How to Make Sauerkraut

Think you can’t make your own sauerkraut? Think again! You can fearlessly ferment your own at home with this easy step-by-step tutorial for How to Make Sauerkraut. We make it easy with simple, clear directions and detailed photographs so now you can DIY one of our favorite probiotic-rich foods at home.

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Learn to make healthy, delicious and probiotic-rich sauerkraut at home for less

The chances are good that if you’re reading this you already know about the health benefits of consuming fermented foods. If not, then check out our 5 Reasons to Eat Fermented Foods Everyday post. In that post we also take a deep dive into what lactofermentation is and why foods like sauerkraut are so good for you.

Not only is sauerkraut good for your gut it’s good for your taste buds. It’s tangy-tart flavor is the perfect companion to grilled burgers, hot dogs or brat, sandwiches, salads, and more. Eating just a spoonful or two before a meal increases saliva production, decreases stomach pH and activates certain digestive enzymes so you digest your food better.

Not only is homemade sauerkraut healthy (packed with probiotics, enzymes and vitamins B and C) it’s also economical. For a mere $4 (or less) you can make a jar of sauerkraut at home that would easily cost you $7-10 at the store or a farmers market.

Why we love this method for making Homemade Sauerkraut

The method we use to make sauerkraut is simple and it produces a small jar of kraut that ferments in 7-14 days, depending on the temperature of your home. Warmer ambient temperatures mean your sauerkraut will ferment faster and cooler temperatures mean it’s going to take a little longer. Another great thing about making sauerkraut in a quart jar is that smaller quantities ferment faster than larger batches.

Seriously, if you’ve been thinking about making sauerkraut at home – this How to Make Sauerkraut tutorial is for you. 

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What You’ll need to make Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut only requires two ingredients, cabbage and salt. But to turn cabbage into kraut, you need just a handful of common kitchen items:

  • Fresh cabbage – Look for cabbage that is firm and heavy for it’s size, but not too large. The leaves should be crisp, slightly shiny, and blemish-free.
  • Sea salt – It’s important to use sea salt and not iodized salt when making sauerkraut. We use fine sea salt for this recipe.
  • 1-quart wide mouth glass jar – This will serve as your fermentation ‘vessel’ instead of a stoneware crock. Using a jar allows you to see what’s happening throughout the process and they’re easy to source.
  • Large knife – You’ll need a large, sharp knife such as a chef’s or cook’s knife to remove the core of the cabbage and to thinly slice it.
  • Cutting Board
  • Large Mixing Bowl – Any kind will work, just be sure it’s large enough to be able to hold all of the cabbage once it’s sliced.
  • Small zip-top plastic freezer bag – You’ll fill this bag with tap water to create an inexpensive weight that helps keep the cabbage under the brine (more about that later!) A sandwich-size bag works best and be sure to use a ‘freezer’ bag since these are thicker and usually have a double seal or zipper so they are less likely to leak.
  • Lid – A screw-on plastic or metal 2-piece band + lid is all you need.
  • Airlock, optional – An airlock is a special lid or lid attachment that allows gases created by fermentation to escape on their own. This eliminates the need to manually release the gases or ‘burp’ the jars. These Pickle Pipes are our our favorite airlocks because they’re simple, one-piece design makes them easy to use.
  • Weight, optional – If you prefer not to use a water-filled plastic bag as a weight and you think you’ll want to continue your fermentation journey then you may want to invest in a set of glass or ceramic fermentation weights like these Pickle Pebbles from Mason Tops.

Fancy isn’t always better

Sure you can really fancy when it comes to fermenting – there are loads of gadgets, lids, containers and such that you can use but you don’t have to. We’ve made sauerkraut in jars and crocks, with lids and without, with and without airlocks and using special weights or just a plastic freezer bag filled with water for a weight. And they’ve all turned out great. So if not having the ‘right equipment ‘ is holding you back, then we’re here to call you out on that one. You don’t have to be fancy, you just have to get started. You can always add some fancy crocks, weights and airlocks to your game as you get more adventurous in your fermenting forays. But for now, we’re going to keep it simple with our fearless method for how to make sauerkraut because we want to keep the barriers to entry really low so you can feel confident rolling up your sleeves and making your first batch of deliciously, healthy sauerkraut today.

How to Make Sauerkraut

Part 1: Prep the cabbage

  1. Rinse the cabbage in cool water. Remove the coarse outer leaves and discard. Remove and rinse a few unblemished leaves and set them aside for later. Pat the cabbage dry with a clean kitchen towel or paper towel and set it on a cutting board.
  2. Using a large knife, slice the cabbage in half then slice the halve in half to create quarters. Use the knife to carefully cut away the core.Thinly slice the cabbage with a knife then transfer the cabbage to a large bowl.
  3. Add 1 teaspoon of the salt and, with your hands, massage it into the cabbage. When the cabbage starts to look wet and shiny, taste it. You should be able to taste the salt without it being overwhelming (in other words it should be a little salty but still taste good). Add more salt, a little at a time, as needed to get that ‘salty but not too salty’ taste. Continue to massage until the cabbage becomes wet and limp and liquid (aka brine) begins to pool in the bottom of the bowl. This will take anywhere from 3 to 5 minutes if done with two hands.When you can squeeze the cabbage with two hands and the brine runs freely into the bowl, you’re ready for Step 4. If you’ve put in a good effort and don’t have much brine, cover the bowl and allow it to sit for 45 minutes. Massage again until the liquid runs freely when you squeeze a handful of cabbage in your hands.

Part 2: Pack the Jar

  1. Transfer the cabbage to a clean 1 quart mason jar a few handfuls at a time, stopping to press the cabbage into the bottom of the jar using your hand to work out any air pockets before you add more cabbage. Repeat this adding and pressing until all of the cabbage has been packed tightly into the jar. You should have some brine on top of the cabbage once it’s all been pressed into the jar. Leave 2-3 inches of headspace in the jar so you have enough room for the next step. If you have too much cabbage, place some in another clean jar (yeah for extra kraut!) and follow the remaining steps for that jar too. 
  2. Top the packed cabbage with 1 or 2 of the reserved leaves, gently tucking them down along the sides to keep little bits of cabbage under the brine. If you have bits of cabbage floating in the brine after placing the leaves over the top, pick them out to the best of your ability as anything not covered in brine (i.e. floating and exposed to air) increases your chances of developing mold. 

Part 3: Weigh it down

Place the zip-top freezer bag into the jar and use your fingers to spread it out so that it covers as much of the cabbage leaf as possible. Fill with cool filtered water and seal while pressing out as much of the air as possible. Tuck the top of the bag into the jar and very loosely screw the lid onto jar (so that gases created during fermentation can escape) or cover with a clean kitchen towel. If using a lid with an airlock, follow the directions for your particular lid.

Part 4: Ready, Set, Ferment!

  1. Place the jar in an are that is out of direct sunlight and cool (55-75℉) to ferment for 4-14 days. Dark is best but it needs to be somewhere where you won’t forget about it so if that’s your kitchen counter, just lay a kitchen towel over the top of the jar to give it a little privacy.
  2. Check your ferment daily to be sure everything is under the brine. Remember: “If it’s under the brine, everything’s fine!”

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Jar with glass weight and lid just barely screwed on to allow gasses to be able to escape as the cabbage undergoes fermentation over the next 7 – 14 days in a dark, cool place.

Part 5: take a look

  1. After about 2 days you should start to see small bubbles forming in between the layers of cabbage in the brine at the top of the jar. A few bubbles are fine but if you see air pockets in the cabbage or notice that the brine is not completely covering the cabbage, carefully remove the lid and zip-top bag. With clean hands, gently press down to release the air bubbles and return everything to below the brine. Replace the bag and lid and let it do its thing. If your sauerkraut is particularly active or the room is warm, you’ll want to take a peek at you jar once or twice a day to make sure it doesn’t need to be pressed down. This active stage of fermentation usually lasts 2-5 days but can last longer with colder temperatures.

Part 6: Taste test

  1. Taste test your kraut starting at Day 4 by carefully removing the bag with clean hands. Use your clean fingers or a utensil to gently push the cabbage leaf (leaves) aside and remove a small taste. It’s ready when it has a pleasing pickle-y flavor without the strong acidity of vinegar, the cabbage has softened a bit but retains some crunch and the cabbage is more yellow than green and slightly translucent like it’s been cooked. This can happen anywhere from 4 days to 14 days depending on the temperature of the room.
  2. If the sauerkraut is not ready, rinse the bag under running water and carefully place it back in the jar so that all of the cabbage is below the brine. Wait another day or two then taste again to see what you think.
Tip!

If you see white or bluish furry surface mold, scoop it out with a clean finger or a utensil before pressing everything below the brine again. Replace the bag with a clean water-filled bag and wash the lid before placing back on the jar pressing everything below the brine again.

I

How to know when your sauerkraut is ready to eat

Your homemade sauerkraut is ready to eat when it’s pleasing to your tastebuds and the flavor is tart and tangy and mildly salty it’s done. If you like your sauerkraut more sour, feel free to let it go a little longer, checking in on it daily as it can quickly go from just ripe to overly fermented or even develop mold rather quickly.

Signs that your homemade sauerkraut is ready to eat

Use these 3 cues to help you determine when it’s ready to enjoy:

  • Flavor: It should have a tart and tangy flavor that’s similar to pickles but without the garlic and dill. While it should be tart, it should not be overly acidic like vinegar.
  • Color: The color of the cabbage is more yellow than it is green and slightly translucent as if it’s been cooked.
  • Texture: The cabbage is softer than when it initially went into the jar but still retains a bit of crunch.

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How to store Homemade sauerkraut

Once your sauerkraut is ready to eat, just discard the plastic bag weight (or wash and store your glass or ceramic weight). The cabbage leaf covering the sauerkraut is completely edible so enjoy a quick taste of your awesome fermentation feat. The finished sauerkraut can be stored in the jar it was fermented in or you can transfer it to a clean jar, if desired. Press the sauerkraut down below the brine to store then screw the lid onto the jar and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.

Now it’s your turn!

You’ve totally got this! Remember the fermentista’s motto: “If it’s under the brine, everything’s fine!” Now go forth and make some sauerkraut.

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Recipe

How to Make Sauerkraut

Making your own healthy and delicious sauerkraut at home is easy and economical. This is the perfect recipe for beginners and using a jar rather than a crock allows you to see the transformation from cabbage to kraut.

Prep: 1 hourTotal: 7-14 days

Servings: ~3 cups

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds fresh cabbage, coarse outer leaves removed and rinsed 
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt

Instructions

  1. Rinse the cabbage in cool water. Remove the coarse outer leaves and discard them. Remove and rinse a few unblemished leaves and set them aside for later. Pat the cabbage dry with a clean kitchen towel or paper towel and set it on a cutting board.
  2. Using a large knife, slice the cabbage in half then slice the halve in half to create quarters. Use the knife to carefully cut away the core.Thinly slice the cabbage with a knife then transfer the cabbage to a large bowl. 
  3. Add 1 teaspoon of the salt and, with your hands, massage it into the cabbage. When the cabbage starts to look wet and shiny, taste it. You should be able to taste the salt without it being overwhelming (in other words it should be a little salty but still taste good). Add more salt, a little at a time, as needed to get that ‘salty but not too salty’ taste. Continue to massage until the cabbage becomes wet and limp and liquid (aka brine) begins to pool in the bottom of the bowl. This will take anywhere from 3 to 5 minutes if done with two hands. When you can squeeze the cabbage in your hands and the brine runs freely into the bowl, you’re ready for Step 4. If you’ve put in a good effort and don’t have much brine, cover the bowl and allow it to sit for 45 minutes. Massage again until the liquid runs freely when you squeeze a handful of cabbage in your hands.
  4. Transfer the cabbage to a clean 1-quart mason jar a few handfuls at a time, stopping to press the cabbage into the bottom of the jar using your hand to work out any air pockets before you add more cabbage. Repeat this adding and pressing until all of the cabbage has been packed tightly into the jar. You should have some brine on top of the cabbage once it’s all been pressed into the jar. Leave 2-3 inches of headspace in the jar so you have enough room for the next step. If you have too much cabbage, place some in another clean jar (yeah for extra kraut!) and follow the remaining steps for that jar too. 
  5. Top the packed cabbage with 1 or 2 of the reserved leaves, gently tucking them down along the sides to keep little bits of cabbage under the brine. If you have bits of cabbage floating in the brine after placing the leaves over the top, pick them out to the best of your ability as anything not covered in brine (i.e. floating and exposed to air) increases your chances of developing mold. 
  6. Place the zip-top freezer bag into the jar and use your fingers to spread it out so that it covers as much of the cabbage leaf as possible. Fill with cool filtered water and seal while pressing out as much of the air as possible. Tuck the top of the bag into the jar and very loosely screw the lid onto jar (so that gases created during fermentation can escape) or cover with a clean kitchen towel. If using a lid with an airlock, follow the directions for your particular lid.
  7. Place the jar in an are that is out of direct sunlight and cool (55-75℉) to ferment for 4-14 days. Dark is best but it needs to be somewhere where you won’t forget about it so if that’s your kitchen counter, just lay a kitchen towel over the top of the jar to give it a little privacy. 
  8. After about 2 days if you see air pockets in the cabbage or notice that the brine is not completely covering the cabbage, carefully remove the lid and zip-top bag. 
  9. With clean hands, gently press down to release the air bubbles and return everything to below the brine. Replace the bag and lid and let it do its thing. If your sauerkraut is particularly active or the room is warm, repeat this process as needed for the next 2-3 days.
  10. Taste test your kraut starting at Day 4 by carefully removing the bag with clean hands. Use your clean fingers or a utensil to gently push the cabbage leaf (leaves) aside and remove a small taste. It’s ready when it has a pleasing pickle-y flavor without the strong acidity of vinegar, the cabbage has softened a bit but retains some crunch and the cabbage is more yellow than green and slightly translucent like it’s been cooked. This can happen anywhere from 4 days to 14 days depending on the temperature of the room. 
  11. If the sauerkraut is not ready, rinse the bag under running water and carefully place it back in the jar so that all of the cabbage is below the brine. Wait another day or two then taste again to see what you think.

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