How to Make Sauerkraut

My dad was an army brat, traveling the world with his family and his dad, who was a colonel in the army. Abroad, he lived in both Germany and Japan, greatly influencing his culinary tastes and cooking preferences. Growing up, my brother and I were introduced to an array of different ingredients and flavors. We were both pros with chopsticks by the time we were eight and we loved food from regions all around the world. One of my favorite meals was (and still is) bratwurst with German mustard and sauerkraut.

Sauerkraut is one of those foods that people either love or hate, but I’ve converted many a naysayer with my homemade kraut. Though I grew up on store-bought sauerkraut, I decided to venture into the world of fermentation many years ago by making my own. Once I tasted the crisp, salty version that came out of my own kitchen, I knew I was never going back. Sauerkraut is not only delicious and super easy to make, but it has a plethora of health benefits as well.

Nutrition Information

Sauerkraut is low in calories, but high in fiber, vitamin C (more than an orange!) and vitamin K. It also contains iron, manganese, vitamin B6, folate, copper and potassium. That’s a lot of bang for your low-calorie buck. Below are the exact nutrients for one cup of kraut:

  • Calories: 27
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Carbs: 7 grams
  • Fiber: 4 grams
  • Protein: 1 gram
  • Sodium: 39% of the RDI*
  • Vitamin C: 35% of the RDI
  • Vitamin K: 23% of the RDI
  • Iron: 12% of the RDI
  • Manganese: 11% of the RDI
  • Vitamin B6: 9% of the RDI
  • Folate: 9% of the RDI
  • Copper: 7% of the RDI
  • Potassium: 7% of the RDI

*Reference Daily Intake

The Heath Benefits

Because sauerkraut is fermented, it is good for your gut. It helps with digestion and the growth of good bacteria because it contains enzymes and probiotics, similar to those found in kefir, yogurt, and kombucha. Probiotics are an incredibly beneficial component to any diet as they can help reduce bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and gas. Probiotics can also reduce symptoms linked to Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

As if all that wasn’t enough, other benefits of sauerkraut include:

  • Boosts your immune system
  • May help you loose weight
  • Helps reduce stress and maintain brain health
  • May reduce the risk of certain cancers
  • May promote heart health
  • Contributes to stronger bones

For more information on all of the above, visit this informational article on healthline.

Store-Bought Sauerkraut

Although sauerkraut can be purchased from the store, you have to be careful when doing so. Most sauerkraut has been pasteurized, or often contains preservatives and added sugars. If you decide to buy it, do your due diligence and read the labels.

Alternatively, you can easily make your own sauerkraut at home! Homemade sauerkraut is far tastier than anything you can buy in the store, contains no undesirable ingredients, and provides all of the health benefits mentioned above!

What You Need

  • A large bowl or mason jar (I like this set on Amazon because it works well for cold brew coffee too!)
  • Cheesecloth
  • Organic cabbage (green, red, or both!)
  • Non-iodized salt
  • Other vegetables and spices, as desired

About the Ingredients

Organic Cabbage

This is necessary for homemade sauerkraut. Non-organic cabbage contains pesticides that can kill the natural bacteria needed for fermentation.

Salt

Never use iodized table salt for sauerkraut as it can prevent fermentation. Instead, use rock (pickling) salt, sea salt, or Real Salt.

Water

If you add water to your sauerkraut to make additional brine, only use filtered water. The chlorine found in tap water can kill the beneficial bacteria needed for fermentation.

Other Vegetables and Spices

Shredded carrots, beets, turnips, radishes, grated ginger, caraway seeds, fennel, garlic, and dill all work well in sauerkraut. You can also do a mixture of red and green cabbage for some color variation. Experiment with different spices and vegetables. For a large head of cabbage, you will generally use about 1 teaspoon of seasoning.

How to Make Your Own Sauerkraut

Getting Started

Start with the freshest cabbage you can get your hands on. The fresher the cabbage, the crunchier the kraut. Remove the outer leaves of the cabbage and then rinse thoroughly.

Chop or shred the cabbage into slices, then layer it into a clean bowl. With each layer, sprinkle some of the salt over the top. The amount of salt depends on the size of the cabbage used, but I generally use 1-2 tbsp (total) for a large head of cabbage.

When all the cabbage is chopped and in the bowl, gently mix it together and let it sit for one hour. This allows the salt to draw moisture from the cabbage, creating your brine.

Clear glass bowl filled with chopped red cabbage

Creating the Brine

After an hour, you should see some brine in the bottom of the bowl. Now it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty. Using both hands, gently massage the cabbage, much like you would knead bread. Make sure you wash your hands first so you don’t introduce any harmful bacteria that could interfere with the fermentation process (plus, not washing your hands is just gross). You will need to massage the cabbage for about 10 minutes, but as you do so you will start to see more and more moisture being released.

Clear glass bowl filled with red chopped cabbage and a puddle of sauerkraut brine
This is after 10 minutes of massaging. Look at all that brine!

Once you have a fair amount of brine, add any additional ingredients you’d like to include in your sauerkraut. Mix together, then transfer the cabbage to a jar or bowl. Make sure you choose one that you don’t use frequently as it will be out of commission for almost a month.

Pack the cabbage in as tightly as you can, then add the brine. Make sure all of the cabbage is covered. Any cabbage not covered could rot or develop mold.

Use a plate or another small jar to hold all of the cabbage below the surface level of the brine. If you don’t have enough brine to completely cover the cabbage, make your own by mixing 1 tbsp salt with 2 cups filtered water. Make sure the salt is dissolved, then add the amount of water needed.

Looking down into a mason jar stuffed with cabbage and brine, and a smaller jar weighing it down
I used a small, 4 oz mason jar to hold the cabbage below the brine. It fit perfectly into my half-gallon mason jar.

Secure a cheesecloth over the jar or bowl using a rubber band or the lid (without the center piece). This allows the gases to escape during the fermentation process while keeping bugs, dust, and other bacteria out.

A large mason jar filled with sauerkraut and topped with a cheesecloth

Fermentation

Store your sauerkraut in a cool, dry place where it will not be subjected to major temperature changes. Check it every few days by removing the cheesecloth. If you find any scum on the surface, just wipe it away with a clean spoon.

Now comes the hard part. Let the sauerkraut sit for at least 3 weeks before eating. If you are impatient you can start tasting it after 7 days. Do not put it into the fridge until the desired flavor is reached as doing so will stop the fermentation process.

Once complete, transfer to an airtight container and store in the fridge. Stored properly, sauerkraut can last up to a year in the refrigerator. Enjoy!

Notes

Word of Warning: The jar may leak or overflow slightly as the sauerkraut ferments. To avoid a mess, place a paper plate or dish under the jar to catch any of the brine. If you use red cabbage, be prepared for it to stain the cheesecloth.

Leftover Brine: The leftover brine is full of healthy probiotics and works as a wonderful digestive aid. You can drink it, use it as a starter for your next batch of sauerkraut or other fermented foods, or use it in soups, stews, sauces, etc!

 

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