Frequently Asked Questions about Lacto-fermented Sauerkraut

Find out more about health benefits, customs, fermentation and just fun stuff associated with sauerkraut.

What is lacto-fermented sauerkraut? 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 preserved by the lactic-acid bacteria naturally present on the surface of all fruits and vegetables, especially those growing close to the ground, like cabbage.

Through fermentation, we capture these bacteria and trap them is the brine of our sauerkraut, where they get right to work, eating the sugars in the cabbage, multiplying furiously and releasing copious amounts of lactic acid that acts as a preservative and inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria. The lactic-acid bacteria – lactobacillus – convert the sugars and starches in the cabbage into lactic acid.

This natural lacto-fermentation process allows vegetables to retain more vitamins and minerals than other types of canning or preserving. It is an anaerobic process, occurring without air.

Why should I eat sauerkraut and other fermented foods?

Sauerkraut is ANCIENT.
Sauerkraut has ancient 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 a 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, Omerga-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.

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 refrigerated once the fermentation process is complete. Once opened, keep it covered in brine by pushing it down with a fork.

What is the difference between my naturally-fermented sauerkraut and sauerkrauts 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?

Ten years ago, when I first started eating sauerkraut, 99% of what was available on store shelves was pasteurized. Luckily for you and your gut, and due to the rising interest in fermented foods, choices for the good stuff – naturally-fermented sauerkraut – are increasing daily. Just know what to look for.

You may have to shop at health food stores or farmer’s markets to find naturally-fermented sauerkraut. Since it is a live product, it will be found in the refrigerator section. The label should list only cabbage and other vegetables and seasonings, salt and maybe a starter culture. But, no vinegar. The label should also indicate that the sauerkraut has not been heated or pasteurized.

How much sauerkraut should I eat?

While you may find sauerkraut flavorful and want to consume a lot, it is recommended to eat 1-2 tablespoons with each meal. Many have found that upon introducing fermented foods in their diet they notice a cleansing reaction, so start slowly.

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 you 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 juice better than the sauerkraut.

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!

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?

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.

I used to ferment using whey and many batches turned out soft and moldy.

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 bacteria. The starter cultures get good reviews 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.

42 thoughts on “Frequently Asked Questions about Lacto-fermented Sauerkraut”

  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

      • 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 – http://www.eatingwell.com/article/15808/15-foods-you-dont-need-to-buy-organic/ – and research also shows that the bacteria that make fermentation happen also significantly reduce the levels of pesticides (Kimchi, wheat) foods.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19199784
          https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23879636

          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 time..my 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.

      https://www.makesauerkraut.com/sure-fire-sauerkraut-in-a-jar/

  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…

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