How to Make Sauerkraut

How to Make Sauerkraut

 

Do you remember the dad in My Big Fat Greek Wedding and his obsession with Windex?  …Have a zit? Put some Windex on it. Unwanted mole? Put some Windex on it.  Any weird physical ailment? Put some Windex on it. 

Today I realized that I am that guy. But instead of being obsessed with Windex, I’m obsessed with fermented foods.

Have a stomachache? Eat some sauerkraut. Indigestion after meal? Eat some sauerkraut. Fatigue? Eat some sauerkraut.  If you’re not into fermented foods yet, I think you will be soon.

Fermented foods are a really important part of our diet and have been used in many cultures as a way to preserve foods and make them more digestible.  Why are fermented foods important?  Here’s the deal.  We all have microflora (bacteria) in our intestine which is absolutely necessary to keep us healthy.

In the body, there is “good” bacteria and “bad” bacteria and it’s important to keep the “good” bacteria thriving. Fermented foods contain populations of the “good” bacteria that help to keep the microflora balanced.  This is necessary because antibiotics are so prevalent in our world (especially in modern agriculture production) and they kill the bacteria in your body, regardless of whether it is “good” or “bad.”

One of my favorite tutorials I’ve created on this blog is a step-by-step post on how to make kimchi at home. I love this stuff. It’s so spicy and tangy and it goes great in fried rice and spicy kimchi soup!  However, a lot of folks don’t like spicy foods so sauerkraut is a fabulous alternative. Since it’s summer and cabbage is in season, I thought I’d share a step-by-step tutorial to show you how to make sauerkraut!

It’s soo easy (I promise!) and once you get the hang of it you’ll be making it all the time. And, your tastebuds (and your digestion) will thank you! So, let’s get to it!

How to Make Sauerkraut

Fresh cabbage is vital to this recipe. You don’t want cabbage that’s been sitting around for weeks getting all brown. Fresh cabbage has more moisture, which makes it easier to create the brine needed for fermentation. I highly recommend buying local cabbage from a farmers market and choosing organic if possible. Rinse the cabbage to remove any dirt or debris before using.

How to Make Sauerkraut

Shredding the cabbage can be done by hand or in a food processor.  I was only making a small batch for this tutorial so I chose to do this by hand, but it is quicker to use a food processor if you are making a larger batch.

How to Make Sauerkraut

Fermented foods often rely on salt because salt inhibits bad bacteria and mold. Salt is especially important for making sauerkraut because salt helps draw the moisture out of the cabbage to create a brine.

There are two important things to know about salt: 

1. Salt reacts with metal. For fermentation (or anytime something with salt will be sitting for a while), do not use metal bowls.  Sauerkraut can be fermented in a ceramic crock or a glass jar, but do not make sauerkraut in a metal bowl or leave metal utensils sitting in the sauerkraut.

2. Do not use iodized salt because this can affect the bacteria in the fermentation process. Sea salt and kosher salt are great alternatives.

 

How to Make Sauerkraut

Sprinkle the salt over the cabbage. A good rule of thumb is about 2 teaspoons of salt per pound of cabbage.

You do need a fair amount of salt because salt is an important part of the fermentation process. If you are making your first batch, I would recommend starting with at least 2 teaspoons and then decreasing it in your next batch if you found this ratio too salty. I know some recipes call for a tablespoon of salt per pound of cabbage so my version is already less-salty than other recipes out there. Once you try making a batch you can see how you like yours!

How to Make Sauerkraut

As I mentioned above, the salt’s job is to draw moisture out of the cabbage to create a brine (aka salty liquid). One of the ways to speed up this process is massage the cabbage after you have sprinkled on your salt. Using clean hands, massage the cabbage to work the salt in and help break down the cellular walls.

Then leave the cabbage to sit for about an hour. At that point, the cabbage should be much softer and there should be a fair amount of liquid (brine) in your bowl.

How to Make Sauerkraut

How to Make Sauerkraut

The next step involves adding your cabbage to a glass jar or ceramic crock. I have a collection of canning jars and glass jars from IKEA that I really love for fermenting. You want to make sure your jar is clean (it doesn’t need to be sterilized, just washed and clean) and has a wide enough mouth that you can stick your hand it in (something like this or these). You can also buy a ceramic crock specifically made for fermenting, but I like the idea of being able to see my food so I tend to stick with glass. It’s a personal preference whatever works best for you.

How to Make Sauerkraut

How to Make Sauerkraut

If you learn anything from this tutorial about making sauerkraut, please let it be this: your cabbage must stay submerged in the brine the entire time. The brine is what protects your cabbage from mold because mold will form if the cabbage is exposed to air for a period of time.

In order to keep the cabbage submerged under the brine, after you add a bit of cabbage to your jar, use your fist to pack it down. You can see in the photo above that packing it down causes the brine to rise above the cabbage, which is exactly what you want. It is easiest to add a few handfuls of cabbage and then pack it down as you go.

Note: if you’ve added enough salt and packed the cabbage down, but still don’t have enough brine, you can mix salt with water to create a brine. Sometimes, especially if cabbage is old, it won’t have enough moisture to create bring so you can mix 1 tablespoon of salt with 1 cup of water, stir until completely dissolved, and use this for the brine.

P.S. When making sauerkraut, it’s absolutely essential that you wear your new big glasses. Okay, it’s really not, but I’m obsessed with mine right now.  They’re from Warby Parker. :)

How to Make Sauerkraut

After you have your cabbage all packed into the jar, you’ll want to add something to keep the cabbage submerged under the brine. I typically use a glass of water because it fits nicely inside of the jar. If you’re using a large jar or a ceramic crock, you can also use a plate to keep everything submerged.

As the cabbage ferments and sits, more liquid will continue to be drawn out of the cabbage and it might cause the jar to overflow. I usually put my jar on top of a large plate or in a ceramic bowl to catch any stray liquid. (Remember: don’t use a metal bowl because it will react with the salt.)

How to Make Sauerkraut

Then, make sure to cover your jar with a cloth. This helps keep dust and pests out (including my cats!)

Allow the sauerkraut to ferment for at least 24 hours and then taste it. Be sure to check the brine level and make sure the cabbage stays submerged. I usually ferment it in my kitchen and this time of year, my kitchen stays between 70 – 80 degrees F so I usually only need to ferment my sauerkraut for about 3 days and then it’s perfectly tangy for me. A stronger taste will develop the longer it sits so once you try making your first batch, you’ll come to learn how long you like yours to ferment.

Once the sauerkraut has achieved the desired taste, store it in the fridge. As long as it stays submerged below the brine it will easily keep for months.

And that’s it! Now you’re off to go make sauerkraut!

For folks new to sauerkraut, if you have any questions, please leave a comment below and let me know! And, for folks who have been making fermented foods at home, what are some of your tips for making sauerkraut?

Cheers,

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Comments

  1. says

    Love this, Sonnet! I’ve been obsessed with fermenting lately. I use this same method with a variety of veggies and throw in some whole spices, as well. It’s awesome on salads or tuna or eggs.

    Also-love the glasses! :)

  2. says

    What a great movie! I had forgotten all about it until you mentioned it, but I definitely had a phase where I watched it quite often. The sauerkraut looks fantastic, as well. Thanks for the tutorial. We love sauerkraut but always end up buying pretty pricy jars of the stuff, and it does not last long here. Making my own will be way more cost effective!

  3. Norma says

    I have tryed making kraut for the first time this year I used the cabbage from my garden. But it’s been fermenting for alittle over a week and the first 2 inches are kinda brown with the rest being a nice purple (the cabbage was purple to start with :)) I’m not sure if its bad cause of the brown looking cabbage if I did something wrong? Should I throw it out and start over or is it ok? Help please!!

    • Sonnet says

      Were the first two inches exposed to air or were they under the brine the entire time? I’ve made sauerkraut with purple cabbage before and did not notice any brown cabbage as everything was a pretty pinky-purple color. If you don’t feel safe eating it, then throw it out and start over.

  4. says

    This is so, so helpful right now. I’m just settling into a new apartment in China, and have yet to find most of the spices I typically use in the nearby grocery store. Just cabbage and salt, though? Both are readily available here! Cannot wait to make.

    • Sonnet says

      Wow, that sounds like a big change! It must be so fun to experience a different culture though – especially seeing the types of foods common there. So glad you enjoyed the tutorial!

      • says

        It’s been a little crazy, to say the least. Learning a lot, exploring a lot and also appreciating America more than I ever have! Cabbage is resting on the counter right now–will be time to press it into a jar in a little under an hour. Thanks again for the great tutorial!

        Also, the photo above? Too cute. The glasses are great, but your smile is really what makes it!

  5. Tasha says

    I am just learning about fermenting and such. I am going to try this for sure, and this may be a silly question, but…other than sausage on a bun…how do you (or any of your readers EAT it?) I would be interested in suggestions. Thanks!

    • Sonnet says

      Not a silly question at all. It is great on sausage and I typically eat it as an appetizer before a meal. I’ve also had it wrapped up in lettuce with hummus as a snack and sprinkled over a salad.

  6. says

    Hi, Sonnet! You didn’t say anything about how to make brine. What are the ingredients for the brine? I will definitely have to make this. My husband and I love sauerkraut, especially with brats.

    • Sonnet says

      Sorry I didn’t make this clearer. The brine is simply liquid mixed with salt. As the moisture is drawn out of the cabbage, it mixes with the salt and creates the brine. You don’t have to do anything except add the salt. Make sense? :)

  7. andre says

    I have been reading about fermenting veggies and my understanding is that you need to add “starter cultures”? Is this true? Or is this true for veggies other than cabbage?

    • Sonnet says

      Nope. Fermenting is not the same thing as culturing. Fermenting relies on salt so you DO NOT need to add a starter culture. But, if you were making cultured food (e.g. yogurt) you would need a starter. Hope this makes sense. :)

  8. Lisa says

    Thanks. Great pictures. I’d like to use some daikon to make a sauerkraut instead of the cabbage. Can I just use daikon or combine with cabbage also?

    • Sonnet says

      I like to add daikon to my kimchi, but I’ve never used it in sauerkraut. I would probably recommend mixing it with the cabbage instead of using the daikon only, but it’s personal preference. Since I’ve used it in kimchi before I’m assuming it should ferment just fine.

  9. Rachel says

    Hi Sonnet,

    Thanks for this post. I love, love, love saurekraut and am excited to try making my own. But I have a question – I know fermented saurekraut is supposed to be good for digestion, so why does it always give me really bad gas? (Sorry if this is a ‘too much information question’, but I had to ask! )

    • Sonnet says

      Not a TMI at all. :)
      I’ve heard that if the bactera in your gut are out of balance and there are too many “bad” bacteria, introducing fermented foods can cause gas initially because the “good” bacteria take over and the “bad” ones start to die off. It sounds like you have had sauerkraut and fermented foods before though so this might not be the case.

      I just did a little Google research and interestingly enough, there are a lot of folks who experience gas after eating sauerkraut. Cabbage contains a plant sugar called raffinose, which our small intestines can’t break down so when it reaches our colon, sometimes it will ferment and cause gas. This is the same reason why some folks have a hard time digesting legumes and beans so my advice would be to try a digestive enzyme (something like Beano would probably do the trick).

      I would also recommend incorporating the sauerkraut into your diet slowly and eating a little bit each day until your body gets used to it. Of course, if it’s really bothering your system, you might want to try something like kimchi or a probiotic supplement instead. I hope this helps! Gas is no fun! :)

  10. Cara says

    Hi Sonnet,
    It’s so nice of you to post such a good recipe. I am from China and we Chinese make something similar, but we always let the fermenting food be in a sealed container. It means air is exduded. But it seems that from your recipe you even don’t nead to cover your glass with the lid. Don’t air make bad effect on the cabbaage?

  11. kira says

    This was surprisingly easy. Never buying store bought sauerkraut ever again. Thank you for the clear demo with lots of images.

  12. Kristi says

    Love the tutorial- thanks! I’m new to fermenting, and my question is: you said to keep it in the fridge, but I would really like to make a few batches at once and either can for shelf or freeze. Have you done this/do you have any suggestions?

    • Sonnet says

      Hi Kristi, I’ve never tried this and I’m not sure how to do it properly. My guess is that the bacteria wouldn’t survive the freezer and I don’t have any advice on canning. So sorry – wish I could be of more help! :)

  13. Chris Robbins says

    Greetings Sonnet,
    I love your site and it was incredibly sweet of you to make that sumptuous looking recipe for curried cauliflower and yams on my birthday! Yes I know we’ve never met but the Universe is funny that way :-)
    I have a slightly out of context question for you; it really involves kimchi but I wasn’t sure you were still looking at comments from that post so I hope you’ll excuse me for asking it here. Longish story short, my local Korean market sells a killer kimchi in a gallon glass jar for a really good price. The problem is she doesn’t ferment it. I was wondering if you have any thoughts on whether it could be fermented now (it’s freshly made, she lets if sit for two hours and then bam straight into the fridge). Do you think it possible to make up a salt brine and start the fermentation process at this rather late stage? Or would that just bung up the whole thing? I know, it’s a weird question and we might have to go to Sandor. But I’d appreciate your thoughts. Thanks.

    • Sonnet says

      Hi Chris,
      I do read comments on old posts so you’re always welcome to post questions and I’ll respond when I can. :)
      Good question about the kimchi. If it were me, I wouldn’t recommend fermenting something that is premade. There are a lot of factors that influence the fermenting process and since I don’t know how she makes it, I would be hesitant to try this as there might be food safety concerns. When it comes to food safety, I usually try to error the side of being overly cautious. Hope this helps! :)

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  15. Beverly says

    that was so easy! and really good sauerkraut! tonight’s dinner: all beef hotdogs, homemade hotdog chili and homemade sauerkraut! it was wonderful. thank you for the great recipe! (p.s. i wore my really cool red glasses when i made it and i think it helped. lol)

  16. Mylene says

    Looks awesome! I have a quick question though. How long should we keep the weight on before covering the jar with a cloth? Or should we keep the weight on and try to cover everything? I’m a little confused. Thanks!

    • Sonnet says

      Keep the weight on and cover with a cloth to keep any flies or dust out. The weight and cloth will need to stay on top for at least 24 hours. The weight helps to keep everything submerged under the brine while the cloth keeps out dust. Hope this makes sense! Great question and I’m glad you asked for clarification! :)

    • Sonnet says

      It’s hard to say as this isn’t an exact science and cabbage varies, but I would start with less than you need. Maybe just a small head of cabbage? If you don’t have a bigger jar handy you don’t want to have too much and then not be able to fit it in the jar. Sometimes when I’ve done a large batch I’ve feremented it in a larger crock first and then transferred it to a smaller jar when it’s done. Hope this helps!

  17. Loretta says

    I’ve wanted to learn how to make sauerkraut for a really long time! You make this so easy!!! Your tutorial is well written and illustrated! Thank you so much for your efforts! I will be sharing this on my blog!!!

  18. says

    Growing up we always made our own sauerkraut but we did ours different than your version.We used a kraut cutter;
    (didn’t have food processors at that time) packed the cabbage into clean ,wide mouth quart jars,then added 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/4 C. boiling water, cut the core of the cabbage into half and that would then be placed on top of the cabbage to weight it down.We would put the canning flat on,hold it in place,turn the jar upside down,then set it right side up on the counter.Next we ran a knife down the inside of the jar to allow “air pockets” to escape,replaced the flat, followed by a canning lid which we didn’t turn down tight.We then placed the jars out on the steps for 10 days and let the sun do its job of fermenting.The loosely placed ring allowed the juice (trust me,there was lots of juice) to run out of the jar as it fermented.After 10 days we removed the lid,( not the flat as it should now be sealed;if it hadn’t sealed we placed that jar in the refrigerator to be eaten that week) wiped down the jar,replaced the lid tight; packed the jars to the basement to be eaten that winter! That homemade kraut was a treat for us.We would eat it right out of the jar,never bothering to heat it!!Things have changed so much since I was a kid that I’m sure I would be told that I was going to get botulism if I prepared it that way today,lol.
    I will give your recipe a try as I dearly miss the taste of that homemade kraut from my childhood.

    • Sonnet says

      Thanks for sharing Rose. That’s so interesting to hear different methods of how people make sauerkraut. Hope you like this recipe!

  19. Beverly says

    Hi Sonnet
    I’m new at fermenting sauerkraut. I did everything that you recommend. I am wondering why i had an intense stomach ache eating 1/2 with lunch and then dinner. Any idea?

    • Sonnet says

      Hi Beverly,
      Sometimes fermented foods can cause a bit of digestive upset if you’re eating them for the first time. I know some folks they might feel a bit bloated or gassy (this is due to the introduction of good bacteria into your system) but if you have any concerns about food safety I would recommend discarding the sauerkraut. You could try purchasing some from a natural foods market and seeing if your body has the same reaction and this might also help you determine if it was the particular batch of sauerkraut or your body just responding to a new food. 1 cup per day is also a lot to introduce all at once so I might recommend cutting back to 1 – 2 tablespoons at each meal and seeing if this helps. I can’t tell you for sure if what you’re experiencing is simply your body adjusting or a bad batch, but again, if you have any concerns I’d error on the side of food safety and discard it. :)

      Hope that helps! :)
      Sonnet

  20. Beverly says

    Sorry i sent that post too quickly. I meant to say I ate 1/2 cup at each meal. Thanks Sonnet. I guess I’m concerned I may have made it wrong and it could have hurt me. Appreciate your experience.

  21. BigMama says

    The way we do it in the Balkans is to pickle the whole head of cabbage in the same way you describe. It does take a bit longer this way to ferment but eliminates a lot of problems. We simply cut out out as much of the stem (make a little crater in the cabbage), pack some salt in it. Then you stack the cabbage heads, pack them really tightly in the plastic or wooden barrel and pour brine over them until they are submerged. Then we take two wooden sticks that are cut a little bit smaller than the width of the container and wedge them under the water (brine solution) so they’ll keep the cabbage submerged. This way there are no floating pieces of the cabbage that could ruin your whole batch. When the cabbage has fermented (month, month and a half)you can take it out and chop it any way you like it or use whole leaves and stuff them with meat/rice and make Sarma :)

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