Creating Sauerkraut Thread-Cuts With a Mandolin

Image Antique Kraut Cutter

There was a perfectly good, logical reason my grandmother used a traditional angled-blade kraut cutter, the same way the family had made it for 8-generations. The angled blade shaved portions from the twisting, tumbling leaf stalks and leaf blades, cutting on the bias of the cabbage grains, creating uniformly thin, wispy “threads”.

These “threads” were the secret behind every single batch of my grandmother’s kraut tasting the same from one family dinner to the next. Without fail, whenever my grandfather took his first bite of sauerkraut, he would give a quick, approving nod in my grandmother’s direction, saying, “Jah. Tastes like home.”

While they didn’t know the microbiology of “why” thin, uniformly-cut cabbage threads made consistent-textured and flavored sauerkraut, Grandma had good observation skills, an important skill when practicing food “science”.

“They are cut nice and thin”, she instructed, in her still-heavy German accent, “they all must become sauerkraut together, at the same time – otherwise, if some are thick, and some are thin, then parts are too mushy, and some too crunchy, and that is never good sauerkraut.”

In my experience, the best tool for obtaining thread-cuts, is a mandolin.

Why Thread Cuts are Better

  • Expose more cabbage cells
  • More exposed cabbage cells release more lactic-acid bacteria
  • More lactic-acid bacteria creates more lactic acid
  • Lactic acid helps to maintain a good pH which preserves flavor, texture and color

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When drawing the cabbage wedge through the slicing blade, the wedge needs to be held at different angles and positions, depending on whether you are using an angled or horizontal-blade mandolin.

Angled Mandolin Blade

Image Kraut Thread

To use an angled blade, simply quarter your cabbage, then place the quarter, flat-face down on your mandolin’s cutting bed, pushing – not pressing – it through the angled blade.

The angled blade cuts across the face of the cabbage in a bias-cut, dissecting the wide leaf-stems, woven throughout the cabbage, whittling them down to thread-cut size.

The ideal thickness is 1mm, so adjust the blade opening to achieve that size. If you are still not able to obtain uniform “wispy” threads of cabbage, or your cabbage wedge is binding in the blade, use the technique described the, “Horizontal Blade”.

Horizontal Mandolin Blade

Image Cutting Edge Cabbage Whether your mandolin’s straight-slicing blade is horizontal or angled, you can achieve the perfect thread cut when you drag the edge of the cabbage wedge through the mandolin. The “edge” is the rim between the smooth outer leaves and the exposed cut face of the cabbage head.

In the beginning, I dragged the cabbage “face” across the horizontal blade, ending up with linguine-width chunks of cabbage instead of wispy threads. Yet other times, my “wedge” stuck in the blade, requiring a few smacks from a wooden mallet to release it.

I’ve worked with fabric my entire life, and suddenly realized there’s a “grain” – crosswise, lengthwise and bias – which also runs throughout vegetable fibers! Drawing the cabbage “edge” at a 40-degree angle across the horizontal blade, I watched as beautiful thin, slivers – threads of cabbage – appeared.

Key To Thread Cut: When using a horizontal-blade, don’t slice across the flat-face of the cabbage wedge. Instead, draw the “edge” against the blade at a 40-degree angle.

You know you are cutting correctly, when the cabbage threads separate from the cabbage, as easily as a hot knife draws through butter. Unlike trying to struggle with a flat-face of the cabbage, which usually becomes stuck, and takes a great deal more strength and effort, cutting the outer rim, is now relaxing.

Image Cabbage Mandolin

  • Use a light touch when slicing without pushing the wedge down into the blade
  • “Draw” the cabbage edge at a 40-degree angle. Picture starting your cut at 1 o’clock, and pulling the cabbage edge towards 7 o’clock.
  • Do not force the cabbage through the blade, or you’ll end up with pieces that are too thick.
  • Take time to feel the grain of the cabbage. You should get the sensation you are unzipping the threads from the cabbages leaves.

The sound made by the “unzipping” is the same one I remember when watching my grandmother cutting cabbage threads with her kraut cutter. The “threads” consistently create a “tastes like home” flavor that was the same as my grandmother’s!

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– More information on proper cutting techniques.

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