Make Your Own Sauerkraut

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The Sauerkraut Backstory

Growing up with a Polish grandmother, we ate lots of delectable ethnic dishes as kids. It wasn’t uncommon for me to consume my weight in pierogi and golumbki or slurp down a couple bowls of kapusta (cabbage / sauerkraut soup) or bigos (kapusta with rib meat for added flavor). Sauerkraut was not an uncommon recipe ingredient in her kitchen.

Later On

As an adult (especially living 3000 miles away from family), I had begun to lose touch with those ethnic foods that I so enjoyed growing up. After I started to eat Paleo, I started to see a lot of posts on Twitter and Facebook from respected sources about the benefits to gut flora that can be found in sauerkraut. I started buying kraut in the local market’s refrigerated section (please never buy sauerkraut that is in a can or not kept refrigerated…it means it’s been pasteurized / heated which kills the beneficial bacteria). Eating a forkful or two with breakfast or lunch meant I was going through a jar every 1–2 weeks, and at $5–8 a whack, it seemed like a lot to pay for cabbage and salt. After doing some research, I decided to make my own and was stunned at the simplicity of it all. The only thing you need (which money can’t buy) is patience.

Homemade Sauerkraut: The Method

Essentially, sauerkraut is cabbage mixed with salt which is allowed to ferment at room temperature over the course of time. Within that time, bacteria (Lactobacilli) begin to ferment the carbohydrates in the cabbage in an anaerobic, non-oxygen environment. They help lower (acidify) the pH which prevents the growth of unwanted bacterial spores. The brine (salty water) assists in this as well. Honestly, this is simplifying the process from a biochemical point of view, but since I didn’t want to go all Chemistry teacher on your @ss, I figured that would suffice. Here is a link to a full description of the process, in all its glorious, science-y detail. Sauerkraut is, then, a great source of probiotics, provided it’s not been heat Pasteurized. These beneficial bacteria are one way to support a healthy gut. Read more about the benefits of probiotics here (specifically step 3) and here.

I have seen recipes for all types of sauerkraut variations, with the addition of different vegetables, fruits and aromatic spices. Check out my kraut recipe with jalapeño peppers and collards here if you’re more food adventurous. Last summer I did a post on making my own red cabbage sauerkraut and though I used slightly different equipment, the method was essentially the same. [Note: I made it in the crock from my slow cooker which allowed me to make a larger batch, but took my favorite piece of kitchen equipment out of commission for a couple weeks.] My favorite kraut is plain old cabbage, so this is the recipe I used.

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Ingredients for Homemade Sauerkraut

  • 1 large head green cabbage
  • 1 Tablespoon sea salt
  • Water

Equipment for Homemade Sauerkraut

Directions for Homemade Sauerkraut

  1. Cut the cabbage in half and slice finely.
  2. Put half the sliced cabbage in a bowl and add 1/2 Tablespoon sea salt.
  3. Using your hands, begin squeezing the cabbage. You want the cabbage to begin breaking down. It will appear that the cabbage is starting to wilt.
  4. Add the other half of the cabbage and 1/2 Tablespoon sea salt. Continue squeezing the cabbage until the leaves are wilted and moisture begins to drip off the cabbage.
  5. When a briny liquid has been achieved, pack the cabbage into a clean Mason jar. Push the cabbage down hard to remove most of the extra space.
  6. Set a small 4 ounce Mason jar inside the larger jar on top of the cabbage. This will help weight the cabbage down.
  7. If your cabbage contained enough moisture, you should have liquid covering the cabbage completely. This is essential because you want to submerge the cabbage in brine (for the anaerobic environment). If there is not enough liquid, add some salt water until the cabbage is completely submerged. To do this, mix 1 cup of water with 1 teaspoon sea salt.
  8. Cover the uncapped mason jar with a kitchen towel and set in location at room temperature, out of direct sunlight. I keep mine on the counter top so I remember to check on it.
  9. For the first few days, check on the cabbage and add extra liquid to keep the cabbage submerged. A bit of white foaminess is normal. You will notice the cabbage lose its bright green color as well. Do not dismay! However, be on the lookout for anything that looks discolored or moldy.
  10. Taste your sauerkraut after about a week. It will probably taste a bit tangy but will need more time. I live in Southern California (read: pretty warm) and find it takes about 10 days to get to the flavor I like. The length of time will vary depending on the ambient temperature.
  11. When finished, store covered in the refrigerator and enjoy often.

[Hint: Start two containers at once or stagger production by about a week so you always have a supply on hand.]

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51 thoughts on “Make Your Own Sauerkraut

  1. Neil

    good stuff! we could all use some more healthy bacteria in our gut. How does the bacteria in sauerkraut compare with that of kimchi or raw milk kefir?

    Reply
    1. Steph

      Hi Neil…thanks for checking in. I’m assuming that the bacteria in kimchi would be very similar. As for the kefir, I’m not sure. I really don’t consume dairy at all.

      Reply
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  4. AddieMay

    i just made this over the weekend, it’s currently fermenting in my cupboard. I just made myself a big note that says OPERATION KRAUT, check on it!! It’s hanging by the fridge. The hubster is so excited, we were going through a jar of Bubbies in less than a week. At $7 a pop, that’s no cheap habit. I’m very excited to see how this comes out. I’m going to make a batch of red cabbage kraut this weekend:) YAY for probiotics…and it’s random, but i love all the science references in your video! #nerdatheart

    Reply
    1. Steph Post author

      Hi Addie! This is so fantastic! I love your Operation Kraut tag. I myself have bought Bubbies (and it’s yummy) but like you, the cost was getting a bit high…and I’m only feeding me! Just make sure to keep an eye on it every couple days, and in the end, your patience will be rewarded handsomely. Probiotics and science RULE!! I heart nerds, too because I am one :)

      Reply
  5. sarah

    I am really interested in trying your recipe in my crock pot. So you used a pyrex container with water in it to weigh it down? Did you place anything between the cabbage and pyrex container? How many cabbages did you use when you made it in the crock? Thanks for the help!

    Reply
    1. Steph Post author

      Hi Sarah,

      When I did it in the crock pot crock I didn’t place anything between the cabbage and the pyrex. Ohhh…I think I used 1 very large cabbage if I recall correctly. It’s been a while!

      Reply
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  7. Kendy

    Making this right now, while I dance out of excitement! (We don’t have any compliant Kraut in my neck of the woods).

    Reply
  8. Lorri Barnett

    Do you have a youtube video of this by chance? I’m having a hard time visualizing: 3. Using your hands, begin squeezing the cabbage. You want the cabbage to begin breaking down. It will appear that the cabbage is starting to wilt.

    4. Add the other half of the cabbage and 1/2 tbsp sea salt. Continue squeezing the cabbage until the leaves are wilted and moisture begins to drip off the cabbage.

    Do I “ring it out” or do I press it down (like the pic w/ the plate and the big glass measuring bowl)? Am I basically squeezing the liquid and moisture out of the cabbage?

    Any help would be appreciated!

    Reply
    1. Steph Post author

      Hi Lorri,

      Here is the YouTube video I made of the process: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1c_d-iD8OOQ. That should help clarify your questions.

      Yes, you want to wring the cabbage and get it to release the liquid before you place it in the crock or jar to ferment. Let me know if that still doesn’t help or if you have more questions.

      Steph

      Reply
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  10. Deedee

    Just made my first batch of kraut and really excited. I’m on day 10 and I think it’s ready but still kinda tangy tasting. Should I leave it another day or two or is it ok? Thanks in advance!

    Reply
  11. Karl

    7 days? 10 days? The fermentation is just getting started and the flavor is not great. Have some real patience and let it ferment for 4 to 6 weeks. You will be amazed at the wonderful sour taste. You can taste it once in a while. Keep pressing the kraut down to keep it submerged and if mold forms simply scrape it off and discard it. Don’t refrigerate until it is really good as it will slow down or stop the fermentation.

    Reply
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  13. Shawna

    I had no idea it was this easy!! Cannot wait to try this. The bad news is I am the only one who will eat it, the good news is that I will get it all to myself!

    Reply
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  15. Sheri

    I started fermenting cabbage on the 15 of this month. I don’t have quite enough liquid to cover, however I am using a 2 gallon fermenting bucket I got from the wine store. It is airtight with an airlock (bubbler) on it so it can release the gases. I’m just wondering if you think that with be ok?

    Reply
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  18. Helen

    Hi Steph. I really like your video. It is nice and easy to follow. I have a couple of questions about storage. When you store sauerkraut in the fridge do you always need to keep it under the brine (using a weight or something)? The brine in my first batch is quite low but the sauerkraut still tastes fine so I’m not sure if I should add more brine or not. Also, if I make a really big batch using a crock or something similar is it better to store the sauerkraut, when it is ready, in smaller jars in the fridge?
    Cheers
    Helen

    Reply
    1. Steph Post author

      Definitely add more brine if it’s low when you’re storing it in the fridge. The exposed pieces can get moldy.

      Also, if you make a large batch, store it in smaller jars in the fridge for space considerations and so you can get your crock back in use.

      Reply
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  21. Scott Harrison

    Just a moldy question for you…… I’ve made 4 batches of this sauerkraut and had zero trouble with mold but my last 2 batches have been very moldy. I scraped the first batch pretty well and it was back after two or three days, so much so that I ended up ditching the batch and starting over again. My last batch is turning out the same way, lots of mold(green patches the size of small coins and lots of small white dots throughout the rest of the surface). I tried a red cabbage/jalapeno batch and a green cabbage/jalapeno batch with the same moldy results. I know you say you can scrape the mold and still eat it but I am a little iffy on that with this much mold. All the supplies I use have been cleaned so any hints you might have would be great! Thanks and keep up the awesome work

    Reply
      1. Karl

        Scott,
        A couple of ideas; 1. Sauerkraut does best in cooler temps, warmer = more mold but the refrigerator is too cold during the first month to 6 weeks. I made my last batch here in Mass. at the beginning of May and keep it in my cool basement but it is time to refrigerate it because it is getting too warm even in my basement. I’ll try to make it last until the fall before I make more. Also, I run a dehumidifier in the basement o/w mold grows on everything down there when the humid weather comes even though it is a dry basement.
        I have better luck with containers that are taller than they are wide. Less surface area for the mold to grow on.
        I remove the mold by hand taking a 5 fingered pinch at a time and swiping it around the inside of the container cleaning off the mold. I toss that and repeat until I have skimmed off the entire top layer of mushy and rotten cabbage. It is just my own theory that the since the mold doesn’t grow down into the kraut then the acidity of the juice smeared on the surface above the liquid will keep the mold from growing back. It seems to work for me. Usually it doesn’t grow back after the first time. Press the kraut back down to submerge it and put the weight back again if it is still fermenting. After it is done (4-6 weeks depending on temps. The taste will change a couple of times from kind of rotten/stinky to nice and sour. Then it is done.) then no more need for the weight and time to refrigerate.
        If your kraut is getting all mushy and rotten then you probably need more salt. I have had success rescuing a batch that was going bad by mixing in some salt then pressing it down and letting it ferment. I go by taste. It should be good and salty but not too salty.
        Karl the Kraut Maker

        Reply
          1. scott Harrison

            Wow…thanks for the info guys. Yeah, I live in southern Az soooooo I’m guessing that our 76 degree house may be the culprit. I’ll up the salt a bit and see if that helps. I may have to wait until the temps fall back down below the normal 100+ degree days we see. Thanks for the help!

  22. laura.reid8@btinternet.com

    Hi, I made my first ever batch of sauerkraut following your method, and its been fermenting for about 10 days now. It smells ok and initially tastes alright but has a bitter after taste. Is this normal?

    Reply
      1. Laura

        Thanks for replying! I’ve decided to start a new batch just in case somethings not quite right. Fingers crossed!

        Reply
        1. Karl

          Well, it is called sour kraut for a reason. I’m not sure I know the difference between sour and bitter but I would only worry if it really smells rotten and gets all mushy. I’ve rescued some batches when they started to get mushy/rotten by scooping off the top layer and discarding it, adding more salt, mixing it in, re-stomping it down so that it is submerged and also, most important, moving it to the refrigerator. It miraculously got crispier/crunchier and tasted great after a week. My last batch was started at the end of April and here it is 3 months later and tastes better than ever. I’m hoping I can make it last until the Fall when it will be cool enough to make the next batch.
          Karl

          Reply
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  26. Nicole

    Silly question perhaps but I am at that weird point in an elimination phase where everything is a little hazier than usual… Am I keeping the little mason jar inside the big jar during fermentation (to keep it weighted down) or just using it to push down the cabbage before sealing the big jar? Love your recipes and tips. I’m excited to give this a try!

    Reply
    1. Steph Post author

      Hi Nicole…you’ll use that during the fermentation when the jar is out at room temp. Then, before you put it in the fridge, you can remove the smaller jar. Hope that helps!

      Reply
  27. Jaime

    Deep breath… ready to try it! I looked through the comments but didn’t see an answer (so apologies if you’ve already addressed this, Steph), but how long will it keep in the refrigerator after it’s all done? I wanted to make a big batch in the crock (I have two, yey!) but I don’t want to waste any. I suspect by using it daily it won’t be an issue, but who knows?? Better safe than sorry. ;)

    Reply
    1. Steph Post author

      It lasts a long time in the fridge, up to at least a few months, provided the veggies stay submerged. You can always be sure to top them off with a little salt water brine (in the ratio of 1 tsp sea salt to 1 cup water) to make sure they aren’t exposed to air.

      Reply
      1. Karl Hambrecht

        Yes, several months. I have kraut in my refrigerator now that I made in late May and put in the frig 6 weeks later. At 4 months now it is delicious!. Some jars got some mold on top or were mushy/rotten on the top half inch. I just scoop that out by hand and for some reason it doesn’t reoccur even after the juice is absorbed and the top is no longer submerged.
        The temperature in the first few weeks is important. About 45 to 55 is ideal. Warmer and it goes bad, but if you put it in the frig too soon it seems to stop the fermentation process. You can eat it earlier but if you let it ferment for 4 to 6 weeks it goes through 3 phases and gets better and better.

        Reply

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