How To Make Homemade Sauerkraut (Beginner’s Guide To Tasty Fermented Foods)
So, you’re interested in dipping your toe into the world of fermented foods by making sauerkraut at home? You have certainly come to the right place, but I will warn you that fermenting can be rather addictive.
Once you taste how delicious your first batch of fermented sauerkraut can be, you might just become hooked. Not that that can ever be a bad thing when you consider all the excellent health benefits you can gain from fermented foods.
Here is how to get started on fermenting sauerkraut yourself.
Sauerkraut is an excellent recipe for beginners as it is easy to make and the sour flavor is absolutely delicious. Other fermented foods such as kimchi can have a fiery kick which may be offputting for newbies.
I am known for spending weeks perfecting a recipe for fermented foods and am delighted to share what I have learned from many experiments in the kitchen.
As a newbie hobby fermenter, you may wonder what salt to use for the fermenting process or how long your sauerkraut will keep. Don’t worry; I am here to hold your hand through the process and lend you all my expert advice on how to make perfect fermented vegetables.
Get started on your sauerkraut today with this helpful guide and discover a love for fermented foods.
Supplies for making Sauerkraut
2-3 Wide Mouth Jars with lids
Kraut pounder or another compacting tool that can fit inside the mouth of the jar
Glass weights to hold the vegetable below the brine. A few clean stones, a ziplock bag with water in it, even a few cabbage leaves placed on top of the mixture will do the trick.
Want to learn more about the what, why, and how of keeping veggies submerged below the brine?
Read my article, Fermentation Weights: How to Keep Veggies Submerged.
Easy Saurerkaut Recipe
- Finely shred the cabbage and any other vegetables and place them in a large bowl.
- Sprinkle with 1 1/2 tablespoons of sea salt, mix, pound, and massage the cabbage by hand.
- Cover and let it sit for a half-hour; this allows the salt to draw the fluid out of the vegetables.
- Repeat 2 – 3 more times.
- Periodically taste the mixture to determine how much more salt you need to add. It should be a little salty, but not too salty. Add more salt as needed.
- It is ready when you can squeeze a handful of cabbage, and the liquid runs freely into the bowl.
- Scoop the cabbage mixture in the mason jars and pack it down firmly by hand or use a kraut pounder.
- Place a weight on top of the cabbage to hold it under the brine.
- Fill the jar only about 2/3 full, so it has room to expand. It will grow, so do not fill to the top.
- Put the lid on the glass jar and close securely. You might need 2-3 jars.
- Store the jars away for sunlight and at room temperature (60-70°F is preferred) for at least seven days.
- Burp the jars every couple of days to release excess pressure from the gas buildup.
- Or, use the Easy fermenter lids no-fuss system that will do this for you while keeping mold and bacteria out.
- The sauerkraut can take from 3 to 6 weeks, depending on your preference.
- You can let it ferment for much longer if you like.
- Continue to test it every few weeks, and when it has reached the desired flavor, it is ready to enjoy, or you can store it in the refrigerator.
Importance of Salt in Fermenting Sauerkraut
A vital component of making sauerkraut is using good quality salt. Not only does salt create that iconic fermented food taste, but it also allows the fermentation process to take place.
Firstly, salt allows the fermented mixture to be safe for consumption. The salt can neutralize the harmful bacteria in the sauerkraut, which is unsafe to consume and outcompete the good bacteria our gut needs.
Secondly, salt is used as the key ingredient when creating a brine. It allows the vegetables to release water. This brine is helpful to allow the vegetables to submerge in water. This makes the much-needed anaerobic conditions for fermentation and prevents the cabbage from being exposed to the air, where it may begin to mold.
Finally, adding salt will prevent the vegetables from softening too quickly, allowing them to remain crunchy over a more extended period.
What Kind Of Salt To Use When Making Sauerkraut
But isn’t all salt the same? Unfortunately, not all salt will work the same in the fermentation process.
Best Salt To Use When Fermenting Vegetables
My general rule is to use an all-natural salt with no additives. For the best chance at perfectly fermented sauerkraut, use a salt with a rich mineral profile. These can increase the nutritional benefits of the brew, as a salt containing more minerals will translate into more minerals in the final product.
I recommend using the following salts in your sauerkraut brew for optimal results:
Pink Himalayan salt
Even these salts can yield delicious sauerkraut if you do not have the above salts to hand:
Worst Salt To Use for Fermenting
Any salt with more than just ‘salt’ in the ingredients list is a no-go when it comes to fermenting. This is because additives, such as anti-caking agents, can interfere with fermentation.
I do not recommend using the following salts in your sauerkraut:
- Table salt
- Iodized salt
How Much Salt Do You Need To Make Sauerkraut?
How to add salt by taste:
Start with 1 Tbsp of salt and 2 lbs of vegetables.
Taste the mixture; it should be slightly salty but not too salty. It all depends on your preference here.
Add more salt or more vegetables as necessary.
How to make extra brine for fermenting vegetables:
Mix 1 Tbsp salt with 2 cups of water. If the brine disappears during the first ten days of fermentation, top off the jar with this salt brine.
How to use a digital scale to weigh salt for fermenting sauerkraut:
To make a 2% salt brine by weight for one quart (liter) of sauerkraut.
First, set the digital scale to grams then weigh out 16 grams (1 tbsp) of salt and 800 grams (1 ¾ lb.) of vegetables.
As well as ensuring you use one of the recommended salts listed above, use a fine salt. More delicate salt will dissolve better in the brine and give the best results. However, if you only have coarse salt, you may wish to grind it gently using a pestle and mortar to break up the salt crystals.
Do not discard the leftover brine from your jar. Not only can you use the brine in a second batch, but you can also use brine in recipes such as salad dressings, in your compost, or even drink it as a ‘’gutshot’’. Learn more about how to take an immune-boosting gutshot in our popular post – Top 10+ Genius Uses For Kimchi Brine Leftovers.
Use fresh (and preferably organic) ingredients. The better your cabbage and other vegetables taste when they are fresh, the better your sauerkraut will taste in the end.
Ensure the cabbage is finely shredded. Use a cabbage slicer or cut your vegetables by hand. Using a larger tool, such as a food processor, won’t chop your cabbage into thin slices, and the texture may not be uniform in the final product.
How Is Sauerkraut Fermented?
The fermenting process uses certain conditions to ensure the proper fermentation of the cabbage. Without sounding like your high school biology teacher, the fermentation process starts using lactic acid bacteria. This bacteria lowers the pH of the sauerkraut and brine to create anaerobic conditions (it increases levels of CO2 while decreasing Oxygen levels). Other bacteria can then grow in these conditions and begin to ferment the sugars from the cabbage and other vegetables. This process takes several weeks, but in the end, you will have the distinctive sour and acidic taste of sauerkraut we all know and love.
Why You Should Make Your Own Sauerkraut at Home
Homemade DIY sauerkraut is both easy and inexpensive. Buying a jar of sauerkraut that actually has the probiotics in it at a grocery store or online easily runs you $15 or more per jar.
If you thought all sauerkraut sold in stores has probiotics, you are wrong. Check out my post Does store-bought sauerkraut have probiotics?
Buying the ingredients, organic cabbage, sea salt, and a few jars, you can make your own.
And the best part about it is you can adjust the flavor to your personal preference, whether that is more or less sour, adding in garlic, spices, peppers, even apples.
Health Benefits Of Sauerkraut
The process of lactic acid fermentation transforms salt and vegetables into fermented foods and increases food enzymes and vitamins.
Using this process to turn salt and cabbage into sauerkraut is yet another example of using food to help maintain, nourish, and heal the gut.
Homemade sauerkraut is full of beneficial bacteria, which are friendly microorganisms that help to colonize the gut, support the immune system, and develop vitamins in the digestive tract.
The process of fermenting food began over 2,000 years ago in China to preserve food and avoid waste. Fermented foods have been loved for their tremendous health benefits for centuries. Fermented cabbage, in particular, is superior to the fresh variety in terms of its health benefits. This is due to the digestible sugars converting into organics acids which our body can utilize to its advantage.
Essential nutrients in sauerkraut include:
- Vitamin C – great for fighting the common cold and aid the bodies natural healing process
- Vitamin K1 – essential for healthy bones
- Vitamin B6 – a great nutrient for improving brain function and immunity
- Folate (Vitamin B9) – critical for cell growth, which is especially important during pregnancy
- Iron – anyone who experiences periods should be mindful that they are consuming adequate iron in their diet. Sauerkraut is a decent source of iron for vegetarians.
Probiotics are essentially bacterial that allow your body to digest food thoroughly and extract and absorb more vitamins and minerals from your food. Probiotics improve your overall health and digestion as they improve the concentration of good bacteria in your gut. Studies have shown that a diet rich in probiotics can reduce many stomach-related issues, such as bloating or nutrient absorption.
This can be especially beneficial after you have been through a course of antibiotics, which may have killed some of the friendly bacteria in your gut.
Although you can take probiotic supplements, it is more cost-effective to make your own at home through fermenting.
How Does Temperature Effect Fermentation?
Keep in mind the fermentation process will take longer in colder temperatures and shorter in warmer temperatures. The key is not to let your kitchen get too warm, or the sauerkraut can turn out soggy. The optimal temperature is between 60-70°F.
How long does it take to make homemade sauerkraut?
Sauerkraut only takes an hour to prepare. And before you wonder if we really do mean to write ‘only an hour, most of this hour will be letting the cabbage rest (because we could all do with a 30-minute nap sometimes). The reason you need to let your cabbage rest is to allow the water to release from the vegetables, which you can then squeeze out.
The jar will then need to be left in a dark place for at least three weeks. After the three-week mark, you are welcome to taste-test your sauerkraut. You may wish to leave your fermentation for a further three weeks to brew to your liking.
How long does Sauerkraut last once opened?
Sauerkraut stores well if refrigerated. I have enjoyed sauerkraut well over six months old; it is fine although it can start to lose its crispness at the half-year mark. Just be cautious of its smell and color, because as soon as new bacteria enter the jar the sauerkraut can spoil.
How to make sauerkraut less sour?
The easiest way to use an overly sour batch of sauerkraut is to serve it with creamy foods with a high-fat content to neutralize the sour taste. You can mix avocado or olive oil into the sauerkraut or serve alongside fattier foods. For example, serve your sauerkraut on top of avocado on sourdough toast.
Another way to reduce the sour taste is to add sweeteners such as a sprinkle of sugar, sliced fresh fruit, or dried fruits, such as apricots or raisins. You can even add grated or finely chopped fresh vegetables that are higher in sugar, such as carrots.
Can dogs eat sauerkraut?
Yes, learn more in this article “Can dogs eat sauerkraut?“
This post was all about how to make sauerkraut at home. Even a total newbie to the wonderful world of fermentation can create the perfect batch with this easy sauerkraut recipe and our pro tips.
If you are inspired to start making sauerkraut, check out my previous post on the best tools for fermenting.
Ultimately we want you to succeed in your next fermentation so you can taste just how delicious homemade sauerkraut is compared to store-bought. Plus, your body and gut will thank you due to the endless list of health benefits from sauerkraut.