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Sauerkraut Wars - A New Tutorial

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Rod Franklin View Drop Down
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    Posted: 05 May 2011 at 19:18
A couple of days ago I got a good deal on a bunch of cabbages. Free! That's my kind of deal. But what to do them? Let the bugs have them, of course!

Here's the "goods," as they have come to be known. Cabbages with any dark outer leaves, and any scabbed up bits removed and A brand new box of Pickling salt. An important note about the salt: Pickling salt has just salt as an ingredient. This is important, because other salts may contain iodine, anti-caking ingredients and/or a lot of unwanted mineral content. All of those other things are bad news for this purpose. Pickling salt also has this most important extra property that other plain salts don't, and that is that is made to dissolve in cold water. And for this purpose, that is exactly want we want.

Here's the tools: A big, food grade, plastic bucket with a lid, a big storage container lined with a guaranteed chemical free plastic bag, two newly sharpened kitchen knives, a rolling pin and a brand new box on one gallon zip lock bags. Not shown is a scale.

Weigh the empty storage container (3.85lbs.) Practice those mad knife skills! Quarter the cabbages and take out the cores. Then start cutting them as thin as possible and into the plastic bag lined storage container.

OUCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I didn't get through the first quarter of the first cabbage without cutting myself... I guess I should have added bandages to the equipment list.

It's all good, and the chopping continued without further incident.

Weigh the storage container again (29.5lbs.) Now, this is where you finally get to use that algebra you didn't really pay any attention to while you were in high school... You see, we need to add 2.25% by weight of salt to the cabbage. What's the big deal, you say? Just put a few tablespoons of salt for every 5 pounds of cabbage and.... what could happen?

Lots of things, almost all of them bad. First, a tablespoon of kosher salt doesn't weigh the same as a tablespoon of pickling salt, and a tablespoon in America is not the same size as a tablespoon in Australia. Secondly, it's a war! A war of little critters, some of them are good and some of them are bad. You can't see any of them, but that cabbage is covered with 'em. We need to create an situation that favors the critters we like. That first important bug is Leuconostoc Mesenteroides. Yeah, yeah.. big ten dollar words. Be that as it may, ignore them at your cabbages peril. Not enough salt and the spoilage bacterias can get a hold of your little science experiment, too much salt and yeasties can take over. Not good.

2 to 2.5% by weight of salt to cabbage ensures enough salinity to inhibit the spoilage bacteria long enough for the good bug with the big name to win round one of the bug war we are going to create. The big name bug needs to win the first round. He uses up all the oxygen that spoilage bugs need and lowers the pH by producing lactic acid which also kills the spoilage bugs.

Anyway, enough about that.

29.5 pounds of cabbage plus container minus the weight of the empty container, 3.85 pounds, gives us 25.65 net pounds of cabbage. 25.65 x .0225 = .577125 pounds of salt. That's a kinda hard number to work with. Hmmm, 16 ounces in one pound. That sentence means divide 16 into 1, and we get .0625. That equals one ounce. .577125 divided by .0625 gives us 9.234 ounces of salt.

Here it is, and the big sack of cabbage ready to go into the fermenting bucket.


This is where the rolling pin comes in. Throw a double handfull of cabbage into the fermenting bucket and sprinkle some of the salt on it. Another double handful of cabbage and some more salt. Now, smash it down in there with the end of the pin. You could use your fist, or some other device, as long as it's clean. the cabbage, salt, cabbage, salt, mash it down routine till it's all in there.

Like this.


Now, this is where the gallon zip lock bags come in. Some people still like to use those crocks and all that old fashioned stuff. If you like to skim funky, slimy, nasty stuff off the top of your cabbage everyday, you go right ahead and do it that way. Not me.

I made a brine, 2.5% by weight of salt to water, and used 1/2 gallon of it in 5, 1 gallon zip lock bags. These were placed on the top of the cabbage in the bucket. This effectively seals out oxygen and allows gasses to escape.

The fermenting bucket now rests in a place that stays a fairly constant 66 degrees Fahrenheit. The good bugs like 64 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit. The more constant the temperature the better the bugs like it. The warmer it is, the faster the ferment.

Whew! This post took awhile. I hope you folks like it.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 May 2011 at 20:49
rod - this is one outstanding post! very informative and well-written, and with an engaging approach that holds the reader's interest. great job!

i think i followed you all the way through, but have one question, which most-likely stems from my own failure to read it right: 

when you mention the bags of brine on top of the cabbage, are you talking about five 1-gallon bags, each filled with 1/2 gallon of the brine, covering the cabbage and acting as a "lid" over the cabbage? that's what i read, but want to make sure. this leads to the next question: what is the purpose of the brine, rather than just using water, if the bags are sealed and on top of the cabbage, and the brine never comes in contact with the cabbage?

if possible, can you get a picture looking down into the container when you open it up, to illustrate the point?

looking forward to seeing how this turns out - i've learned quite a bit already and am eager to learn some more.Thumbs Up
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Boilermaker Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 May 2011 at 20:53
Rod,

Great post!  You could make a second career of food writing, that is a great description of the process.  Making a brine and placing it in plastic bags as a weight (I assume filling them with brine in case they break or leak) is a great idea.  At home in Indiana we always make kraut in big crocks and just use a close fitting plate with a clean weight (usually a rock) on top and then covered with a towel and yes, there can be some skimming and funkiness involved.  The brine in a bag method is more sanitary and will seal better for sure.  I'll be sure to give that a try.  Thanks for making the point about the importance of using non-iodized salt, iodine and other minerals are a no no in making kraut. 

Again, great post, very informative and entertaining!!  As far as your knife wound, you are not alone, I rarely make anything myself without drawing blood!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 May 2011 at 20:54
well, there it is - i think andy just answered both questions for me!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Rod Franklin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 May 2011 at 21:10
I read that part back and it was confusing.

5 zip lock bags, each having 1/2 gallon of brine in them. There's brine in them in case one of them gets opened up somehow.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Rod Franklin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 May 2011 at 21:32
And thanks for all the compliments. Such kindness! I appreciate it.

I also used a commercial product called star-san to sanitize the fermentation container and it's lid, and the counter top and cutting board and rolling pin too. A mild bleach solution would also work. The ziplock bags were from a new box just because they would almost certainly be sanitary that way. The plastic bag in the storage container came off a roll of bags that are liners for big trash barrels. Cheap, thin bags almost sure to be sanitary also.

It might seem like a lot, but if a pint is a pound then it's really just a bakers dozen quarts of sauerkraut 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Hoser Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06 May 2011 at 03:46
Rod, that was a wonderful tutorial, and especially good information about the fermentation process and the good and bad guys in the bug arena.

I'll be watching the updates closely, because this is a project I intend to take on very shortly.

Do you ever put any additions in your kraut? i.e. caraway seed, or something like that?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Rod Franklin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06 May 2011 at 06:07
I don't, but that shouldn't stop anyone from doing it.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Boilermaker Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06 May 2011 at 12:03
Dave,

Some folks up home will toss enough hot peppers in when making it to end up with one in each quart.  It is not traditional and has never been something my family does but thought I would mention it since you asked Rod about caraway.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Hoser Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07 May 2011 at 02:26
Thanks Rod and you too Andy. I have a batch of kimchi going as we speak, but I think I screwed it up. Tastes way too salty to me. I rinsed the cabbage well after the initial brining, so maybe the saltiness is due to the fish sauce and shrimp paste I used. I added a little sweet mirin to see if it will take the edge off or not. Will get back to you guys with the results.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Rod Franklin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07 May 2011 at 08:32
Hoser, it might still be OK after is sours up some, but too much salt changes the way the bug wars play out and byproducts of that altered process are different, changing the way it will taste. It also might end up making the vegetables too soft. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Hoser Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 08 May 2011 at 06:44
Originally posted by Rod Franklin Rod Franklin wrote:

Hoser, it might still be OK after is sours up some, but too much salt changes the way the bug wars play out and byproducts of that altered process are different, changing the way it will taste. It also might end up making the vegetables too soft. 


Rod, you were right on in your estimation of what may happen to the kimchi...it's been fermenting for two days now. I sampled it this morning and the saltiness is much less noticeable, and the hot pepper flakes are starting to kick in. I'm quite sure this batch will be ok in about two more days.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Rod Franklin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 08 May 2011 at 10:45
Glad to hear the kimchi is OK.

It's been a few days since I put the cabbage in the bucket so I decided to look in on it. No pics because I can't figure out how to get the camera to focus on anything real close to the lens. I took 3 pics and they're all fuzzy...

When I lifted the lid off I smelled a slight smell of cabbage and what I can only describe as the smell of salt. This is good! I noticed two small patches of foam squeezing their way up between the plastic bags. This is good! It means L. Mesenteroides is multiplying rapidly and establishing itself as the dominate bug in the bucket. It's consuming the sugars in the cabbage, sugars that were expressed when I smashed the cabbage down, and were drawn out by the salt. It's quickly using up all of the oxygen that was trapped in the cabbage and producing CO2 and lactic acid as a byproduct.

This bug will use up oxygen, eat and reproduce (sounds like my brother-in-law!) and make CO2 and lactic acid till it dies off. It will die because it will foul it's own nest, so to speak. The acid level will increase (pH down) and oxygen will decrease to levels in which it can no longer survive and it will die.

Round 2:

A power vacuum will present itself. Some bug must, and will take over! The question is, who's it going to be?

Temperature, moisture, salinity, food and nutrients, light, the bugs present and additions and manipulations from the outside all play a part.
 
This now higher acid, and lower oxygen environment favors the next group of bugs that I want to encourage, and at the same time inhibits the putrefaction on spoilage bugs that I don't want in my cabbage.

The putrefaction and spoilage bugs need oxygen to survive. These same bugs do not like an acidic environment either. Our good friend Leuconostoc Mesenteroides will sacrifice itself for my cabbages future as an edible product.

The bugs that will take over next will be the Lactobacillus group of bugs. These can tolerate the higher acid environment and they can operate in an environment almost devoid of oxygen.

All this is why crock fermenters have to skim scum everyday. The cabbage under the surface is devoid of oxygen and very inhibitive to the bad bugs preferred lifestyle, weakening their ability to compete with the good bugs in the same environment. However, at the surface of a typical crock ferment there is plenty of oxygen. Even though it's still more salty than the bad bugs prefer, the increase in oxygen gives these bad guys a chance to win. And many times they do...

Let me make a point here. I don't like to mess with this process too much. I'm confident I have set up an environment that favors success. The bugs will do the rest. Opening the lid and touching things with my hands introduces oxygen and new bugs- ALWAYS! Not good. The bugs in the bucket already know their environment, food supply and who their enemies are.

I probably won't look in on this stuff for several days. There is really little I can do but make things worse if I do.

I will eventually take a sample of the liquid and measure the pH.


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11 May 2011 at 09:26
hey, rod - excellent write-up there on the continuing war between the bad bugs and the good bugs. it sounds like thigns are moving along exactly as they should be!
 
looking forward to updates - keep us informed!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Rod Franklin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11 May 2011 at 18:53
I checked into it today.

You can see in the above picture the patches of bubbles that appeared on the second day and stopped just a day or two later. You can also see a small hose that I inserted between the plastic bags and deep within the cabbage. This allowed me to siphon a sample of the juice out without disturbing the seal. Next time I'll just install the siphon tube when I place the bags over the cabbage. And of course, the tubing was sanitized before putting it in there.

Here's  the juice that I removed.

Cloudy from all the bacteria. Tastes like sauerkraut. Very nicely like cabbage. Way more cabbage tasting that what's found in the store. Salty, as would be expected. Nothing at all unpleasant. What's that yellow thing in there?

That's the pH meter, and it says it's pH is 3.8. I calibrated it before testing, so this number is good.
Any food with a  pH of 4.6 and below is considered a high acid food, so this stuff is essentially ready to go as it is. Safe against unwanted bacterial infection.

I drank that juice 6 hours ago. It is good. If I remember right, dill pickles from the store run about 3.4 pH.

I didn't pull the bags out of there or anything, so I haven't laid an eyeball on the surface of the cabbage, but I will say with confidence that there isn't anything bad growing anywhere inside that fermenting bucket. No skimming, no uncertainty, no worries, no drama.

This is round two and is dominated by two lactobacillus bugs, L. plantarum and L. cucumeris. These two will continue to thrive for awhile until they produce enough lactic acid to kill themselves, at which time round three will commence. Round three will be dominated by L. pentoaceticus, the last available lactobacillus bug that can tolerate this high acid environment. It will finish the ferment and this stuff will become way sour. I might just put this stuff in bags and freeze it now. I might just bottle it up now in quart jars and keep it in the fridge. Either way, round three would get stopped or seriously inhibited.

Pro-biotics? I got a bucket full of them!

Dead easy. So easy, a caveman could do it!

I'll take requests about what you might like me to make out of the first bunch I remove from the bucket. Something that would showcase this well. I'll take the pictures and post it in here.

Go buy some cabbage!



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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11 May 2011 at 19:20
awesome ~ rod, i can't thank you enough for such a detailed and well-written procedure. you're really raising the bar and providing some very valuable material here!

judging form your post, i take it that bagging and freezing is a perfectly acceptable way to store it. i am also assuming that the jars in the fridge are for shorter-period storage. how about canning in jars for long-term storage? worthwhile, or is freezing better? i'm guessing that frozen rather than boil would help maintain freshness and crispness, but am not sure.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Rod Franklin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11 May 2011 at 19:43
I have never frozen uncooked sauerkraut before. I read it on the internet somewhere in the last few weeks. It will be a new experience.

Putting it in quart canning jars and into the fridge is the normal way for me. It would easily last a year in there. I don't know if you would consider that short term. 12 quarts of sauerkraut won't last that long! Smile I like the active bacterial cultures. However, it does get more acidic as time goes by, but at 35 or 36 degrees Fahrenheit, it takes a long time.

Canning it would be what the county extension office would suggest, but that would kill all those good bugs! I don't want to do that. I don't think there is a way of preserving a live culture in a jar for a bunch of years. Long term canning would require sterilization.

Honestly, I can only think of one thing that might be a downside to freezing, and that would be that the cabbage become a little softer after thawing it out. In many dishes that wouldn't matter. Well, maybe two things; freezing might kill my bugs. I don't know.

Bears some more research.

I would really like to see some others efforts in the sauerkraut arena.




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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11 May 2011 at 19:55
i'm eager to see how the freezing experiment turns out.
 
good point about the refrigeration lasting a year ~ it wouldn't last too long here, either!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Hoser Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 May 2011 at 02:31
Well here is a final pic of the kimchi....it's still a bit salty, but I guess all kimchi is anyway. It soured up nicely during the four day ferment and the hot pepper flakes come through nicely.

I'm going to try to eat a small portion of it every day for a while...it's supposed to be very good for the digestive system.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 May 2011 at 07:15
looks good!
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