Frequently Asked Questions about Lacto-fermented Sauerkraut [FAQs]

Sauerkraut is naturally fermented cabbage that is rich in digestive enzymes and gut-healing probiotics. It tastes nothing like that canned stuff that you may have tasted on a hot dog. In fact, once you taste the real stuff, sauerkraut may become your new favorite condiment.

Read on for coverage of any question you may have about sauerkraut. Such as:

Does eating sauerkraut give you gas?

What probiotic strains are found in sauerkraut?

Why is vinegar not used when making sauerkraut?

And more.

What is lacto-fermented sauerkraut?

Lacto-fermented sauerkraut is cabbage that has been fermented by lactic-acid bacteria. These bacteria are found on the surface of all fruits and vegetables, especially those growing close to the ground, like cabbage.

During fermentation, the bacteria eat the sugars in cabbage, multiply, and release lactic acid that acts as a preservative and prevents the growth of harmful bacteria.

This natural fermentation process allows vegetables to retain more vitamins and minerals than other types of preservation. It is an anaerobic process—occurring without air—hence the need to seal your fermentation container.

Why should I eat sauerkraut and other fermented foods?

  • Sauerkraut is ANCIENT. Sauerkraut has origins extending back more than 2,000 years. Legend tells us that fermented cabbage was a staple food for the workers constructing the Great Wall of China.
  • Sauerkraut is HEALTHY. Sauerkraut will improve your digestion, boost your immune system, and increase your energy levels.
  • Sauerkraut is LIVING FOOD. Sauerkraut is filled with probiotics, a variety of tiny microbes that enhance your digestion, immune system, and energy level.
  • Sauerkraut is POWERFUL. The natural fermentation process used to create sauerkraut has been shown to enhance and create nutrients in food and break food down to a more digestible form.
  • Sauerkraut CONTAINS various strains of probiotics, vitamin C, B-vitamins, beneficial enzymes, Omega-3 fatty acids and lactic acid that fights off harmful bacteria
  • Sauerkraut is BUDGET FRIENDLY. Many artisanal brands of naturally fermented sauerkraut can now be found in the refrigerator section of your grocery store. They’re pricey! You can make your own and save money.

And if these six reasons are not enough to convince you, here is a list of 27 reasons why you might want to add a forkful or two of sauerkraut, or other fermented foods, to your next meal.

Why does my jar of fermenting sauerkraut smell like dirty diapers—or rotten eggs?

Nasty fermentation smells will have any housemate banishing fermentation from happening in your home forever. Not what I want to see happen. But, what exactly are we smelling?

Hydrogen sulfide.

Hydrogen sulfide is a flammable, colorless gas with a characteristic odor of rotten eggs. It is commonly known as hydrosulfuric acid, sewer gas, and stink damp. People can smell it at low levels.PubChem

The sulfur content of your cabbage is to blame.

Depending upon the variety of cabbage and growing conditions, the amount of sulfur in any one head of cabbage can vary greatly which is why some of us have yet to have the pleasure of experiencing these lovely odors.

I have to thank one of my dear readers for solving this puzzle—and offering a solution.

When sauerkraut is fermenting much of the sulfur converts to hydrogen sulfide which is why the kraut smells a little like dirty diapers when it’s fermenting. The hydrogen sulfide is volatile and blows off as soon as the kraut is exposed to air but, if too much is trapped in the kraut for too long it can convert to compounds called mercaptans which have an unpleasant smell and are not volatile.

What to do about it?

This is what my reader, with a degree in fermentation science, recommends:

If a batch of kraut is particularly stinky during the initial fermentation go ahead and open your jar and mix or stir it to release the hydrogen sulfide gas. Maybe even leave the jar opened for a few hours, stirring it a few more times. Then, push the mixture back down into the jar, put your weight back in, recap the jar, and let your sauerkraut continue to ferment.

How long will my jar of sauerkraut keep?

You can expect your sauerkraut to last up to a year—or longer—if stored in the refrigerator. Once opened, keep it covered in brine by pushing it down with a fork. If your sauerkraut is a bit dry and there is not enough brine to keep it moist, look at my suggestions on dry sauerkraut.

If there is not enough room in your fridge to store your growing mountain of sauerkraut, perhaps one of these storage suggestions might help.

What is the difference between my naturally-fermented sauerkraut and sauerkraut found on store shelves?

Your naturally-fermented sauerkraut has been preserved by lactic acid, bacteria naturally created during the fermentation process, and is full of enzymes and beneficial bacteria. Just the goodness your gut will love.

Many types of sauerkraut you find at the store are pasteurized or contain vinegar, MSG, soy protein isolate or preservatives.

Foods made in this way have had all their natural-occurring enzymes and beneficial bacteria killed. They have a long shelf life and do not need to be refrigerated, but do not offer the health benefits of naturally-fermented sauerkraut.

What do I need to look for when buying sauerkraut?

Luckily for you—and your gut—naturally-fermented sauerkraut is now readily available in natural health food stores, large grocery chains, and even on Amazon. However, not all sauerkraut you find will contain live, gut-healing bacteria.

Here’s how to shop for sauerkraut:

  • Look in the refrigerated sections. Raw sauerkraut is alive and needs to be kept cool to stabilize its texture and flavors.
  • Check the label. You should see the prominent display of words such as “raw,” “unpasteurized,” or “live probiotics.”
  • Read the ingredient list. Only cabbage and other vegetables and seasonings, salt, and maybe a starter culture, should be listed, but no vinegar. Vinegar is used in commercially processed sauerkraut to give it the sour tang created during the fermentation process of naturally fermented sauerkraut.

If you are not able to find raw sauerkraut locally, here are a few suggestions.

  • Perform a Google search. Input the name of your community and “raw sauerkraut” to see what is displayed. There are now many artisanal companies making small batches of delicious, naturally-fermented sauerkraut. You might luck out and find one in your backyard.
  • Contact a local chapter leader of the Weston A. Price Foundation, an organization dedicated to access and education about traditional nutrient-dense foods.
  • Search Amazon. A recent search on for “raw organic sauerkraut” gave me 105 results with this Hudson Valley, New York company topping the list.

How much sauerkraut should I eat?

While you may find sauerkraut flavorful and want to consume a lot, it is recommended to eat just 1-2 tablespoons with each meal.

Some have found that upon introducing too many fermented foods too quickly into their diet they notice an unpleasant cleansing reaction or just an unhappy belly.

Here are tips for slowly introducing sauerkraut into your diet, especially helpful if you have compromised digestion, are worried about your thyroid health, or are on a salt-restrictive diet.

Can bacteria (probiotic organisms) in sauerkraut—or other fermented foods—survive the human digestive process to provide any benefit?

Probiotics are live microorganisms that provide measurable health benefits when consumed, generally by improving or restoring the gut flora.

The probiotic species of bacteria in fermented foods are acid-tolerant microbes adapted to live in low pH conditions, and many of them survive past the acidic environment of the stomach. Here’s the journey that they take:

After being chewed and mixed with enzymes from saliva in the mouth, the bacteria from fermented foods pass down the throat and esophagus and into the stomach and the first part of the upper intestine (duodenum). The stomach is an extremely acidic environment (<pH 3.0) with destructive digestive enzymes. Many bacteria do not survive in this hostile environment.

The bacteria that do survive enter the remainder of the small intestine where the pH is not quite so hostile (>pH6.0). Here they are exposed to bile and various digestive enzymes. Some bacteria strains recover, some even grow in the small intestine, and then continue their journey to the colon where some remain for a while to do their health-promoting work.

The bacteria in fermented dairy and vegetables can survive their perilous journey through the digestive tract. Once they are there, it’s clear that they have at least some positive effects on human health, ranging from the enhanced nutritional contents of the foods themselves, to alleviation of inflammatory bowel conditions, to restoring normal gut microbiota after antibiotics, to enhancement of the immune system, and possibly even weight loss. It would be nice to know more about the mechanisms of these effects — and maybe we will know soon, because it is currently a hot area of research. —Lucy Shewell, PhD, Everything you always wanted to know about fermented foods

Much more research remains to be done to tease out the multitude of microbe species (and strains) and their particular impacts in particular cases.

In Cultured, by Katherine Harmon Courage:

As bacterial cells pass through whether dead or alive, they might just sort of tip the balance on the host immune compartment side toward potential benefits—especially farther up in the GI tract… Even consuming a lot of dead, say, lactobacilli that are in things like yogurt, could be beneficial if hose Lactobacillus cell wall products hit receptors and turn on beneficial immunological pathways versus inflammatory ones. There could be a benefit to even eating dead bacteria.”—Eric Martens, PhD

This study showed that the probiotic strains in yogurt survive the human GI tract. The study also detected changes in the populations of bacterial groups in the fecal microbiota.

This study found that subjects who consumed 300g of kimchi per day had high counts of fecal Lactobacillus species and Leuconostoc species.

Fate, activity, and impact of ingested bacteria within the human gut microbiota

When it comes to our guts, we need to shift our mindset from a model of growing crops—or even planting a kitchen garden—to fostering a highly diverse, complex ecosystem that we might not yet be able to fully understand and interpret. We need to foster our own individual wild jungles.—Katherine Harmon Courage, Cultured

Does eating sauerkraut give you gas?

Consuming large amounts of sauerkraut can cause bloating, gas, and intestinal cramping. Your digestive system may need time to develop the ability to digest the probiotic bacteria in sauerkraut.

So, if you are introducing fermented foods to your diet for the first, take it slowly, especially if you are dealing with digestive issues. Start with just a teaspoon with a meal and increase it as your tolerance builds up and your gut health improves. Many people find they tolerate the brine better than the actual cabbage which has fiber.

What foods should I eat sauerkraut with?

With anything! However, to take advantage of their digestive benefits, lacto-fermented foods are especially helpful when combined with high protein and high-fat foods. Eggs, cheese, meats, and fish all go well with krauts. Sauerkraut is also a very flavorful way to spruce up a salad or sandwich! And, if you looking for more suggestions on how to eat sauerkraut, here are 33.

Is it a good idea to can my sauerkraut?

No. First off, the heat from the processing will kill the beneficial bacteria, and those bacteria are the reason why I eat fermented foods. Secondly, the heat from processing makes the texture softer and changes the taste dramatically, quite a disappointment after all the time you put into creating it. Lastly, why go to all that work?

Why is vinegar not used when making sauerkraut?

It is not necessary. The natural fermentation process generates its own healthy lactic and other organic acids that preserve the sauerkraut.

Why do you not recommend using whey when making naturally fermented sauerkraut?

Whey—the liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained—is called for in many fermentation recipes, such as those in Sally Fallon’s popular book Nourishing Traditions. This was to ensure that there were enough bacteria present in your ferment. We now understand that vegetables come with the bacteria necessary for fermentation and we don’t need additional bacteria.

As long as there are bacteria on the vegetables you are fermenting, It is not necessary and it introduces bacteria that grow and thrive on lactose found in dairy products. Sauerkraut is made with vegetables fermented by the bacteria naturally present on the cabbage leaves.

For my first batches of sauerkraut, I added whey but found that many batches of sauerkraut turned out soft and moldy, with an off smell.

What has more beneficial bacteria, pill or sauerkraut?

According to testing done by Dr. Mercola anywhere from 1.5 billion to 10 trillion colony-forming units of bacteria in one serving of fermented vegetables. Pills average from 50 million to 10 billion per pill.

Who invented sauerkraut?”

Although the word sauerkraut comes from the German word sauer (meaning sour) and kraut (meaning vegetables, sauerkraut is not of German origin.

Credit the Chinese for the creation of sauerkraut more than 2,300 years ago. Originally it consisted of shredded cabbage that was pickled in wine. Legend tells us workers building the Great Wall of China were among the first to enjoy it.

Around the end of the 16th century, salt was used in place of wine in the fermentation process. It produced a better product, and it’s a recipe that’s still followed today.

Is a starter culture necessary for making sauerkraut?

No, you can successfully make sauerkraut without a starter culture. Starter cultures contain sugar or glucose, as a carrier agent, and various forms of active lactic acid bacteria. Many ferment successfully with starter cultures but add an unnecessary step and cost to making sauerkraut.

To be completely honest, I have never used a starter culture to make sauerkraut. Once I got my vegetable to salt ratios correct, fermentation has been successful.

Did I miss something? Please share your question below.

Answers to all your sauerkraut questions. |
Woman sitting with jar of sauerkraut on knee. |

Holly Howe, Fermentation Educator

Holly Howe has been learning about and perfecting the art of fermentation since 2002.

Her mission is dedicated to helping families welcome the powerful bacterial world into their homes in order to ferment delicious gut-healing foods.

She is the author of Fermentation Made Easy! Mouthwatering Sauerkraut, and creator of the online program Ferment Like a Pro!

Read more about her HERE.

COPYRIGHT © 2012-2022—MakeSauerkraut—All Rights Reserved—The Fine Print: Disclaimers, Privacy Policy, Terms & Conditions