Lacto-Fermented Spicy Red Cabbage

Hands-down, this brilliant purply-pink sauerkraut is my all-time FAVORITE! Just look at that GORGEOUS color... and yes, after the lacto-fermentation process it really does turn this beautiful shade of magenta. It never would have occurred to me to ferment red cabbage if I had not tasted some at the farmer's market in Kennebunk, ME last fall.

As with grocery stores, one should never go to the farmer's market HUNGRY! I swear, I did leave a few samples for others... but not many. These were all made by Gracie's Garden in Standish, Maine.

Just look at all these incredible combinations. Obviously, deciding which ones to take home required careful consideration… and lots of tasting!

I chose these two below. Hot Pink is made with a combination of mostly green and some red cabbage, along with fresh habanero chilies. It's got a nice kick to it, but not too much (even on an empty stomach). Red cabbage and fennel combines both fresh fennel bulb and fennel seeds with red cabbage for a delicious sweet sour combination. Neither of these lasted until the following week.

Then the farmer's market season came to a close. To continue indulging, I would need to purchase from the local health food store, which also carried Gracie's Garden Cultured Vegetables, although not as many varieties. It didn't take long to figure out if I was going to support this new habit, I needed to make my own.

The only cultured, or lacto-fermented, vegetables I'd ever made was Emeril Lagasse's recipe from Farm to Fork, which is outstanding. I've since adapted it to my own tastes and posted my recipe HERE.

Using the varieties from Gracie's Garden for inspiration, I created a recipe with these objectives:

~ Anthocyanin-rich. Red cabbage would be the star. [Anthocyanin's are flavonoid pigments that give plants a blue, purple (or violet), or red hue depending on the pH of the plant. You can read more about the health benefits of anthocyanin's HERE.]

~ Some heat, but not too much. Jalapenos work perfectly!

~ Flavor. I love the flavor of fennel bulb, but didn't want to dilute the power of the red cabbage. Fennel seed is brilliant for infusing the taste of fennel without adding more bulk. Also, fresh garlic is a must. Garlic (along with onions and cabbage) are excellent prebiotic foods. Prebiotic foods will encourage the growth of healthy microorganisms - an important consideration when making fermented foods.

~ Small-batch. No need to take up a lot of space if refrigeration is prime real estate.

Before we get started, a bit about lacto-fermentation. You may be wondering what it is, and does it involve dairy? Lacto-fermentation has been in use for a long time. It's an anaerobic preservation and fermentation method for fruits and vegetables. It relies on naturally occurring lactic acid bacteria to ferment the sugars in the plants to lactic acid. The lactic acid bacteria provide flavor and the acid prevents spoilage. The process also reduces the phytic acid content naturally contained in many plants, making the nutrients contained within more readily absorbed during digestion.

This process creates lactobacillus, a probiotic bacterium that, once digested, will increase healthy gut microbes - they quickly over-take less desirable strains of bacteria. Sometimes dairy whey is used to jump start the process, or a commercial starter, but this is not necessary.

The connection between gut health and disease is a hot topic right now. Eating fermented foods have been shown to improve digestion, increase immunity, and even curb cravings. Research on possible other health benefits of fermented foods (and beverages) is on-going. It's important to note that the healthy microbes contained in fermented foods (and beverages) are destroyed under high heat, such as pasteurization. If you're not making your own, be sure to buy fermented foods from the refrigerator section of the store.

NOW, let's get started already! PRINT HERE

Total Time: 5-10 days (depending on room temp.) Prep Time: 15 minutes Cook/Bake Time: none

Here's what you'll need to make ~one quart (or two pints):

2 cups filtered water*

2 Tbsp unrefined, non-iodized sea salt without any anti-caking agents, etc.

4 cups red cabbage, shredded (~ one medium/small cabbage)

3 large cloves of garlic

1 large jalapeno pepper

2 tsps fennel seeds (optional)

* Non-chlorinated water is important so the naturally-occurring bacteria is not destroyed.

The Process:

1. Wash your containers, knife, cutting board, and spoon in hot soapy water. They do not need to be sterilized, but they do need to be thoroughly clean and dry.

2. Wash and dry the cabbage and jalapeno. Do not use vegetable soap.

3. Cut the cabbage in half, removing the core. Cut each piece in half again so you end up with four quarters. Slice each quarter thinly using a sharp knife or food processor. Place the sliced cabbage in a large glass, ceramic or stainless steel (non-reactive) bowl.

4. The garlic cloves do not need to be washed. I prefer thin slices, but you can just crush them a bit or chop finely. Add them to the bowl.

5. Remove the stem end of the jalapeno. Slice into thin coins. I prefer to leave the seeds and veins intact. This adds a little heat, but not too much! Add the slices to the bowl.

6. Add the fennel seeds. Use a CLEAN hand, tongs or a spoon to combine.

My jar is purposely too full here. I had about half a cup more than needed. Too little for a separate jar, but I was prepared with a paper towel-lined tray to catch the bit of dribbling during initial fermentation.

7. There are two methods used to introduce the salt to the vegetables. Most often sauerkraut is made using the massage method, but I like to have some brine on hand to in case the cabbage is not readily producing enough liquid to fully submerge all the veg.

Brine Method: Bring 1 cup of the filtered water to a boil and dissolve 1 Tbsp of the salt into the hot water and allow to cool. Add 1 more cup of cold filtered water to the salt water. Stir with a clean spoon to combine. Add the cabbage mixture to your jar/s, packing down tightly (you can use a cocktail muddler for this job if you have one). Cover with the brine, leaving 1-2” of head space. You may have some extra brine left over. Save this in case you need to add a little extra to your jar if leakage brings the level down too far. If you need more brine, repeat the brine-making process.

Massage Method: Sprinkle 1-2 tablespoons of sea salt on top of the cabbage mixture. With a CLEAN hand, massage everything together for five minutes. This will start the process of the salt extracting the juices and moisture from the vegetables. Allow to sit for five minutes and then massage again for another five minutes. Pack the vegetables tightly into your clean jar/s. Leave 1-2" of headspace in each jar. Use a clean, non-reactive spoon to press down the mixture. If you have a cocktail muddler, use it here. You should have enough moisture extracted to cover the vegetables. If not, make up a little brine as described above and add enough so the veg are completely covered.

8. If you have fermentation weights, fermentation water-sealed crocks or pressure-release lids you can use those, but they are not necessary to achieve a safe and delicious product. You can use smaller ceramic or glass ramekins or lids to help keep the vegetables submerged.

9. If you are using mason jars (or any other type of regular screw-top jar), do not tighten the lid completely. Leave it secure, but easily removable with one hand. If you have fermentation lids with pressure-release valves, you can tighten them as usual. You can also use tightly weaved cloth secured with a rubber band during the fermentation process.

10. Store your jar/s at room temperature on a dark shelf or out of direct light where you can attend to it easily (don’t put them somewhere where you might forget about them).

11. The warmer the room temperature, the quicker the fermentation will happen. Ideal ambient temperature is 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit. If you are concerned at all about your room temperature, just leave the jar/s out for 24-48 hours to begin the fermentation process and then store the jar in the refrigerator, cold root cellar or basement. It might take longer for the veg to acquire a nice tanginess, but they will eventually get there.

12. If left at room temperature, begin tasting after about three days. If you prefer more tanginess and a softer texture, allow the veg to continue fermenting at room temperature. When you are satisfied with the flavor and texture, tighten the lid and refrigerate or store in a cold (not freezing) basement or root cellar. The veg will keep for at least nine months.

Below are the varieties of lacto-fermented vegetables I make regularly.

Try my Lacto-Fermented Moroccan-Spiced Carrots HERE.

Try my Lacto-Fermented Purple Onions & Fennel HERE.

Try My Lacto-Fermented Spicy Carrots HERE.

Try My Green Cabbage Sauerkraut HERE.

Try My Lacto-Fermented Ginger Lime Carrots HERE.

OK, so you now have a fantastically DELICIOUS jar of sauerkraut. Now what? How does a plant-based eater enjoy sauerkraut?? Besides "with a fork", try these options:

  • tucked inside a wrap

  • on top of a baked potato

  • mixed into a cold pasta salad (perfect for summer time!)

  • folded into a burrito

  • added to a rice bowl

  • along-side a stir-fry

  • with a tofu scramble

  • as a topping on savory oatmeal

  • stirred into soup

  • mixed with coconut milk yogurt to make a raita

  • and my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE, on top of avocado toast!


~ Expect the veg to change color. Some vegetables will brighten or become a much deeper color, others will lose some or most of their color.

~ Expect the liquid to become cloudy. You may also see white mold on top. This is perfectly NORMAL and a sign that good bacteria are doing their job. No need to panic. If it bothers you, remove it with a CLEAN non-reactive utensil.

~ Expect to see bubbles, both around the edges at the top and coming up from the bottom. This is NORMAL. You may hear a slight release of pressure when you unscrew the lids. If you've tightened your lids a bit too much, a bit of the liquid may spew out. Replace as needed to keep the veg covered.

~ By day 3-4 you will notice a slightly sour or acidic smell, not like vinegar, but sort of sour. This is also NORMAL and a good indicator that it’s time to start tasting. Be sure to use a CLEAN non-reactive utensil each time you taste.

~ If you are using regular, finger-tightened lids, some liquid may seep out. I am keeping my jars on a paper towel-lined tray to avoid messy clean-up.

~ If you notice ANY red or pink mold or black scum, or you smell an unmistakable putrid, rotten-egg smell, this is a sign that something has gone wrong. Toss the batch and start over. I have yet to see this happen.

~ Any combinations that include garlic and/or onions are going to permeate the room while fermenting if you are using regular, loosely tightened lids. This is not necessarily a concern, just something to be aware of.

~ Can you reuse the fermented brine? Food scientist, Joel MacCharles recently answered that question HERE, and Jacquelyn Byers of LittleOwlCrunchyMomma provides 20 reuses HERE.

~ Regular servings of lacto-fermented vegetables are one of the most delicious ways to increase the healthy microflora in your gut. The process has also been shown to increase absorption of nutrients contained in the vegetables and/or reduce phytic acid levels. Phytic acid can inhibit the absorption of certain nutrients. In fact, a push is being made to have fermented foods included in world-wide food guide. You can read more about this HERE.

Let me know how it goes. I’m here to help you! If you make this recipe, I'd love to hear how you and your guests liked it! Snap a photo and tag me too, #chefcatherinebrown. I love seeing what you make!

Have you made any other fermented foods or beverages? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below!

Nutrition information is for 1/2 cup, including brine.

A note about sodium content in fermented vegetables - because salt is used to both extract moisture from plants as well as help preserve them, sodium content will be higher than other methods. You can reduce the sodium by removing the vegetables and squeezing as much brine as you can. This works best with shredded or finely chopped vegetables. You can also give a quick rinse under cold water, but you will likely be removing some healthy microbes (as well as plenty of dead ones) in the process.

DISCLOSURES: None. This post was not created in affiliation with any product or brand. The opinions expressed are my own. I will only write about products I use and trust.

NOTE: All photos and content are copyright protected. Please do not use my photos without prior written permission. If you wish to republish this recipe, please rewrite the recipe in your own unique words and link back to the source recipe here on A Seat at My Table so credit is given where credit is due. Thank you!

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