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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.

44 thoughts on “Frequently Asked Questions about Lacto-fermented Sauerkraut [FAQs]”

  1. I started my kraut in a large plastic bucket 5 days ago, my grandsons came over and I think they got curious and disturbed the batch it is no longer bubbling and I wonder if I add salt or more brine could I keep it going – no slime only greenish water – very few bubbles. 12 1/2 lbs going.

    • Hi Debbie,
      I don’t think your curious grandsons did any harm. The bubbling action usually peaks around day 3 so you won’t see many bubbles after that.

      Just make sure your fermentation is kept below the brine and all should be fine. No need to add brine if the mixture is below the brine. No need to add salt if you kept your ratios correct (5 pounds cabbage mixture – 3 tablespoons salt).

      Wow, 12 pounds fermenting! I love big batches. Make sure to share it with your grandsons! – Holly

    • Hey there-
      What a great article! Just bought your book! Can’t wait.

      I do have a question, though. My family and I have been eating live sauerkraut for a year. It helped heal my husbands IBD and my IBS. Because we were in a very small rental down in New Zealand, I purchased the sauerkraut from a co-op. Very good quality, delicious, totally nutritious…

      I just started my first batch. I used purple and green cabbage and salt and followed directions to a T. At seven days I tasted the small jar and put a little on my salad. Maybe 2 tablespoons. It was still very salty and just a little sour. Not ready yet in my mind.

      But here is where things got weird. I had SIBO Three years ago, and healed it with diet. Right after eating that sauerkraut my gut exploded! My tummy was distended and I was bloated and in a lot of pain for the rest of the day.
      I have hives today.

      Is a sauerkraut that is fermented, but under fermented, higher and histamines? I don’t get that response from sauerkraut our friends have made or the kind I buy at the co-op. And I really don’t want to have that response to the big jar that I’m hoping to ferment for more than 2 to 3 weeks.

      Do you have any thoughts on this? I don’t wanna be scared off from doing my own fermenting!

      Thank you so much for your time and your incredible knowledge.

      • thank you Holly, I was about to ask the same thing. Just one thing though, maybe the “no washing rule” applies to organic cabbage only? I don’t have access to organic produce and I’m hesitant about fermenting a dirty non-organic cabbage.

        • Hello Ross, To reduce some worries: Cabbage is on the “Clean 15” list – – and research also shows that the bacteria that make fermentation happen also significantly reduce the levels of pesticides (Kimchi, wheat) foods.

          I think the more important focus is quality of the food fermented. The greater the nutrient levels, the more food for the bacteria, the better your ferment.

          • sure Holly, about these weights. I bought them through amazon before I found your website. Had I read your method before I placed the order, I would have used my 4oz canning jars instead. I’m sure they can do the trick just as fine.

            the weights are not as heavy as I thought they would be, but they are heavy enough to keep the cabbage submerged. I like the finger grooves, because it makes it so easy to get them out.

            in summary, I think the 4oz canning jars are a great option if you have them. If not, I would definitely purchase the jelly jars before considering the weights; the jars are cheaper and can be used for other purposes.

          • Nice feedback. I always wonder if I should continue to recommend the 4 oz jars now that there are so many “weights” out there. But… I want to keep it simple for first-time fermenters and as you say, there are so many other uses for them. Like, sharing sauerkraut!

          • exactly !!!! sharing sauerkraut with friends and family, what a great idea !

            and I think you are right when you say that it’s better to keep it simple for us first-time fermenters !! the least thing I want to do is spend money in things that I might never use again ! I love your approach, keep recommending those 4oz jars !

            I’m so grateful for all of your help and support Holly ! keep up the good work… many, many thanks !

  2. Hi,
    I got a #2 crock for Christmas as I have been wanting to make sauerkraut for some mother was from Austria and I grew up eating LOTS of it and loved it and have to say was rarely ever I’ll! Anyway have a question about my first batch…it has been in the crock for one month…seems fine…tastes nice and saur but I never noticed it “working”. No bubbling, overflowing…nothing…it just sat there very quietly….so did it actually ferment? I guess I was expecting it to ” do” something….please advise…thanks. Christine

    • Bubbles and other “fermentation” signs can be elusive at times. If you fermented on the cooler end, you might have missed them. Ferments are slower the cooler you go. Tasting nice and sour is a good sign.

      The other concern would be if you used way too much salt and slowed fermentation way down, but then you wouldn’t have the sour taste. Enjoy it! And… look for my recipe post at the end of this week. All about fermenting in a crock.

  3. Hi Holly, thank you so much for your advice and hand holding last week. My two batches came out great! Although I had a lot of air bubbles guess all the good bacteria compensated and I had no mold at all. Will make a fresh batch soon as the current jars are disappearing rapidly. Yum! Jody

  4. Holly, I just made my first two quart jars of sauerkraut using the Nourishing Traditions recipe calling for whey, which I already had. But then I just discovered YOUR site! Anyway , using NT recipe, I fermented for 3 days and decided to open because the lids were puffing up a lot!!! Opened them and they were bubbling BUT also had an unpleasant odor. Not sure how to describe it but may be like from the bathroom. Ha. My husband said he thought it smelled like ammonia as mentioned by you. The sauerkraut itself smells great and there is no slime but there is a little white foam left around the very top of the jar. No mold, no coloring, brine is clear. When I first opened the jars the smell came rolling out and went several feet and then dissipated. Do you think it is safe to eat? If so, do I refrigerate it at this point?

    • Hello Annie, The first batch of sauerkraut I ever made was with the Nourishing Traditions recipe. Sally Fallon was one of the first to put together such a book and we’ve learned so much since then. We all start somewhere.

      Cabbage and other vegetables come with plenty of bacteria to make fermentation happen so many no longer find the whey necessary. Whey introduces dairy bacteria and can speed up the fermentation process and interfere with the necessary stages of bacteria and the work they do. This would account for the smells you noticed.

      Since you say all smells fine and you see no molds, I would say it is good to eat. You can let it ferment for 1-2 weeks total and then put it in the fridge. Meanwhile, grab my recipe and try a new batch. You’ll be amazed at the difference in flavor without the whey bacteria interfering.

  5. Holly, Thank you so much for this easy sauerkraut recipe. I love the easiness of it. My question is: All went well with my 2 batches of sauerkraut. But, my first batch is now in the refrigerator and there is no more liquid in it. It seems to absorbed all the liquid. I didn’t take any of the brine out, but it is gone. What should I do now?

    • Hello Nancy, You have encountered the case of the disappearing brine. In the cold of the fridge, it gets pulled back into the cabbage. Two choices. One, leave it be. It is fine and will last for up to a year. Two, mix up and pour in some brine. Will dilute the flavors a bit – which is why I stopped doing this and also I had to keep adding more brine. Use 1 tablespoon salt to 2 cups water.

      • I opt to “leave it be”. I am okay with that, but thought I should check with you to be sure. Thanks for the reply. YOU are APPRECIATED!

  6. Hi, what crock do u recommend? I have ohio usa and stone but not the cover. I use a plate. Also just purchased the perfect pickler. Any tips, thoughts or opinions on either? Thanku ?

  7. Temperature Q

    So I have been using 22 degrees for the first 4 days and then slowly moving it down to 18.5 over a few day period so by day 7 or so its 18.5 for the rest of the time.

    I have taken jars out at 7 days, 14 days, 21 days and 30 days and the outcome is good but not tangy enough for my liking, not as tangy as a good batch of Bubbies

    So how to get more tang?

    • Hello Jonathan, A good question. Sounds like you understand the whole process and are nicely controlling the temperatures.

      My recommendation would be a few degrees warmer (@20) after that first week and let it continue to ferment even longer. Also, there will be a difference between sauerkraut fermented in a small jar vs. sk fermented in a large (5+ liter) water-sealed crock. More bacteria = more activity to develop flavor. And, realize Bubbies has gone through a flash pasteurization which results in a different flavor and texture than 100% raw sauerkraut.

      • So I left 1 jar in after the usual 20 days, to 40 days. Opened it last night and instead of increasing the tang it had turned totally flat, no tang at all.

        • I’m sorry to hear that. Sadly, it’s part of the trying to dial in the tang. There are factors controlling that, that we are probably not aware of. I would try again, but taste on a regular basis, every 5-7 days. Also, the tang comes from the lactic acid created by the bacteria eating the sugars, so part of the equation would be the sugar levels in your cabbage. I’ve also heard of adding a bit (1-2 tsp) of sugar to the ferment to up the acid/tang levels. Don’t give up! There is lots to learn also the way.

  8. In my most recent batch, i get daily a layer of white on top. When I remove it the white parts, which I do daily, I sometimes see bubbling white in the liquid. When I set things to go again, I have a small jar inside to push the liquid up and I cover it with saran wrap, but the white appears every day. What I’ve done differently is that, it is hot here, averaging 80 to 85 degrees per day, and also I added strawberries and apples. Should I be concerned about the white? I remove it daily.

    • That’s Kahm yeast. Normal with open crock fermenting. And… hot weather will cause it to grow. The sweet fruits can create an alcoholic ferment if left too long. Do a fairly short ferment. Taste and see if it’s done.

  9. So, just to be clear,, was I doing the right thing by taking out all the Kahm yeast (the white stuff) each day it occurred? It took out a lot of sauerkraut, making the level go down each time. I was worried that it would spoil the sauerkraut or even be unhealthy to eat. Also, I did shorten the time, because tasting it, it seemed find (good actually).

  10. I mixed my whey, garlic, cabbage, jalapenos, and sea salt but this large leafy cabbage my friend gave me is not releasing as much liquid as the store bought traditional cabbage. It is in the jars now and has fermented 24 hours. Is it okay that I can’t press the cabbage down under the liquid? It was mixed well and I can gently swirl and turn the jar upside down now and then to keep it moist….what do you think?

  11. what is easier to digest sauerkraut or cabbage? Is the sulfur in sauerkraut already fermented? I am afraid sulfur digestion will give me problems…

  12. I tasted the sauerkraut after about 7 days when I got a small amount of it to begin fermenting some beet juice (not looking to make kvass but just to ferment some beet juice from which I’d separated the plant fiber using a blender). Fine, and it occurred to me that I might like a few raisins the next time I do sauerkraut, in the ferment. I’m interested in fruit ferments, on their own and that is what happens when bits of raisin and dates, or small sections of tangerine are put into kefir as a second ferment – they become fermented too.


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