If you’re interested in all the health and flavor benefits of homemade sauerkraut, but don’t know where to start, our Beginner’s Guide to Making Sauerkraut will teach you everything you need to know to make your own living, homemade sauerkraut from scratch.
Our beginner’s guide to sauerkraut is divided into four parts:
I. Introduction to sauerkraut: history, health benefits, and risks
II. Beginner’s guide to making sauerkraut: step-by-step
III. Sauerkraut recipes
IV. Sauerkraut FAQs
I. Introduction to sauerkraut: history, health benefits, and risks
We’ve been avid organic gardeners for over a decade. As such, we often end up with far more produce than we can eat fresh. We consider this a good problem.
However, when you have 20 pounds of fresh produce that you worked hard to grow, you don’t want to see any of it go to waste. Solving that problem is one of the main reasons we started making sauerkraut and other fermented foods & drinks shortly after we got obsessed with gardening and foraging.
Sauerkraut (and fermentation in general) is perhaps our favorite method of preserving foods. Food and drink fermentation is a preservation method that has been practiced by virtually every culture in every corner of the earth for thousands of years.
After all, our ancestors also had to figure out what to do with a sudden abundance of produce they’d grown or foraged, and they didn’t have refrigerators or freezers to help. Thus, drying, smoking, and/or fermenting were the primary methods of food preservation.
However, unlike those other storage/preservation methods, fermentation confers unique benefits and advantages, both for the flavors it adds and for the health benefits fermented foods provide, which we’ll detail below.
What is sauerkraut?
Sauerkraut is a type of fermented food whose primary ingredient is cabbage (Brassica oleracea). The word “sauerkraut” is German, and translates to sour cabbage.
However, sauerkraut isn’t a uniquely German invention since fermented cabbage is known to have been made thousands of years ago (at least as far back as the 4th century BCE), from Asia to the Roman empire.
How do you eat sauerkraut?
There are an infinite number of ways to eat sauerkraut. We like to use it either as a condiment (example: in a fish taco) or served as a small side dish. We don’t eat large, heaping servings of sauerkraut at one time, since a little goes a long way.
Why should you make sauerkraut versus buying it?
You might be able to find fairly high quality sauerkraut at a grocery store. If you do, it will be refrigerated, either in the produce section or the area where cold sausages and sandwich meats are sold.
Why is it refrigerated? Sauerkraut is a living food chock full of probiotics, e.g. microorganisms (primarily species of lactic acid bacteria) that live in your GI system and help keep you healthy.
Thus, cooked/canned sauerkraut (which is pretty common at grocery stores) just won’t have the same health benefits and likely won’t taste nearly as good as the real thing.
Some of the primary reasons we recommend making your own sauerkraut:
- use whatever ingredients you want and hone your own favorite, unique recipes;
- make wildly colorful sauerkrauts, not just the standard white/bland-colored versions;
- great way to use up excess cabbage and other produce from your own garden;
- use all organic ingredients;
- it’s fun and educational;
- allow your sauerkraut to ferment to your ideal flavor preferences rather than a set time based on commercial production protocols;
- ensure that it’s made and stored in glass or ceramic, not plastic or BPA-lined containers;
- it’s very hard for store-bought sauerkraut to compete with the flavor, nutrition, and health benefits of your own homemade ‘kraut, once you know how to make it.
What are the health benefits of sauerkraut?
One of the challenges that researchers have had in quantifying the health benefits of sauerkraut is that not all sauerkraut is the same. Each batch is different and even the same sauerkraut manufacturers using the exact same ingredients can have different vitamin levels and chemical constituents depending on the type of cabbage used, the season the cabbage was grown, the season the sauerkraut was made, and how long it fermented.
Thus making broad claims about the health benefits of sauerkraut is difficult. However, as a review of decades of research literature found, some health benefits seem to be universal with virtually all living sauerkrauts, including:
- “fermentation produces a wide range of flavors and aromas but also enriches food with proteins, vitamins, and essential amino and fatty acids and leads to a detoxification of food during the fermentation process.”
- “Sauerkraut contains a large quantity of lactic acid; vitamins A, B, C, and K; and minerals and has few calories (about 80 kJ/100g).”
- “Experiments found that high levels of glucosinolates, ascorbigen, and ascorbic acid decrease DNA damage and cell mutation rate in cancer patients, and sauerkraut is known to have a high content of these compounds.”
- “According to personal clinical experience, regular intake of small doses of sauerkraut—7 g to 10 g (or about 1 T) daily—has a very good effect on many patients’ gastrointestinal tract. They report better digestion and less constipation. Allergic problems have not been observed.”
There’s good evidence to support sauerkraut’s use as a food which promotes human health, given its high vitamin and phytonutrient levels, fiber content, and abundance of beneficial microbes. We eat sauerkraut because we love it, not because we expect it to have magical curative effects. However, eating fermented foods — including sauerkraut — is one of multiple measures we take to help us feel our best.
Are there any risks in eating sauerkraut?
You should avoid eating sauerkraut and other fermented foods if you fall into any of the following categories:
- compromised immune system,
- taking Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs),
- currently or recently undergoing chemotherapy.
If you have any potential concerns about consuming fermented foods or beverages, ask your doctor.
An interesting anecdotal story that speaks to the risks of using fermented products: one of our family members had cancer and underwent chemotherapy and subsequent stem cell transplant. Both temporarily wipe out your gut flora/microbes and your immune system.
As she was recovering, she drank kombucha, a common and popular probiotic drink. (Side note: try our elderflower kombucha recipe!) Since she was essentially a sterile environment, microbes in the kombucha soon proliferated and ended up causing a lung infection, which required a round of powerful antibiotics to kill. This is why people with compromised immune and GI systems should be extremely cautious when considering using probiotic foods & beverages.
II. Beginner’s guide to making sauerkraut: step-by-step
In making sauerkraut, it helps to first have a broad understanding of what you’re trying to do: create ideal conditions for beneficial microbes (not pathogens) to flourish in and on your ingredients. Those conditions are:
- a low pH (e.g. an acidic environment),
- anaerobic (low/no oxygen), and
- high salinity.
That’s why you add salt and put your ingredients into a fermentation crock or jar (as we’ll detail below) with a weight on top to hold them below the level of the fluid created. This allows lactic acid bacteria (LAB) to quickly proliferate in an anaerobic high-salt environment, which then quickly raises the acidity level of the contents within. As a result, “bad” microbes (example: Clostridium botulinum which causes botulism) don’t stand a chance, since these environmental conditions are inhospitable to them.
Now, let’s get to the nuts and bolts of making sauerkraut!
Step 1: Get sauerkraut-making supplies (or see if you already have them).
Here are the supplies you’ll need to make sauerkraut:
A. Kitchen scale
Perhaps the most important tool you can have for safely making high quality sauerkraut is a scale that can precisely weigh grams, ounces, and pounds. That’s because you’ll need to measure and add exact percentages of salt relative to the weight of your veggies.
Nope, your bathroom scale won’t do the trick. Instead, we’d recommend something like this Nicewell Food Scale.
B. Himalayan sea salt
As fermentation maestro Sandor Katz notes in The Art of Fermentation:
“Not all salts are the same. ‘Most discussions of salt ignore the issue of salt processing,” points out Sally Falton Morell. ‘Few people realize that our salt — like our sugar, flour, and vegetable oils — is highly refined; it is the product of a chemical and high-temperature industrial process that removes all the valuable magnesium salts as well as trace minerals naturally occurring in the sea.” Standard table salt in the United States has iodine added, to replace the iodine and other minerals stripped out of it, as well as various chemical anti-caking agents. Since iodine has antimicrobial properties, and the anti-caking agents can cause darkening and cloudiness, some of the literatures suggests avoiding standard table salt for fermentation.”
Another consideration: we try our best not to eat or drink plastic or compounds leached from plastic. Yet 90% of table salt brands sampled by researchers were found to contain microplastics, and some contained alarmingly high levels.
The ideal salt to avoid plastic contamination is rock salt and/or salt created by oceans that existed millions of years prior to the time when humans began dumping huge quantities of plastic into them. Our personal favorite salt for making sauerkraut: pink Himalayan sea salt.
c. Fermentation crock or glass canning jars, NOT plastic
Option 1: Fermentation crock
We have a large garden and make large quantities of sauerkraut — often about a gallon+ at a time. Thus, we have a quality 1.3 gallon German fermenting crock.
You can find cheap fermenting crocks (often made in China) which have lead and cadmium in their glaze. Hopefully, we don’t have to explain why this is a bad idea. We’d suggest you NOT go this route.
Fermentation crocks come with their own weighing stones which hold the vegetables below the level of the liquid. They also have specially designed airlock lids which — once water is added — allow gasses to escape from inside but no contaminants from outside to get into the jar. (This is called “burping” in fermentation lingo.)
Option 2: Glass jars
Do you have to have a fermenting crock to make sauerkraut? No.
Especially if you only plan to do small sauerkraut batches (less than a *couple pounds), you can use wide mouth glass canning jars or other glass vessels. Regular mouth canning jars can be used too, but they’re a pain when you’re trying to get ingredients in and out or a hand in and out. (*For reference, an average-sized cabbage weighs a little over two pounds.)
To let gasses out but not allow contaminants in to your glass jars during fermentation, you’ll want to use large mouth jar airlocks. To hold the ingredients below the surface of the liquid, glass fermentation weights are ideal.
It’s riskier and not recommended, but when all of our supplies are in use, we’ll also make sauerkraut in jars with a regular canning lid loosely screwed on top (to allow for burping). Instead of a weight, we open the jars 1-2 times per day and tamp down all the ingredients with a sanitized spoon to keep them below the brine. While this is cheap and a good fix when you don’t have supplies, it’s also riskier and therefore not recommended for sauerkraut newbies.
What about plastic vessels for making sauerkraut?
We’d strongly encourage you NOT to use plastic or reactive metal containers (stainless steel is fine) to make sauerkraut. Due to sauerkraut’s high acidity and microbial activity, there’s a strong likelihood that these types of containers will leach potentially harmful chemical compounds into your sauerkraut.
Step 2: Source the perfect ingredients for your perfect sauerkraut.
a. What’s the best cabbage for sauerkraut?
The organic cabbage growing in your garden that needs to be harvested is the best cabbage for making sauerkraut. Next best: find a locally grown organic cabbage, regardless of cultivar.
We’ve grown a lot of cabbage varieties over the years and we have yet to find one that doesn’t make an excellent sauerkraut.
b. Making colorful sauerkrauts
One of the most delicious and beautiful sauerkrauts you can make is from vibrant purple-red varieties like ‘Kalibos’ and ‘Red Acre’.
You’ll be amazed by the vibrant purple color and flavor complexity that results from a simple two-ingredient, purple cabbage + salt sauerkraut. A recent batch we made had blackberry flavor notes, perhaps due to the presence of the antioxidant anthocyanin, the same compound which gives color to both purple cabbage and purple/blue berries.
You can also add additional ingredients to green-leafed-based cabbage sauerkrauts to add striking color and flavor complexity. For instance, purple onions, beets, and purple carrots can be diced and added to make spectacular sauerkrauts as the color leaches out and infuses all the other ingredients during fermentation.
In fact, our favorite sauerkrauts are ones that include a diverse array of colorful ingredients from different plant species, which we presume creates an equally nutritionally diverse final sauerkraut.
c. Can you make sauerkraut with Napa cabbage?
While they share the same common name and plant family, Napa cabbage (Brassica rapa subsp. pekinensis) is not the same plant species as actual cabbage (Brassica oleracea). Thus you can’t make a true sauerkraut with Napa cabbage.
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Napa cabbage does make wonderful ferments, perhaps the best known being kimchi. We make Napa cabbage ferments every fall and spring, using identical methodology to our regular sauerkrauts.
The biggest difference: Napa cabbage leaves are far less dense than true cabbage leaves, thus they ferment much faster. Our Napa cabbage ferments are usually finished in 7-10 days, whereas our cabbage ferments require a minimum of 3 weeks.
If you’re making Napa cabbage ferments with other crunchy veggies like carrots or beets, you’ll want to grate them for an ideal final texture. In true cabbage-based sauerkrauts, you can cut these same crunchy veggies matchstick style and they’ll have plenty of time to ferment and soften to ideal palatability.
Step 3: Get your salt-to-veggie ratio right.
People successfully made sauerkraut and other ferments long before the invention of precise digital scales. They did so via combinations of trial-and-error, learning from their elders, taste, and repetition.
Once you’ve made enough sauerkraut to have a good intuition about how much salt to use in a particular batch, you may consider going the intuitive route when adding salt.
Even though we’ve been making sauerkraut for a decade, we still use a scale because we prefer precision. We also recognize that one type of cabbage may have a different density or texture than another type, which means it’s hard to trust visual cues or intuition down to the level of a gram.
Since adding enough salt is critical to making a safe, tasty sauerkraut, we highly recommend you also use a scale to get your salt ratios right. (See kitchen scale recommendation in Step 1.)
How much salt do you need to make a sauerkraut?
There is no single right amount of salt needed to make sauerkraut, but there are minimum and maximum salt levels you should be mindful of.
For instance, Sandor Katz recommends somewhere between 1.5-2% salt by weight of veggies. (Page 46, The Art of Fermentation) Meanwhile, NOMA chefs René Redzepi and David Zilber say, “We start our lacto-fermentations with 2% salt. It’s enough to dissuade any malevolent bacteria from taking hold, but not so much that the product becomes unpalatably salty.” (Page 61, The NOMA Guide to Fermentation)
For our sauerkrauts, we use 2.5% salt by weight of total ingredients. Safe but not too salty, at least by our flavor preferences. For instance, if we weigh out 5 total pounds of cabbage, garlic, onions, and white turmeric for a batch of sauerkraut, we’d use 0.125 pounds (56.7 grams) of pink Himalayan sea salt.
General recommendation: don’t use less than 1.5% salt or over 3% salt when making your sauerkraut.
Step 4. Clean, dice, and salt massage.
Now it’s time to start making sauerkraut!
First, give your veggies a good rinsing/cleaning to remove any bugs, slugs, etc (assuming they came from your garden). Not to worry: rinsing your veggies won’t remove all the lactic acid bacteria (LAB) on your vegetables that you need to make sauerkraut and the remaining LAB will quickly proliferate once you initiate fermentation.
Once rinsed, dice your veggies as you would if you were making a coleslaw – or even smaller. Cutting your veggies into smaller pieces:
- gives the microbes plenty of surface area to attach to and proliferate;
- speeds up fermentation time relative to larger pieces;
- provides a better, easier-to-eat final sauerkraut.
Once your veggies are diced, weigh them. Then using Google or a calculator, determine the quantity of salt you’ll need to add. (We recommend 2.5% salt as mentioned above.)
c. Salt massage
If you just put your diced veggies and salt into your crock, things are likely to go in a bad direction. Instead, you’ll want to put your veggies and salt into a large bowl and vigorously massage all ingredients until they’ve softened a bit and begun to emit liquid. This usually takes about 5 minutes for a large batch of veggies/sauerkraut.
Once the salt massage is finished, put all the ingredients into your clean fermentation container, put clean weights on top, and cover.
If you’re using a fermentation crock, put water into the airlock lid (which will need to be topped up weekly as it evaporates). If you’re using glass jars, put your airlock lids on now.
Within 2-3 days, enough brine will be released from the veggies to completely submerge them and your sauerkraut is off to the races!
Step 5. Ideal temperature and fermentation time.
What’s the ideal temperature to make sauerkraut?
Temperature and time are interrelated factors to consider when making sauerkraut.
- Warmer temperatures equal faster fermentation, but go too warm (75ºF / 24ºC or higher) and you risk creating funky flavors and mushy sauerkraut.
- Colder temperatures equal slower fermentation and ideal texture, but too cold (lower than 60ºF / 15.5 ºC) and you won’t have any fermentation because the microbes will essentially remain dormant.
We’ve found the ideal temperature range for making sauerkraut to be within 68-72ºF (20-22ºC). This temperature range happens to be right within the normal room temperature range of the average house.
Don’t put your active sauerkraut in a sunny spot which could cause it to get too warm or (if you’re using glass jars) potentially kill the microbes inside. Instead, a dark out-of-the-way spot on your kitchen counter or pantry is ideal.
How long does it take to make sauerkraut?
Under ideal temperature ranges (68-72ºF), your sauerkraut should be done in 3-4 weeks. After 1 week of fermentation, we recommend tasting your sauerkraut every few days so you can monitor its development and stop fermentation when it’s just right for you, based on both taste and texture.
Can your sauerkraut go bad if you wait too long?
You can let your sauerkraut develop for longer than a month, and we’ve certainly done that and had positive results. However, you can also let your sauerkraut go too long, at which point the flavor and texture will be compromised.
A few years back in the midst of a series of family tragedies, I lost track and accidentally let a batch go for four months. Thankfully, I opened the lid outside because releasing the smell inside would likely have caused The Tyrant to divorce me.
Step 6. Arrest fermentation via refrigeration.
Once your sauerkraut is perfect, it’s time to put your microbes to sleep, e.g. arrest fermentation. That means your sauerkraut needs to go into your fridge. The low temperatures essentially make the microbes go into hibernation mode, which means fermentation slows to a crawl.
If you used a crock, you’ll need to ladle your sauerkraut into glass jars. A metal canning funnel for wide mouth jars helps to keep this process clean and reduce spillage. As you put your sauerkraut into jars, be sure to tamp down the veggies with a spoon as you go to make sure you’re getting as much in as possible and not putting in too much brine in any one jar.
If you made your sauerkraut in a glass jar to start with, all you need to do is screw on a lid and refrigerate.
Step 7. Use every part of your sauerkraut, including the brine.
How do you use sauerkraut?
You don’t want to eat a giant plate of sauerkraut. Instead, use sauerkraut as a small side dish, topping, or flavor addition to a meal. For instance, in Germany sauerkraut is often eaten with sausage.
Since each batch of sauerkraut you make will be unique — especially if you vary your ingredients — take its unique flavor profile into consideration when deciding how best to use it.
Topping on a fish taco, sandwich, eggs, baked potato? There’s no right or wrong way to use sauerkraut.
We eat a small side dish of sauerkraut with a meal at least once per day.
Is sauerkraut safe for babies?
Our baby loves sauerkraut and has been eating it since he first started eating some solid foods around Months 6-7. Once your baby starts eating solid foods, sauerkraut is a great way to get veggies into them with a few caveats:
1. Make sure the pieces of sauerkraut are small enough not to be a choking hazard.
2. Don’t overdo it. Only give small quantities — especially at first — to make sure your baby doesn’t have any averse reactions.
3. Consider reducing the sodium. Sauerkraut is a high-salt food, thus you don’t want to give your baby too much in a single serving.
We typically rinse our sauerkraut before feeding it to our baby. This washes off the salty brine (reducing sodium), but there’s still a surprising amount of flavor and salt held within each piece after rinsing. While this might slightly reduce the number of beneficial microbes, there are still plenty left to make it a potent probiotic.
What can you do with sauerkraut brine?
You’ll likely end up with a good amount of sauerkraut brine at the bottom of your jars when you’re done. Don’t waste it!
Sauerkraut brine can be used as follows:
- meat and seafood marinade,
- splashed over oysters on a half-shell,
- to add salt and flavor to salad dressings and dips,
- in mixed drinks, like a martini or Bloody Mary,
- a standalone health tonic that you sip like kombucha or living vinegar,
While you can use old brine as a “starter culture” for new batches, this is unnecessary and may result in a more sour batch since it alters the progression and abundance of certain microbes.
III. Beginner sauerkraut recipes
Need a couple of beginner recipes for your first batches of sauerkraut? Below are two sauerkraut recipes, one as simple as it gets and the other a little more complex (both in ingredients and final flavors and textures).
Both recipes will make delicious sauerkrauts you’ll love — and they’ll help you get the hang of making your own sauerkraut! Once you have a few runs under your belt, you’ll have the experience you need to start making up your own sauerkraut recipes.
Purple power sauerkraut
A simple and delicious 2-ingredient sauerkraut made with purple cabbage and pink Himalayan sea salt.
- 2 lbs purple cabbage vibrant purple cultivars like 'Kalibos' are ideal
- 22.7 grams pink Himalayan sea salt
Finely chop cabbage into coleslaw-sized pieces. Weigh cabbage with kitchen scale to get exact weight. Then calculate 2.5% of the cabbage weight to determine the weight of the salt you'll need to add.
Put cabbage and salt in large bowl and massage until cabbage feels softened and its juices have begun to release. Place ingredients in fermenting crock or wide mouth glass jars with fermenting weights. If using a fermenting crock, pour water on lid to make a seal, then top up water every week (or as-needed) when it evaporates. If using glass jars, put fermenting airlocks on top (recommended) or loosely screwed on lid which allows 'kraut to burp but doesn't allow anything inside (not ideal, but works fine in a pinch).
Allow to ferment for 3-4 weeks or until flavor and texture is ideal. Place in glass jars with lids firmly secured and refrigerate. Use as desired for up to 6 months - maybe longer.
Mad mix sauerkraut
A sauerkraut recipe chock full of crunchy veggies and other flavorful, medicinal foods like turmeric, ginger, and garlic.
- 3 parts cabbage, any variety (purple and/or green) *parts measured by weight, NOT volume
- 1 part crunchy veggies (examples: carrots, kohlrabi, beets, parsnips, turnips)
- 1/2 part potent veggies (any combination of white or yellow turmeric, ginger, garlic, purple onion)
- 2.5% pink Himalayan sea salt weigh final chopped weight of all veggies then calculate 2.5% of total weight to determine amount of salt needed
Finely chop cabbage into coleslaw sized pieces, then weigh (example: 3 pound). Chop crunchy veggies matchstick style until you reach 1 part the weight of the cabbage (example: 1 pound). Fine dice potent veggies until you reach 1/2 part the weight of cabbage (example: 1/2 pound). Weigh combined ingredients with kitchen scale to get total weight. Then calculate 2.5% of the total weight to determine the weight of the salt you'll need to add.
Put veggies and salt in large bowl and massage until cabbage feels softened and its juices have begun to release (crunchy veggies won't soften very much). Place ingredients in fermenting crock or wide mouth glass jars with fermenting weights. If using a fermenting crock, pour water on lid to make a seal, then top up water every week (or as-needed) when it evaporates. If using glass jars, put fermenting airlocks on top (recommended) or loosely screwed on lid which allows sauerkraut to burp but doesn't allow anything inside (not ideal, but works fine in a pinch).
Allow to ferment for 3-4 weeks or until flavor and texture is ideal. Place in glass jars with lids firmly secured and refrigerate. Use as desired for up to 6 months - maybe longer.
IV. Frequently asked questions about sauerkraut
1. What species of probiotic microbes are in sauerkraut?
Thanks to modern genetic tools, researchers have a much better idea of what species of microbes are present in sauerkraut. A 2018 analysis found the following:
“Canonical sauerkraut fermentation begins with the initial proliferation of Leuconostoc mesenteroides, which rapidly produces carbon dioxide and acid. This quickly lowers the environmental pH, inhibiting the growth of undesirable microorganisms that might cause food spoilage while preserving the color of the cabbage. The action of L. mesenteroides changes the fermentation environment so that it favors the succession of other LAB, such as Lactobacillus brevis and Lactobacillus plantarum.”
The same analysis also details the transformation that take places in sauerkraut microbial communities from Day 0 forward:
“The most abundant bacterial order in the Day 0 fermentation sample is Pseudomonadales, which is also a high abundance order in all of the environmental samples. This suggests that the environment plays some role in establishing the initial bacterial community of the combined ingredients. After two days, the most abundant bacteria present are of the Lactobacillales order, which is expected in the case of successful fermentation. This pattern persists throughout fermentation and jarring.
Over the first 48 hours of fermentation, the microbial community of sauerkraut experienced a precipitous drop in the number of bacterial taxa present, likely due to the strong selective pressures of high salinity and acidity in the fermentation environment. Over the remainder of the fermentation period, LAB remained the dominant organisms present in the community. Both patterns are indicative of successful fermentation.
Perhaps more surprising were the relationships between the microbial communities of the starting ingredients, the fermentation environment, and the fermenting sauerkraut. The major LAB found in fermenting sauerkraut were present only in extremely low levels in the starting ingredients, which may suggest that only trace amounts of LAB are necessary to initiate fermentation.
Our results using 16S rRNA sequencing paralleled these expectations and expanded on previous knowledge, identifying Leuconostoc, Lactobacillus, and Enterobacteriaceae in addition to a variety of LAB not previously detected, such as Lactococcus.”
2. What’s the pH of sauerkraut?
The final pH of your sauerkraut will likely vary between 3.1 – 4.0 depending on the percentage of salt used and the length of time you allow the fermentation to continue.
For instance, one recent study found the following: “The pH of the shredded cabbage was 6.9 and decreased to around 4 after 15 days and then remained constant.” Other studies examining differences in initial salt concentrations found “ranges between 3.1 – 3.7, whereas according to Felix , the best quality of sauerkraut is at pH 3.8.”
Thus, finished sauerkraut (15+ days) is a fairly acidic food, with a likely pH between 3.1 – 4.0. (For reference, a lemon has a pH of 2 and commercial yogurt has a pH between 3.67 – 4.26.)
3. Can you use edible mushrooms in sauerkraut?
Yes, you can add edible mushrooms (shiitake, lion’s mane, maitake, oyster, etc) as an ingredient in your sauerkraut. In fact, mushrooms are a traditional sauerkraut ingredient in many eastern European countries.
4. My sauerkraut is a bit stinky when I open the lid – is that normal?
When you take the lid off your fermenting sauerkraut, you’ll release a puff of gasses containing various chemical compounds. Some of these compounds are purely botanical, e.g. they’re released by the cabbage and other veggies inside. Others are released by microbes.
A fermenting sauerkraut burp won’t smell good, and this is perfectly normal. Perhaps the main reason for the odor is the glucosinolates found in cabbage, which are sulfur-containing compounds. Look on the bright side: glucosinolates may be beneficial for preventing cancer and cardiovascular diseases.
5. There’s a white film growing on the surface of my sauerkraut – do I need to throw it out?
When you’re making lots of ferments (including sauerkraut), you’ll eventually encounter kahm yeast. This looks like a white film on the surface of your liquid/brine, but it’s completely harmless. Skim it off and compost it.
The formation of kahm yeast likely means you didn’t add enough salt, it’s too warm, it’s not acidic enough (yet), or there’s too much oxygen getting in. The few times we’ve found kahm yeast growing in a ferment, its formation stopped as the ferment matured and the acidity level rose, thanks to lactic acid bacteria (LAB).
Warning: Do note that if you observe colored molds and/or foul, putrid odors in your sauerkraut (or any other ferment) you should NOT ingest it. Something has gone wrong, so it’s best to write the batch off and do a forensic analysis so you don’t make the same mistake next time.
6. What other ingredients can be added to sauerkraut?
In this article (and recipes), we give you a good idea of some of the ingredients you may include in your sauerkraut in addition to cabbage, the base ingredient. Consider these ingredients a starting point, and experiment with new ingredients in future batches.
Some additional sauerkraut ingredients for consideration:
- juniper berries
- pine or fir tree leaf buds
- caraway seeds
- mustard seeds
- citrus skins/zest (one of our favorite additions since we grow lots of citrus)
- herbs like fennel and dill (seed or leaf)
- berries (blackberries, elderberries, etc which add beautiful color and unique flavor/nutrition)
7. How long does sauerkraut last?
Once refrigerated, your sauerkraut can last for at least 6 months. We’ve eaten 1+ year old sauerkraut that got lost in the back of our fridge, and its texture and flavor were still perfect. Again, let your eyes and nose be the guide as to whether your sauerkraut has turned and don’t risk it if you have doubts.
We hope our Beginner’s Guide to Sauerkraut has you fermenting with new knowledge and ready to make your own sauerkraut! Once you start making your own, it can quickly become an obsession. Thankfully, sauerkraut is an obsession that can boost both the flavor of your food and your personal health, so get started with your first batch today!
Other articles you’ll want to ferment on:
- Fermentation: How to tend your microbial garden for better health
- Recipe: Elderflower kombucha
- Recipe: How to make sparkling elderflower cordial
- Recipe: Honey-fermented kumquats
- How to make lacto-fermented fruit – with recipes!
- How to make quick-pickled daikon radishes (and other veggies)
- How to make the best homemade milk kefir
- How to make elderflower kombucha
- Easiest turmeric and ginger bug recipes
- Turning edible wild flowers into sparkling cordials
- Recipe: chickweed wine? Yes, and it’s really good!
- Tony & Andrea’s pumpkin champagne recipe
- Tepache recipe: how to turn pineapple skins into a delicious probiotic drink