We’ve been fermenting a lot over the last month or so. It’s something that happens a lot in winter – fermenting is an ideal preservation method for hardy vegetables (like carrots, cabbage, onions, garlic, turnip, rutabaga and other root vegetables) and it adds a lot of variety to our meals. Our fermenting has included a lot of fermentation and we’ve played with the ratio of salt to cabbage when making sauerkraut.
Sauerkraut is exceptionally easy to make: add salt to chopped (or grated cabbage), squeeze the cabbage and cover with a weight. Here’s a few articles that will help you get up to speed if you haven’t made it before:
- Step-by-step process of making sauerkraut
- Sauerkraut – Day 1 (using purple cabbage)
- Epic sauerkraut. This is possibly the most ridiculous post we’ve made (in more than 1,500). I made sauerkraut while traveling in hotels in England and Scotland to show how easy fermenting is.
Now that we have the basics covered, a few basics of salting cabbage for kraut:
- Salt helps pull liquid from the cabbage.
- You can ferment cabbage without salt but it tends to be less sour and it’s shelf-life will be reduced.
- Too much salt will prohibit fermentation altogether.
- The more salt you have, the slower the ferment will take. The opposite is, of course, true as well.
- Many people don’t measure their salt and just taste it as a guideline. I recommend measuring so that your results are somewhat repeatable.
- Although you can use just about any salt, I really have a soft spot for the grey sea salt (‘sel gris’) when I ferment.
- In the first few days of the ferment, your product may taste overly salted. This will mellow as the ferment continues and more liquid is created in your fermenting vessel.
- Many people learning to ferment add too much salt and inhibit or prevent fermentation. Too much will stop fermentation – too little will not cause harm.
Many sources recommend 3 tablespoons of salt per 5 pounds of vegetables. I like to think of this as 2 teaspoons per pound as many of my ferments are smaller than 5 pounds and it’s easier to scale that way. From my experience, more than this is not required and can simply slow or stop the process.
In the last few weeks we made two sauerkrauts – one with the ratio above and a second using 2 tablespoons per 5 pounds of kraut. Here’s what we found:
- Timing: the version with less salt fermented faster than the one with more (about twice as fast even though had 66% of the salt content)
- Mould: the version with less salt started growing mould on the surface of the brine on day 2 and had to be skimmed daily compared to the other.
- Texture: the less-salty version was slightly softer (and parts of it even limp) compared to its mate.
- Taste: While both tasted different, both were quite tasty.
In the future I’ll play some more but, for now, I’d use 2.5-3 tablespoons of non-iodized salt per 5 pounds of cabbage.
Edit – June 2, 2014 – For those looking for further precision, make a 3.5-5% brine. It’s a bit tricky as I add the salt to the cabbage before adding the water so my technique starts with a bit of guessing: for every liter (1,000 grams) of water I anticipate adding to the ferment, I add 35-50 grams of non-iodized salt to the cabbage. I crunch the cabbage and let it rest in the salt for 12-24 hours and cover it with the amount of water I had planned to use. If I need more water I measure it and add more salt.
If you ferment, what ratio do you use?