Photo by Shannon Stonger

Getting Started with Lactic Acid Fermentation: Two Ingredient Sauerkraut

by Shannon Stonger
Health Impact News

There are many ways to preserve food these days. Freezing is popular for its convenience. Canning is gaining resurgence, and rightfully so, for its place in a local and sustainable food economy. Drying fruits and vegetables continues to be a simple way to put food up, especially in hotter, drier climates.

And then there is lactic acid fermentation, also known as lacto-fermentation. If you’ve ever had unpasteurized sauerkraut or true sour pickles, then you’ve eaten fermented vegetables. These are hard to come by, though, in their true raw form so it is helpful if you know how to make them at home, which we’ll introduce you to in just a bit.

Why Home Lactic Acid Fermentation

Of all the methods of food preservation listed above, fermentation is the most exciting. For one, it requires very little energy – no boiling or canning or freezing. Even more exciting is that the raw enhanced qualities of the fresh vegetables are not only preserved, they are enhances. When vegetables are given a friendly environment for fermentation, their vitamin content is enhanced and the beneficial microorganisms we know as probiotics proliferate. The end product is raw and full of vitamins, enzymes, and probiotics that aid digestion.

Happily, some major grocers and online food purveyors are beginning to carry raw, lacto-fermented vegetables. For those who would rather spend the time to make these ferments, though, there is a definite peace of mind in going through the process and controlling all of the ingredients in their home kitchen. Furthermore, the process is simple enough that it can be done regularly from grocery store produce or in large batches at the end of a harvest season. And the savings one gets from doing it at home cannot be ignored.

How Lactic Acid Fermentation Preserves Food

The end product is also preserved and can, in the right conditions, last for months or even years without further canning or refrigeration. It is the lactic acid, and other organic acids found in lesser quantities, present in the sauerkraut or other ferments that preserves the food for long-term storage.

It is not unlike modern pickling as we know it, in process. In modern pickling, vinegar brine is added to vegetables in order to preserve them. Harmful bacteria such as botulism cannot exist in an environment that is overly acidic. And so the acetic acid, or vinegar, preserves the food and is given the added protection of being water bath canned.

When vegetables are mixed with salt or a salt water brine and are submerged beneath the level of that brine, a chain of events begins to occur. First, the microorganisms present on the vegetables themselves begin the fermentation process. The anaerobic environment created in the underwater environment allows beneficial bacteria to takeover. These bacteria feast on the carbohydrates and other constituents of the vegetables and convert them into organic acids. Often small amounts of acetic acid, the same acid found in vinegar, are produced. But lactic acid is the predominant acid in lactic acid fermentation and has a very distinct flavor. During this time carbon dioxide is produced and can be seen in the ferment in the form of bubbles and pressure that builds up in an airtight jar.

After several days, ferments begin to have a tangy flavor, brought on by the lactic acid present in the food. But the fermentation process is not necessarily fully complete just because the vegetables are tangy. More fermentative bacteria go to work later in the process in order to produce that quintessential sauerkraut, kimchi, or sour pickle flavor.

Choosing Ingredients

There are three basic ingredients necessary for lactic acid fermentation:

  • Vegetables
  • Salt
  • Water

As you can imagine, having the highest quality of ingredients is important with a list that short.

Vegetables. Look for organic and sustainably grown heads of cabbage or bushels of cucumbers. While vitamins and bacteria can be enhanced through fermentation, one cannot increase the mineral content inherent in a vegetable. Only healthy soils can produce high mineral-content food and it pays to seek out farmers who prioritize healthy soils.

Organic is also of importance in fermentation. Just as you are preserving the good things inherent in the vegetable, you are also preserving any chemical residues added to the plant during the growing process. Some find that these chemicals can slightly, or not-so-slightly, alter the natural fermentative processes resulting in off flavors, undesirable textures, and a generally disappointing fermented vegetable.

Salt. High-quality salt is also important. Not only does it leave out any nasty chemicals present from the salt refining process, it also imparts additional minerals to the ferment. Salt is a vital component to the fermentation process in that it slows it down when needed and preserves the flavor and crunch of raw vegetables. While ferments can be made without salt, it is very tricky and completely unnecessary if good, unrefined salt is used.

Water. Pure water is also of importance in fermentation. Chemical additives such as chlorine and fluoride can inhibit the natural fermentation process. Remember that chlorine is often used as an anti-bacterial agent. We want bacteria (the good kind!) to thrive during lactic acid fermentation, so chlorinated or fluoridated water is counter-productive to the process. Use filtered water, spring water, or water from a healthy well if at all possible.

With these things in mind, let’s look at one of the simplest and most familiar of all fermented vegetable recipes – sauerkraut.


Photo by Shannon Stonger

Recipe: Two-Ingredient Sauerkraut


  • 1 large bowl
  • 1 half-gallon jar or 2 quart jars
  • Knife and cutting board
  • Small jam jar, root vegetable slice, or fermentation weight
  • Desired lid or clean towel
  • Potato masher or kraut pounder
  • Food Funnel (optional)


  • 2 medium heads organic green cabbage
  • ~3 Tablespoons sea salt
  • Water, if needed


  1. Cut the cabbage in half vertically. Remove the core on each half by slicing around it in an upside down V shape. Cut in half again and shred the cabbage finely as for coleslaw. Place cabbage shreds in large bowl and continue with the remaining cabbage.
  2. Once all of the cabbage has been chopped, sprinkle over the salt. Mix it all together with clean hands, massaging the salt into the cabbage as you go. At this point taste the cabbage. If it tastes bland, as if lacking salt, then sprinkle in just a little more. It should taste well-seasoned but not overly salty.
  3. At this point, you can pound the kraut with a potato masher or kraut pounder if you like. This begins the process of breaking down the cabbage which releases the liquid necessary for the brine. This isn’t necessary, but I do recommend it for beginners. Alternatively, you can leave the salted cabbage, covered, in the bowl for several hours to let the salt extract the moisture from the cabbage.
  4. The kraut is now ready to be placed into jars for fermentation. This is easiest to do with clean hands. Simply take fistfuls of the now slightly limp cabbage and move it carefully to the mason jars. After every couple of handfuls, compact the cabbage into the jar with a fist. Be sure to pour in any brine left in the bottom of the bowl. If the cabbages were fairly dry or didn’t produce enough of their own brine for whatever reason, additional brine can be added as needed. A ratio of ½ Tablespoon of salt to 1 cup of water should be used.
  5. Fill the jar(s) up to 1.5-2 inches from the top.
  6. You now need to weigh the kraut down so that it sits below the level of the brine. To do this you can use a thick slice of root vegetable – turnips or beets work well, a purchased fermentation weight, or a small jam jar that fits into the opening of the jar you decanted the kraut into.
  7. If using the root vegetable or fermentation weight, simply place them in the jar atop the cabbage and press down until the level of the brine comes well over the kraut and root vegetable/weight. Cap with airtight lid of your choice.
  8. If using the jam jar, carefully place the clean jar into the mouth of the ferment jar and press down so that the level of the brine comes well above the kraut. You now need to cover the opening of the fermentation jar and jam jar with a clean towel to keep out bugs or undesirable debris. This is done most easily with a rubber band. If using this method, I recommend placing your jar(s) on a plate to catch any overflow of vegetable brine.
  9. It is now time to allow the kraut to ferment. This is best done at 60-80 degrees and will ferment more rapidly the warmer the environment is. During the process carbon dioxide is produced, so any bubbling you notice is desirable. If you have used an airtight lid you will need to “burp” the jar so that the pent up gases do not cause an explosion in the jar. This is done simply by slowly opening the lid, allowing it to “fizz” out for just a second and quickly sealing it back up. With the jam jar method the gases will naturally release through the opening.
  10. Fermentation should be visible after a few days, but that doesn’t mean it’s complete. If your ambient fermentation temperature is between 60 and 80 degrees, a fermentation time of 1-2 weeks at room temperature produces a well-flavored kraut.
  11. At this point you can move your kraut to cold storage – be it a refrigerator, root cellar, or basement – a space between 40 and 60 degrees is optimal. The kraut will continue to ferment and may change in appearance over time. A little bit of browning may occur on top, if the brine does not cover the kraut at some point. This is fine, but it can be scraped aside and thrown out if desired. Just be sure to cover the remaining kraut with brine either by weighting it down or adding more salt brine solution in a ratio of .5 Tablespoon salt to 1 cup pure water.

See Also:

Sauerkraut: Anti-cancer Fermented Food that Restores Gut Flora

About the Author:

Shannon is a popular blogger and freelance author in homesteading communities. Shannon grew up in a small town in northern Minnesota. She studied chemistry in college, graduated, and married her husband one month later. They were then blessed with two baby boys within the first four years of marriage.

Having babies gave their family a desire to return to the old paths – to nourish their family with traditional, homegrown foods; rid their home of toxic chemicals and petroleum products; and give their boys a chance to know a simple, sustainable way of life.

They are currently building a homestead from scratch on two little acres in central Texas. There’s a lot to be done to become somewhat self-sufficient, but they are debt-free and get to spend their days living this simple, good life together with their three young children.