Making tangy sauerkraut at home is easy with this simple home fermentation method. Sauerkraut is loaded with probiotic bacteria that are beneficial for gut health and it keeps forever in the fridge making it an easy side dish or condiment to pari with meals. You only need 2 simple ingredients to start making this delicious fermented dish – just cabbage and salt, although the possibilities are endless.
Why Make Your Own Sauerkraut?
Sauerkraut is a traditional dish in many cultures and the process of fermenting cabbages has been around for thousands of years. It’s enjoyed as a side dish throughout Central and Eastern Europe and adds nutrition and flavor to meals. In the US it has become a popular condiment for foods like sausages and hot dogs, but is also great added to sandwiches, snack plates and salads.
This pleasantly sour, nutritious and naturally probiotic food is incredibly easy to make at home. If you have a garden and grow cabbage this is a great recipe to preserve your harvest throughout the year. The recipe is flexible and you can add any seasonings you like when you make it from scratch.
Table of contents
- Why Make Your Own Sauerkraut?
- Main Ingredients
- How Much Salt to Use
- Food Preservation Equipment
- Types of Fermentation Crocks
- How to Make Sauerkraut in a Crock
- When Is Sauerkraut Done Fermenting?
- How to Store Homemade Sauerkraut
- Tips and Tricks for Fermenting Foods
- Sauerkraut Health Benefits
- What to Serve with Sauerkraut
- Recipe FAQs
- More Fermentation Recipes
- Love This Recipe?
Cabbage – Traditional sauerkraut is made with just shredded cabbage and salt. Use fresh heads of cabbage picked at their peak season for the best flavor. Opt for homegrown or locally grown cabbage varieties from the farmers market if you can. You can make sauerkraut with any type of cabbage such as green cabbage, white cabbage, red cabbage, savoy cabbage, Napa cabbage (also called Chinese cabbage).
Salt – Salt is needed to create the brine necessary for fermenting produce like cabbages or cucumbers to make sour pickles. You need enough salt to create the right conditions for lactic acid fermentation to occur. Use any high quality salt for the fermentation process. I usually use Diamond Crystal kosher salt because I always have it on hand. Sea salt and mineral salts such as Himalayan pink salt are also good options. The only salt that should be avoided is iodized salt, which can inhibit the growth of beneficial bacteria.
Vegetables – Adding other vegetables to the sauerkraut crock is completely optional. In Eastern Europe and Slavic regions, it is traditional to add shredded carrots, apples or cranberries for example. Cranberries contain benzoic acid which is a natural preservative and helps improve storability. I added carrots, cucumbers and daikon radish from our garden to this batch.
Herbs – Again, adding fresh herbs is optional. I love the flavor of dill with pickled items so I added some flowering dill heads to the raw sauerkraut. Flowering fennel would also be a nice addition to this recipe.
Spices – Caraway seeds are a popular addition in Eastern European and Slavic cuisines. In Central Europe, juniper berries or, again, caraway seeds are popular additions. I added turmeric, ginger, coriander seeds and red pepper flakes for a bit of heat. Get creative and add any spices you think would work well.
Tannin-Rich Leaves – Plants with high levels of tannins can help to retain the crispness and crunchy texture of the raw cabbage and other vegetables. This is a totally optional ingredient but nice to add if you have access to it. Horseradish leaves, grape leaves, cherry leaves, and oak leaves all contain high amounts of tannins. Simply lay the leaves on top of the mixture before adding the fermentation weights to help keep the sauerkraut crisp.
See the full ingredient list and amounts in the recipe card below.
How Much Salt to Use
Typically, the minimum amount of salt needed to make fermented cabbage or other vegetables like sour pickles is 2% of the total weight of the vegetables and can go as high as 3% or even 4%. The salt is necessary to create a brine that suppresses the growth of mold and bad bacteria, while promoting healthy probiotic bacteria to grow and thrive.
If you use a starter culture, which is simply some sauerkraut brine from a previous batch you can lower the salinity a bit.
To calculate the amount of salt you need, first weigh the head of cabbage and other vegetables to find their total weight in grams. Then multiply that number by 0.02 or 2% to find the total amount of salt you’ll need as s starting point. This is plenty salty for my tastes but you can always add more salt if you prefer.
Calculation: weight of cabbage x 0.02 = weight of salt needed
For every pound of cabbage and vegetables (454g) use 9 grams of salt. For every kilogram of cabbage/veggies use 20 grams of salt.
Food Preservation Equipment
- Digital Food Scale: Use a digital kitchen scale to weigh out the sauerkraut ingredients so you can accurately measure the amount of salt needed for the brine.
- Fermentation Crock or Jar: The traditional way to ferment sauerkraut and other vegetable or fruits is in a fermentation crock. A traditional crock is made of heavy stoneware and will usually come with weighting stones and a lid or you can purchase them separately. You can also ferment foods in glass jars in a similar manner.
- Fermentation Weights: Most crocks will come with ceramic weights that fit the size of your crock or you can purchase glass weights for jars. The weights are needed to literally weigh the veggies down so they stay submerged in their own juices and salt which create the brine. This keeps the cabbage from coming into contact with air and therefore stays in an anaerobic state where lactic acid fermentation can occur.
Types of Fermentation Crocks
- Stoneware Crock – This is a traditional type of crock with a flat topped lid. Stoneware will maintain the temperature of its surroundings so when its kept in a cool dark place for fermentation it will keep the ingredients cool throughout the stages fo fermentation.
- Water-Sealed Crock – A water-sealed crock is similar to a standard stoneware crock but has a rimmed lid that sits in water to create an airtight seal. The water seal will evaporate over time so it is necessary to check and top off the water level from time to time.
- Glass Crock – Glass fermentation crocks also have a water sealed lid but are made out of clear glass and therefore let light into the contents. It is best to store clear crocks out of the light in a cool dark cupboard during the fermentation process.
- Glass Jar – You can use wide mouth mason jars to make small batches of sauerkraut by using glass weights and airlock lids designed to fit wide-mouth mason jars.
How to Make Sauerkraut in a Crock
Step 1: Prep the sauerkraut ingredients
Start by washing the cabbage and other vegetables well. Remove the outer leaves and cut out the tough hearts of the cabbages, scrub carrots with a brush or peel them, and rinse cucumbers and radishes well. Trim any stems or tops that you don’t want in the final mixture. Peel the garlic cloves and rinse the ginger root and any fresh herbs.
Shred the cabbages and veggies by hand with a box grater or to save time use a food processor fitted with a slicer or shredder blade attachment. Thinly slice the garlic cloves and smash the piece of ginger with your knife or a kitchen mallet/meat tenderizer. Weigh the total amount of shredded veg to calculate the correct of salt needed.
Step 2: Mix and pack the sauerkraut
Add all of the prepped ingredients plus any seasonings and the salt to a large mixing bowl and mix them well with your clean hands or salad spoons.
Pack the fresh sauerkraut mixture into a clean fermentation crock, water-sealed crock or large glass mason jar. Optionally cover the mixture with edible leaves rich in tannins such as horseradish leaves, grape leaves, cherry leaves or oak leaves to help retain the crispness and crunchiness of the fresh vegetables.
Press the cabbage mixture down with fermentation weights that fit your crock or canning jar so that the sauerkraut mixture becomes submerged by at least 1″ in its own brine.
Step 3: Ferment the sauerkraut
Place the lid on the fermentation crock and keep it at room temperature in a cool area of your home throughout the fermentation process. Keep it out of sunny or warm spots. If using a glass jar then keep it out of light, preferably in a dark cool cabinet for the fermentation time. Check the sauerkraut periodically every few days to make sure it is still submerged in brine and for any signs of spoilage. It should give off a pleasant sour smell as it ferments.
Start tasting it at 2 weeks to see if it’s done to your liking. It should take anywhere from 2-8 weeks to complete fermenting, with the average time being about 4 weeks.
Step 4: Store the sauerkraut
Transfer the fermented cabbage to clean glass mason jars with enough brine to cover it completely. Seal the jars with plastic lids. Sauerkraut will keep for a long time in proper cold storage as detailed below.
When Is Sauerkraut Done Fermenting?
Generally, homemade sauerkraut will take a minimum of 2-4 weeks to complete the stages of fermentation, but could take up to 8 weeks or more to ferment.
In the first week there should be a period of bubbly activity which is an indicator that anaerobic bacteria are present and have begun to produce an acidic environment for the lactobacilli bacteria and to thrive. Fermentation occurs as the healthy bacteria and microbes eat away at the natural sugars present in the cabbage.
The full fermentation time is dependent on a number of factors and your personal taste preference. It is best to go by the taste and appearance of the sauerkraut to gauge when it is done rather than follow a strict time schedule.
Some factors that will determine when your own sauerkraut is ready:
- How large your fermentation crock is – The larger the vessel the longer it will take for the cabbages to ferment. A 1 to 3-gallon crock will take roughly 4 weeks. Large crocks or traditional barrels with pounds of cabbages will take much longer to ferment.
- Climate/season and temperature – Fermentation will happen faster is warmer temperatures and slower in cooler temperatures. Spoilage is more likely to happen in warmer temperatures, so find a cool dark place in your home to place the fermentation crock.
- Starter culture – If you add some brine from a previous batch of homemade sauerkraut it will speed up the fermentation process by introducing the beneficial bacteria from the start. Cabbage and other vegetables will naturally have beneficial bacteria and microbes present but adding a starter culture will jump start the fermentation process.
- Size of the cabbage pieces – Larger pieces of cabbage or whole cabbages will take longer to ferment than chopped or shredded cabbage.
Homemade sauerkraut is ready when it has a pleasant sour smell and sour taste with a crisp texture. Taste it weekly until you are happy with it.
How to Store Homemade Sauerkraut
Once your sauerkraut is refrigerated it will keep for a long period of time, anywhere from months up to a year. Cold temperatures slow down or halt the fermentation process to keep the sauerkraut tasting fresh. A large batch of sauerkraut can last you up to a year if properly stored in sealed jars.
If you store the sauerkraut in mason jars seal them with plastic lids rather than metal lids and ring seals because the metal lids tend to rust when they come in contact with the acidic sauerkraut brine.
The salinity of the brine and the good bacteria (lactobacilli) should keep the sauerkraut from spoiling or going rancid. If you do notice any signs of spoilage including visible mold, sliminess or and off smell then discard the sauerkraut and make a fresh batch.
Tips and Tricks for Fermenting Foods
Keep everything clean – Make sure to use clean utensils and equipment when fermenting cabbage or any foods. Your hands are your best tool and it is important to remember to wash them throughly and often when cooking.
Keep air away – Make sure to keep the cabbage fully submerged so no air or oxygen is introduced. The microbes need an anaerobic or oxygen-starved environment to do their job of eating the sugars in the cabbage and other veggies.
Check it regularly – Take a peek at it and taste it regularly to gauge when it’s ready to your liking.
Keep it away from other ferments – If you have other things fermenting in your home like sourdough starter, homemade yogurt, cheese, kombucha or water kefir then make sure to keep them away from each other so the yeasts, microbes, bacteria don’t mix and alter the flavors of your ferments.
Sauerkraut Health Benefits
Sauerkraut is highly nutritious food rich in Vitamin C and K and minerals, while the the fermentation process increases the bioavailability of its nutrients. Raw fermented sauerkraut is high in fiber and contains a slew of beneficial lactobacilli bacteria, microbes and enzymes which help improve digestion and promote a healthy gut. Eating probiotic sauerkraut with meals is a delicious way to help your body stay healthy.
What to Serve with Sauerkraut
A favorite way to use sauerkraut in Polish cuisine is as a filling for pierogi. It’s also traditionally served with Polish sausage or kielbasa.
In the United States, sauerkraut with apples and bacon is a popular side dish to serve with pork roast or even at Thanksgiving with roast turkey. Among the Pennsylvania Dutch population it is traditional to eat sauerkraut on New Year’s Day for good luck.
I personally love eating it on sandwiches or just as a simple side dish or condiment with my meals for a tangy sour element. It’s great with carbs like mashed potatoes.
Technically, yes, sauerkraut can go bad, but that is unusual if it is properly made and stored. Sauerkraut will last for months in the refrigerator.
It is not recommended to freeze sauerkraut because is will stop the probiotic activity and even kill off the beneficial microbes. Freezing sauerkraut will also change its texture from crispy and crunchy too soft and flabby.
They similar in that they are both made by fermenting cabbage, but the methods are different. Kimchi is a traditional and cultural Korean food made with whole Napa cabbages and Korean seasonings.
More Fermentation Recipes
- How to Make Sourdough Starter from Scratch
- Probiotic Water Kefir Tutorial | Vegan
- Hibiscus Lemon Ginger Water Kefir
- Homemade Soy Yogurt & Labneh Tutorial
- Probiotic Water Kefir Root Beer | Vegan & Gluten Free
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How to Make Sauerkraut Recipe in a Crock
- 4 lbs cabbage 1800g, or 1 large head
- 5 oz carrots optional, or more cabbage
- 5 oz cucumber optional, or more cabbage
- 5 oz radish optional, or more cabbage
- 45 g salt kosher salt or sea salt
- 2 tablespoons turmeric powder optional
- 3 garlic cloves optional
- 2 inch piece of ginger root optional
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes optional
- 2 heads flowering dill optional, or flowering fennel
- 2 teaspoons coriander seeds optional
Optional for Crispness
- 1 large horseradish leaf or several grape leaves, cherry leaves or oak leaves
- Prep the ingredients: wash the cabbage, vegetables, ginger root and fresh herbs well. Remove the outer leaves of the cabbage and peel the carrots if they are mature. Peel the garlic cloves.
- Shred the washed cabbage and vegetables using a box grater or food processor with a slicer or grater blade. Add the shredded veggies to a large mixing bowl.
- Thinly slice the garlic cloves. Smash ginger with a mallet or flat edge of a kitchen knife. Add them along with the rest of the ingredients to the mixing bowl and mix everything together using spoons or clean hands. Let the mixture sit for 30 minutes to let the juices release from the veggies.
- Pack the sauerkraut mixture into a clean fermentation crock or large glass mason jars. Pour any extra juices in the bowl over the mixture.
- Cover the sauerkraut mixture with the horseradish leaf or other tannin-rich leaves to help retain the crispness of the veggies.
- Press the sauerkraut mixture down with fermentation weights until it is submerged in its own juices. The brine should cover the mixture by at least 1".
- Cover the fermentation crock with the lid and let veggies ferment on counter-top at room temperature for anywhere from 2-8+ weeks. Check it periodically to make sure veggies are submerged in liquid, and for spoilage. It should smell pleasantly sour, not off-putting or moldy.
- Taste it at 2 weeks and weekly thereafter until it is fermented to your tastes. At that point, remove and discard the leaves if used. Pack the fermented sauerkraut into sterilized mason jars and seal them with plastic lids. Store the jars in the refrigerator.
- Sauerkraut will keep for months if properly stored in the refrigerator.
- As a general rule of thumb use 2-3% salt by weight of the total weight of the cabbage and vegetables used.