Perfect Homemade Sauerkraut Is Cheap, Easy, and Very, Very Good for You

updated Aug 7, 2019
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Credit: Peter Colin Murray/Kitchn

Over the last few years, it’s been impossible to avoid the growing excitement over fermented foods. We’re learning how good they are for gut health, how valuable they are to digestion, and (okay we’ve known this for a while) just how downright delicious they happen to be. 

The one drawback? They can be really expensive, especially if you’re buying them exclusively from your local natural food store or farmers market. Happily, fermented sauerkraut is incredibly easy to make and you can assemble a quart at home for a fraction of the cost. All you need is cabbage, salt, and time

A basic batch of sauerkraut is cabbage that has been massaged with salt and packed into a container to ferment for a period of one to six weeks (depending on how intense you like your kraut to be). The salt creates a beneficial environment for the lactobacillus bacteria, which eats up the sugar in the cabbage and transforms them into an acid (making things, you know, sour).

Credit: Peter Colin Murray/Kitchn
Author Marisa McClellan demonstrating how to make sauerkraut.

How to Make Fermented Sauerkraut

Start by peeling a few exterior leaves off a head of cabbage and set them aside. Shred two pounds of cabbage using a box grater, a food processor, or a sharp knife and put it into a bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of finely milled salt and knead it into the cabbage, until you can grab a handful of the cabbage and squeeze a stream of liquid out of it (make sure to hold it over the bowl as you do this). 

Credit: Peter Colin Murray/Kitchn

Pack the cabbage into a clean wide mouth quart jar, working in layers, until the jar is full. Press it tightly so that the liquid bubbles up over the cabbage. Fold up one of your reserved exterior leaves and tuck it into the jar. This will help keep the surface of the kraut free from scum. 

Tuck a 4 ounce jelly jar into the top of the quart jar to serve as a weight. Wrap a clean kitchen cloth or paper towel over the top of the jar and hold it in place with a rubber band. Set the jar in a small bowl to catch any liquid that may dribble out, and put it in a place that’s out of direct sunlight and isn’t too hot (but not hidden where you’ll forget to check it).

Credit: Peter Colin Murray/Kitchn

Ideally, the spot where your fermentation is happening will be somewhere between 55 and 75 degrees F. If it’s colder than that, it will take longer for the fermentation process to occur. If it’s warmer, it will happen quickly and you could develop some funky flavors. Now it’s time to let the fermentation begin! 

How to Know When Homemade Sauerkraut Is Ready

After about a week of fermentation, you’re going to want to remove the jelly jar, lift up the protective cabbage leaf and dive in with a clean fork to get a taste. If you like how the kraut tastes at this moment, you can consider it done. If it’s not as sour as you’d like, just let it go a little longer.

How to Store Homemade Sauerkraut

Whenever you are pleased with the batch, put a lid on the jar and move it to the fridge. Refrigeration won’t completely stop the fermentation process, but it slows it way, way down. 

Credit: Peter Colin Murray/Kitchn

How to Flavor Homemade Sauerkraut

Once you master the basic batch, you can start customizing your krauts. Replace some of the cabbage with shredded carrot for a slightly sweeter batch. Add spices like caraway, dill seed, or dried chiles for something with a bit oomph. Rub some roasted garlic into the cabbage for kraut that will repel vampires. Use red cabbage for a deeply colored kraut that looks gorgeous alongside braised sausages. Most of all, enjoy the making and the eating. 

Credit: Peter Colin Murray/Kitchn

Weeknight Preserving is your beginner’s guide to preserving the best of the season even if you have a small kitchen or a couple hours on a weeknight. We asked Marisa McClellan of Food in Jars for a true beginner’s guide to preserving, from pickles to jams to freezing to fermenting. You (yes you!) can make a pickle or a jam to be proud of this summer. Share your preserving triumphs with us by tagging #thekitchn on Instagram.

Wondering what to do with the pickles you’ve made? Check out Marisa’s latest book, The Food in Jars Kitchen. It contains over 100 recipes to help you cook, bake, transform, and share your homemade preserves!

Follow Marisa on Facebook, Instagram, and by visiting her website Food in Jars.