Time to make sauerkraut

Vicki Hayman

Fall is the perfect time to make sauerkraut! The late-season varieties of cabbage contain more natural sugars that help with fermentation. Sauerkraut means “sour cabbage” in German. 

To make sauerkraut, cabbage is used in a process called fermentation. Natural fermentation is one of the oldest means of food preservation. In cabbage, there are beneficial bacteria present on the surface. Salt draws liquid from the cabbage and causes the sugars in the cabbage to ferment. When submerged in brine, the bacteria begins to convert sugars in the cabbage into lactic acid. Lactic acid is a natural preservative that prevents the growth of harmful bacteria.

Making small batches of sauerkraut in quart, half gallon, and gallon jars is popular. There are kits, jars, and tools available for making kraut. Sauerkraut made in small batches ferments much more quickly than in huge containers. 

Sauerkraut can be made from cabbage purchased at the market. Sauerkraut is commonly made from white or pale green cabbage, although it can also be made from red cabbage. When making sauerkraut from fresh-picked cabbage, it is best to wait one to two days after harvesting to make it. For the best results, select mature, firm heads of disease-free cabbage.

A one-gallon jar or crock will hold five pounds of shredded cabbage, and a five-gallon container holds 25 pounds. Use glass, stone, glass, or food-grade plastic containers. Do not use lead-glazed crocks, copper, iron, or galvanized metal containers, garbage bags, or trash liners for fermenting cabbage.

Sauerkraut Recipe

1-quart wide-mouth jar: 1 ¼ pounds cabbage*,  2 ¼ teaspoons pickling salt

½ gallon wide-mouth jar: 2 ½ pounds cabbage*, 4 ½ teaspoons pickling salt

1-gallon jar: 5 pounds cabbage*

3 Tablespoons pickling salt

* Cabbage can be weighed before or after shredding.


Wash hands thoroughly before beginning. Remove outer leaves from the cabbage. Rinse the cabbage heads with cold water and drain. Once drained, cut the heads in halves or quarters and remove the cores. Trim and discard any damaged areas. 

Shred or slice cabbage using a sharp knife, cabbage slicer, mandolin, or food processor. The shreds should be long and thin, 1/16 to 1/8 - inch thick, or about the thickness of a quarter.

Put the shredded cabbage in a large bowl and sprinkle pickling salt evenly over the cabbage. With gloved or clean hands, thoroughly mix the salt into the cabbage, massage and squeezing firmly to help release liquid from the cabbage. As the salt is mixed with the cabbage, the cabbage will begin to wilt. Once the salt has dissolved, and the cabbage is juicy, start packing the cabbage firmly into the jar. Use your fist or wooden tamper to firmly and evenly press the cabbage into the jar in layers. The juice will be coming from the cabbage as it is packed. The juice will need to cover the cabbage. It is essential to leave at least three to four inches of head space between the cabbage and the top of the jar. If your cabbage is not covered in juice, add boiled and cooled brine prepared with 1 1/8 teaspoon salt in 1 cup of water until the cabbage is covered. Keep the cabbage submerged at all times to avoid surface mold growth. Wipe the edges of the jar top.

You are now ready to put a weight on the sauerkraut to keep the liquid covering the cabbage during the fermentation period. Fill a small freezer-weight plastic bag filled with brine (1 1/8 teaspoon salt in 1 cup of water). Then, place the bag weight on top of the cabbage in the jar. Set the jar on a tray or pan to collect the juice that may leak out during fermentation. 

Store the container at 70-75°F while fermenting. The sauerkraut will be fully fermented at this temperature range in one to two weeks. Above 75°F, sauerkraut may become soft. At 60-65°F, fermentation may take two to three weeks. Sauerkraut may not ferment at temperatures lower than 60°F. If making a small batch of kraut, check it daily, as it ferments quickly. A good test to see if the sauerkraut is ready is to smell and taste it. It should smell and taste like sauerkraut, not sour or salted cabbage or wine. The cabbage should remain firm, not soft or slimy. When the sauerkraut taste is to your liking, it is time to stop the fermentation, and it is ready to eat. 

Maintain a high level of cleanliness and follow research-tested procedures to have the greatest success in producing safe, high-quality products such as sauerkraut. For several months, fermented sauerkraut may be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It may be canned or frozen for long-term storage.

Sauerkraut that is naturally fermented packs more than just a punch of flavor; it is also good for you. Sauerkraut is a low-calorie food. It has about 20 calories per half-cup. Sauerkraut is rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Its probiotics also help your body absorb these nutrients more efficiently, making sauerkraut more nutritious than raw cabbage or coleslaw. 

Sauerkraut is relatively high in sodium because of the salt used in fermentation. Reduce the sodium content, as well as the tartness, by rinsing sauerkraut in cold water before using.

Sauerkraut can be served in many ways. Sauerkraut is an excellent addition to salads, sandwiches, and wraps, pairs well with eggs, and is wonderful on sausages.


(Sources: Oregon State University Extension Service; Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service; Complete Guide to Home Canning, 2015 revision, USDA Bulletin No. 539)


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