How To Make Sauerkraut

A comprehensive, step-by-step pictured tutorial on How to Make Sauerkraut that is incredibly healthy and delicious!  Making your own fermented homemade sauerkraut is super easy, requires minimal prep work, and the rest is just a waiting game.  This Sauerkraut recipe covers everything you need to know to ensure your success!

For another probiotic-packed food, be sure to check out my tutorial for How to Make Yogurt!

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Sauerkraut is in my blood.  Being from Germany and raised by a health-conscious mom, I ate this stuff on a regular basis.  In Germany sauerkraut is eaten fresh or cooked in a wide variety of dishes; everything from casseroles and soups to salads or alongside meats and sausages.  Raw fermented sauerkraut was always readily available in our local health food stores.  My mom and I regularly went to our local Reformhaus and in the refrigerated section was a large vat of fresh sauerkraut where we could scoop out as little or as much as we wanted into the bags provided.  We’d often nibble on some of it as we made our way through the outdoor shopping district and then take the rest home with us.  This ancient skill has been making a comeback in recent years both overseas and in the U.S., with a growing number of people learning how to ferment their own foods.

I’ve been fermenting vegetables, grains, legumes, and dairy products for over a decade and it is a deeply satisfying venture.  If you’ve been curious about how to make sauerkraut it’s time to make that leap.

For anyone interested in trying their hand at fermentation, sauerkraut is the perfect place to start!

Why You Should Make Your Own Sauerkraut

The benefits of probiotics are well-established and the fact that you’re here reading this means you’re already aware of that.  And you’re probably also aware that there is no better or easier way to access a wide spectrum of probiotics than making your own sauerkraut.  With probiotic supplements you’re limited to a couple or few select strains.   Research has shown homemade fermented sauerkraut to contain as many as 28 separate and distinct strains.  No probiotic pill can replicate that.  Not to mention that there is no way to verify how much of the bacteria is even still alive in probiotic supplements.

With homemade fermented sauerkraut you’re benefitting not only from a large variety of probiotic strains, you’re also getting a large dose of live, healthy, and robust ones.

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Equipment For Making Sauerkraut

You don’t need any specialized equipment to make sauerkraut.

  • A large glass or ceramic jar (I regularly use half gallon Mason jars)
  • Some kind of heavy, flat-bottomed tamper for crushing the cabbage
  • Something flat to weigh down the cabbage that’s relatively close in size to the diameter of the jar you’re using
  • Fresh cabbage
  • Salt (sea salt or kosher salt)

That’s it.  You don’t need any specialized tools, gadgets, or equipment.  People have been successfully making sauerkraut for many centuries using the most basic supplies and chances are you already have what you need on hand and can easily improvise if you need to.

Specialized Equipment (Optional)

Alternatively you can invest in some dedicated equipment, some of which (airlock lids) will make the process more maintenance-free:

  • Airlock lids – These lids prevent mold spores/yeasts from getting into the jar so that you don’t have to monitor it as closely or remove mold as it forms.  They also automatically release air pressure as the veggies ferment so you don’t have to manually open the jar on a daily basis to release the pressure.
  • Sauerkraut Crocks – These come in all difference sizes depending how large of batches you’re making.  Some crocks come in a kit with a tamper and weight.
  • Sauerkraut Tamper/Pounder – You can find these in wood or stainless steel and they allow you to pound the cabbage to release its liquid and then use it as a tamper for stuffing the cabbing in the jars.

Additional Resources

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How Long Does Sauerkraut Keep?

Stored in a dark, cool place it will keep for many months.  The cooler the storage area the longer it will keep.  I keep mine stored in the fridge.  Even in a cold environment like the fridge, sauerkraut will continue to ferment though at a much slower pace.

Can You Freeze Sauerkraut?

Yes, but just know that it will kill the probiotics.  Cooking the sauerkraut will also kill the probiotics.  So if your objective is to reap the benefits of the probiotics, eat it raw and unfrozen.  If your objective is simply to enjoy it cooked as a delicious food (and delicious it is!), you will still reap the benefits of its vitamins and fiber.

How Long Does it Take to Ferment?

As long as you want it to until it reaches the desired texture and level of tanginess.  Days.  Weeks.  Months.  It will become tangier the longer it sits.

The length of the fermentation time will depend primarily on the temperature of the environment.  The cooler the environment, the longer it will take to ferment.  The warmer the environment the quicker it will ferment, the flavor will be inferior, and the sauerkraut is at greater risk of developing unwanted yeast and going bad.  The ideal temperature for sauerkraut is 65-70 F.  At that temperature we recommend letting it ferment for at least 2 weeks (preferably longer) but you can cut it shorter depending on your taste preference.

how to make sauerkraut recipe homemade traditional german fermented cabbage probiotics easy

Can I Make Sauerkraut Without Salt?

While you can make sauerkraut without salt and you can find information on alternatives online, we do not recommend it.  Salt is a key ingredient in fermenting foods for several reasons:  1) It creates an environment that favors the formation of lactobacillus bacteria (good bacteria) and prevents unwanted bacteria and yeast from forming, 2) It prolongs the shelf-life, 3) It helps preserve the vitamin and mineral content of the food,  4) It improves the flavor, 5) It helps keep the vegetables crisp and crunchy, and 6) It slows down the fermentation process so that the vegetables can develop a fuller, more complex flavor.

Fermented vegetables, including cabbage, do best with a salt content of 2-3%.  Translated in measurements that’s 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons of salt per pound of cabbage (9-12 grams of salt per 450 grams of cabbage).

Does Sauerkraut Go Bad?

While fermented foods are slower to go bad, they most certainly can and will in time.  So how can you tell if sauerkraut is bad?  See below.

There’s Mold On It:  Is it Safe to Eat?

In most cases it is perfectly safe.  Mold most often occurs when the cabbage isn’t submerged under the brine and comes in contact with air.  When this happens it is perfectly safe to remove and discard the top layer of the sauerkraut.  This is true if the mold is a greenish or grayish color.  If however the mold is black, orange, or pink or if your sauerkraut has changed to an unpleasant color, slimy texture, or bad smell, then toss it.

how to make sauerkraut recipe homemade traditional german fermented cabbage probiotics easy

How to Make Sauerkraut

There are number of ways you can approach making sauerkraut but the overall method and principles are the same:  Chop, salt, and keep the cabbage immersed under liquid until it’s fermented.  There are also a number of flavor variations you can experiment with.  For example, in Germany it is not uncommon to include whole, crushed juniper berries or caraway seeds.
I’m presenting a basic sauerkraut recipe but feel free to explore and experiment with flavors. Here a summary of the basic steps and below I’ll take you through those steps in detail:
  • Chop the cabbage and place it in a large flat-bottomed bowl.
  • Salt the cabbage.
  • Pound the cabbage to release its juices.
  • Transfer the cabbage to a glass or ceramic jar or crock and use a tamper to push the cabbage down into the jar to remove any air pockets until the cabbage is completely submerged under the brine.
  • Place the lid on the jar, put the jar in a cool, dark place, and wait.  Remove the lid every day to release air pressure, to make sure the sauerkraut is submerged under the brine.
  • Taste the sauerkraut every day after the first few days until it reaches the desired texture and level of tanginess.
  • Screw the lid on tight and store your finished sauerkraut in the fridge or a cool cellar.

Prepare the Cabbage:

Remove any bruised or damaged exterior leaves from the cabbage, then cut the cabbage in half and remove the core.  Slice the cabbage very thinly, approximately 1/8 inch thick.  For the best texture we recommend slicing it very thinly by hand, not with a food processor.  You can slice it by hand, use a mandolin, or cabbage slicer.

Place the sliced cabbage in a large bowl and toss in the salt.   Let it sit for about 20 minutes until the cabbage has begun to wilt and releases some of its juices.  Use a tamper/pounder to crush the cabbage until it is wilted and has released a lot of liquid.  This will take several minutes.

mashing sliced cabbage

Pack the Cabbage into a Jar or Crock:

Transfer the cabbage and all the juices to a glass or ceramic jar or crock a bit at a time and mash it down with a tamper.  Fill the jar to about 2/3 full (the cabbage will bubble as it ferments and could overflow if the jar is too full).

Continue to mash the cabbage with the tamper, releasing more juice, until the cabbage is completely submerged under the brine.

If you’ve mashed all you can mash and you still don’t have enough brine to cover the cabbage you’ll need to make some supplemental liquid that is consistent with the salinity of the cabbage brine:  Dissolve 1 teaspoon of salt in 1 cup of water (a 2% salt water solution) and add that to the jar until the cabbage is completely submerged under the liquid.

how to make sauerkraut recipe homemade traditional fermented cabbage easy

mashing cabbage in jars

It’s also important to mash the cabbage to remove any air pockets in order to prevent mold growth.

The prep work is done.

how to make sauerkraut recipe homemade easy traditional fermented cabbage

It is imperative that the cabbage remain submerged under the brine during fermentation, otherwise mold will form (See section above “My Sauerkraut Has Mold on it:  Is it Safe to Eat?”).  To do this choose a heavy object whose diameter is roughly the same size to the inside of the crock you’re using.  The object should be glass, ceramic, or non-reactive metal.

Note:  I have made sauerkraut multiples times in large mason jars (usually 1/2 gallon size) without needing to use weights.  Because of the small diameter of the jar, after a day or two of fermenting the cabbage usually remains below the liquid level.  If the cabbage rises above it I just mash it back down with the tamper.  If you choose to use mason jars without using something to weigh down the cabbage, just be sure to keep a close eye on it each day throughout the fermentation process.

sliced cabbage fermenting in jars

Let the Fermentation Begin!

Screw on the lids to fingertip tightness.  If using airlock lids, follow the instructions provided with your lids.

Place the jars in a dark place that is between 65-70 degrees F, the ideal temperature for fermenting.  (See section above “How Long Does it Take to Ferment Sauerkraut” for information on temperature variations.)

Now it’s time to WAIT.

sliced cabbage fermenting in jars

At a the ideal temperature range of 65-70 F we recommend fermenting the cabbage for at least 2 weeks (we recommend longer) but follow your own taste.

After 4 days of fermenting start tasting the cabbage daily until it reaches the desired texture and level of tanginess.  Don’t be alarmed if the brine becomes fizzy, this is completely normal and a positive sign of microbial activity.

The color of the cabbage will change from green to a pale yellowish beige (in the pic below compare the green-colored cabbage in the jars, still in the early stages of fermenting, with the finished sauerkraut in the middle).

sliced cabbage fermenting in jars

Once your sauerkraut has reached the level of tanginess that you want, it’s time to screw the lid on tight (remove the airlock lid if using and replace it with a regular lid).

Store the sauerkraut in the fridge or a cold cellar.  The storage temp should be between 38-50 degrees F.  Fermentation won’t stop but it will be greatly slowed down.

Stored in the fridge the sauerkraut will keep for many months.  (See section above “Does Sauerkraut Go Bad?”)  If your sauerkraut is too salty for your taste simply give it a rinse before eating.

how to make sauerkraut recipe homemade traditional german fermented cabbage probiotics easy

Eat your sauerkraut raw to reap the benefits of the probiotics or use it in any recipe calling for sauerkraut.

Enjoy!

how to make sauerkraut recipe homemade traditional german fermented cabbage probiotics easy

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Originally published on The Daring Gourmet January 2, 2021

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