Sauerkraut with Cumin & Coriander

I first tried wild, unpasteurized sauerkraut at a farmers market in the Castro district of San Francisco.  A local artisan offered me a free sample, and  I was pretty sure I was going to hate it.  Almost completely convinced it would be terrible.  But I’m not one to turn down a new taste experience, so I agreed.  “I’m not so sure I’m going to like it,” I told the nice man holding the jar of kraut.  “That’s the best reason to try something new!” he said.  I was completely surprised by what I tasted.  It was tart, bright, crunchy, and scented with seeds of cumin and coriander.  It really didn’t taste anything like cabbage, or what you might think sour cabbage would taste like.  I bought the biggest jar they had, and devoured it in under a week.

If you’re interested in fermenting more of your own foods, I highly recommend reading Sandor Katz’s book, Wild Fermentations.  I used this book as a guideline in formulating my recipe.

To make sauerkraut, you’ll need:

  • About five pounds of fresh cabbage.
  • About 5 TB Good quality, pure sea salt
  • 3 TB Cumin Seeds
  • 3 TB Coriander Seeds
  • Distilled water – about 1 cup
  • A fermentation vessel.  Glass jars work really well for this.  You can use mason jars if you only want a little sauerkraut, or you can buy a gallon sized fermenting jar or an even larger ceramic fermenting crock.  It’s really nice to have weights and an airlocked lid.  You can find supplies like this at your local brewing store, or at Cultures for Health.  This recipe is sized to fit a gallon sized fermenter.
  • A cocktail muddler (optional)

Step 1:  Prepare your supplies and ingredients
Gather and clean your fermenter, weights, cabbages, hands, knife, and a tamper if you’re using one.
Measure out your salt and spices into separate bowls. You’ll be reaching in many times with wet fingers, and this step not only measures, but protects your leftover spice.

Three ramekins, two filled with spices, one with sea salt.

Step 2:  Chop and Knead

A half head of cabbage being sliced into thin ribbons with a large knife
You can chop your cabbage into any shape you like. I like to chop mine into long thin strips. I do this by layering cabbage leaves and rolling them up tightly like a cigar. Then I make very thin slices off the roll, chiffonade style.  After chopping, knead the cabbage with your hands.

Step 3:  Salt and Flavor

Sauerkraut in progress: The gallon sized glass jar is about 1/8 full.  Spices are located next to it.
Each time you add a layer of cabbage, sprinkle it with salt and each of your spices. If you run out of salt or spices, shake a little more into your bowls. If you have some left over when you’re done, don’t worry about it. This doesn’t have to be precise!

Step 4:  Pack The Cabbage

Mashing the sauerkraut with a cocktail muddler
Use your cocktail muddler to pack each layer down tightly. If you don’t have a cocktail muddler, use your hand. The idea is to begin breaking down the cabbage to encourage it to release juices.  You may not see any liquid right away, but don’t worry.  This liquid should continue to increase and fill the fermenter within 24 hours.

Step 5:  Repeat steps 2-4 until your fermenter is full

Don’t fill your fermenter too full! Leave a little room at the top for your weights, and for intense bubbly fermentation action. This one turned out to be a little bit too full, and some of the juices bubbled over. The batch wasn’t ruined, it just made a mess.

Step 6:  Add your weights, lid, and airlock

Bubbles signify that fermentation has begun
After 24 hours, the cabbage juice should rise to cover the weights. If it hasn’t, add salt water to cover (about 1 cup of distilled water to about 1 TB salt).
Close-up of fermenting sauerkraut

Step 7:  Wait.
Every week or so, take off your lid and sniff your sauerkraut. If it smells like cabbage, it’s not done yet. If there’s mold growing on top, skim it off. When your kraut starts to smell sharp and tangy, reach in with a clean utensil and extract a sample. If it tastes good, it’s probably done! Fermentation times vary widely depending on the amount of salt used (more salt = slower fermentation) and the temperature (higher temperature = faster fermentation). A rough timeline is 3-6 weeks, but don’t be alarmed if your batch falls outside this norm. Finished sauerkraut should be yellowish in color (see the photo at the very top of this blog post for an example), it should smell pleasant, pickley, and tangy. A little mold on top is ok, but mold growing everywhere is not. Everything I’ve read on vegetable fermentation confirms that if it smells good and tastes good, it’s perfectly safe to eat. Not only safe, but a very healthy source of nutrients and probiotics. Eat the kraut, drink the brine, and be merry 🙂