that support gut health).
This ferment will fit into a 1 litre Kilner Jar or equivalent. You won’t believe this when you see the pile of vegetables chopped up at the start but I speak the truth! For sauerkrautathon, we made a little more - 359.6kgs to be precise.
We consume fermented vegetables with pretty much anything here - with salads, with curries, mixed into hummus - they make a great adddition to most dishes.
1 white cabbage
1/4 red cabbage
3 or 4 good pinches of fennel seeds
1 litre Kilner Jar, washed in hot water or that has been through the dishwasher.
A flat-ended rolling pin or equivalent (could be your fist) for bashing the vegetables into the Kilner jar.
A large mixing bowl
A set of scales.
Take off one of the outer leaves of the white cabbage, trying to keep it whole and set it to one side for later. Halve the rest of the white cabbage and cut out the core. Keep a good sized chunk of the core for later.
Dice the rest of the cabbage – think manageable bite-sized pieces of cabbage. Ensure you cut the rest of the core nice and small to maximise suface area for exposure to bacterial action.
Cut the 1/4 or red cabbage up into manageable bite-sized pieces too. You could use the rest of the red cabbage to make Wondergut Red Cabbage Kraut or raw in salads or lightly cooked in a stir-fry.
Cut the fennel lengthways into thin slices and then widthways into manageable bite-sized pieces.
Put the empty mixing bowl onto the scales, then zero the scales so that you can weigh the total weight of all the prepared vegetables.
Put all the vegetables into the bowl on the scales.
Add the fennel seeds
And then make a note of the weight of the vegetables (excluding the weight of the bowl).
This volume of vegetables normally weighs around 1kg. For every 1kg of vegetables, we need 20g of salt – i.e. a ratio of 2%. So, if your vegetables weigh 900g, you will need to weigh out 18g of salt. The maths is simple – divide the weight of your vegetables by 100 and multiply that by 2 to give you the weight of the salt you need.
Weigh out the correct amount of salt into a separate bowl. Too many times, I have left the bowl of vegetables on the scales and weighed out the salt straight into the bowl of vegetables. One slip of the hand and then I have too much salt in my vegetables and I have to start to try to pick some salt back out.
Once weighed, pour the salt into the bowl of vegetables, roll up your sleeves and massage the salt into all the vegetables thoroughly. Ideally, with nice music to accompany the process!
Once you have done this, leave the bowl of salted vegetables to stand for ½ an hour or an hour. This enables the salt to draw out moisture from the vegetables with zero effort from me. And we need this moisture, as you will see in a minute.
Once the vegetables have had their rest, you will be able to feel that they are softer and moist. If you sqeeze some in your fist, moisture should now drip out between your fingers. If not, give the veg another good massage.
Now, they are ready to be tamped.
Take your Kilner jar and your flat ended rolling pin (or your fist).
Cover the bottom of your Kilner jar with a few handfuls of vegetables and then tamp them down. This is not bashing. This is a rhythmic tamping – a gentle bashing.
Add the next few handfuls and repeat. The volume of the vegetables should reduce noticeably and, after a bit of tamping, you will see juices starting to ooze out as you press down with your tamper. This is what we need – the juices flowing. If there is a distinct lack of juices, the chances are you jumped the gun on the waiting time. And this means that you will need to work harder on the tamping phase to squeeze out the vegetable juices.
Keep going until the jar is almost full – you need a gap at the top to act as your bacteria buffer zone.
So by now, unless you are a weight lifter, your arms may ache a little and you should have squished all those vegetables into your 1 litre Kilner jar and when you push down on the vegetables, there should be a good amount of purple juices at the top of the jar.
These juices are key. Whilst fermenting, our vegetables need to be below a seal of moisture so as to exclude air. The juices we have squeezed out of the vegetables form the “seal” at the top of the jar to keep oxygen away from our vegetables to, amongst other things, minimise mould growth.
In order to stop the vegetables floating up through the juice seal and being exposed to air, fold that whole cabbage leaf you set aside at the start of the proces and wedge it down over the chopped veg. Push the leaf down under the fluid level. Then, take the chunk of core you set aside and put that on top. Close the Kilner lid and, as you do so, it should press down on the cabbage core, which will push down on the cabbage leaf and help to hold all your developing sauerkraut beneath its own fluid.
Then, sit back and let the magic happen. Fermentation. In brief, this is what fermentation is: there are a range of bacteria all over the vegetables, even if they have been washed. The salt reduces the levels of bacteria we don’t want to encourage. The lack of oxygen does the same. The bacteria that like salt and no oxygen dominate and produce acids – acetic acid and lactic acid, mainly. This is the perfect environment to allow the naturally-occurring lactic acid-producing lactobacillus species to dominate. They digest the sugars in the vegetables, produce lactic acid, which preserves the vegetables and, at the same time, produce all sorts of beneficial by-products in so doing, including B vitamins. You might want to put your kilner jar on a saucer to catch any juices that might be forced out of the kilner during fermentation.
In the first few days, all we need to do is keep our fermenting ferment at normal room temperature. It is also important to occasionally push down on the jam jar weight to make sure the vegetables haven’t floated up. Initially, carbon dioxide is a by-product and these bubbles of gas can make the vegetables float. The carbon dioxide production slows after 2-3 days.
Tasting and Eating
I leave my ferments at least 21 days but the Sauerkrautathon Sauerkraut for the Guinness World Record fermented for 11 days. You can start tasting from around 5 days.. They are normally very crisp and crunchy. If they taste good to me, I move my ferment to the fridge (slows bacterial fermentation right down) and eat for lunch or dinner or sometimes even breakfast. On its own, on a slice of the delectable Life Changing Loaf, on salad. Often though, even though it tastes delicious, I wait longer. The average time I leave mine before slowing the fermentation by refrigeration is around 4 or 5 weeks. The taste is different then – the vegetables softer, the flavours more complex. It is a matter of personal taste when you start to eat it.
Glitches and Hitches
Don’t worry if a bit of mould grows on the surface – it means you haven’t submerged the vegetables properly. Just remove the mouldy bit, keep calm and carry on.
Don’t worry if foam collects on the surface – this is not unusual either. I scoop it off with a clean spoon and push down on the jam jar weight to force more moisture out and up.
I have never had to throw away a ferment, other than the courgette ones! Really, anything goes. And remember, it is NOT ROCKET SCIENCE, so with just a little bit of time invested, you will be eating your very own version of Record-Breaking Sauerkraut.