Have you heard how important fermented foods are for your health? Would you love to save money by making your own gut-healing sauerkraut? Are you frustrated with sauerkraut that has turned out moldy, slimy or putrid smelling?
Learn how to make sauerkraut with my SureFire Sauerkraut Method… In a Jar: 7 Easy Steps recipe. Small-batch fermentation made simple.
Naturally fermented sauerkraut is super-simple to make, is so good for you and tastes delicious – crunchy and tangy, nothing like you may have tasted on a hot dog from that stand at the county fair.
Don’t worry about needing a special crock or a fancy jar with an airlock. I will show you how to ferment a small batch of sauerkraut in a 1-quart (liter) canning jar that will be ready to eat in just a week. My many tips ensure success… the first time and every time!
This was the best sauerkraut we’ve ever had, my entire family loves it. My 3-year-old was asking for it for breakfast this morning. We’ll be doing more than 1 jar this time around because that one is already halfway gone. Thanks for the awesome information. FYI, we did a cabbage and garlic sauerkraut. Just 3 cloves of garlic and cabbage to make that deliciousness.
Prefer a recipe you can hold in your hands? Grab the PDF version of my teaching recipe. Includes photos and most of the extra tips discussed below. A hard copy to have handy on the counter as you make you first batch of sauerkraut. 🙂
How to Make Sauerkraut in a Jar: Small-batch Fermentation, Step-by-Step
Sweet Garlic Sauerkraut
Follow these seven steps – click a button to go directly to that section – to learn how to make your very own batch of Sweet Garlic Sauerkraut.
Read through the entire recipe first and be sure to check the Notes and Tips Section at the end of each step before you start that step. That’s where all the helpful gems are kept. 😉
You want to first make sure you have everything you need on hand and your scale ready for weighing. I talk in detail about the equipment used to make sauerkraut and where to find it at Tools: Fermenting Supplies
- kitchen scale
- cutting board and chef’s knife
- large mixing bowl
- vegetable peeler, measuring spoons and grater
- 1-quart (liter) wide-mouth canning jar or similar sized jar
- 4-ounce (125 ml) “jelly” canning jar
- wide-mouth plastic storage cap
For the demo recipe, we are going to make Sweet Garlic Sauerkraut. It’s a popular flavor and it doesn’t require any hard-to-find ingredients.
- 1 medium head fresh green cabbage, 2 ½–3 pounds
- 2–3 carrots
- 2–3 cloves garlic
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) iodine-free salt
Set Up Your Scale.
Digital: Zero scale or note tare weight. If you have a digital scale, turn it on and wait for it to power up. Place your bowl on it. You don’t want to include the weight of your bowl in your measurements, so either zero out the scale (usually done with a “Tare” button) or write down the weight of your bowl (tare weight).
Mechanical: Zero scale or note tare weight. Place your bowl on the scale. If the tray is small, you may need to add a small cutting board or other flat item to help balance the bowl. You don’t want to include the weight of your bowl in your measurements, so either zero out the scale (usually done with a knob under the tray) or write down the tare weight.
Set Up Notes and Tips
- Use green cabbage. You’ll have the greatest success if you use the traditional round-headed green cabbage for your first few batches of sauerkraut. Stay away from red cabbage, initially. It has a deeper, earthier flavor and tougher leaves that often takes longer to ferment.
- Use a scale. I highly recommend that you weigh your cabbage and vegetables so that you add the proper amount of salt. After teaching dozens of people in my MakeSauerkraut! workshops and fielding hundreds of questions from my readers, I’ve found that success rates hit 99.9% when participants used a scale to ensure the correct amount of salt is used in their ferment.
- If using a digital scale, note bowl weight. Most digital scales automatically shut off after a few minutes. If your scale does, put your bowl on the scale and write down its weight. In STEP 2: PREP, you’ll add 1 pound 12 ounces (28 ounces, 800 grams) to this number. My favorite scale – that can be programmed to NOT shut off automatically – is the My Weigh KD8000.
- What to use as a weight? If you don’t have access to the small 4-ounce (125 ml) “jelly” canning jar I give other suggestions in the Notes and Tips section for STEP 5: SUBMERGE & SEAL along with a comprehensive list in this post: Fermentation Weights: Keep Your Ferment Below the Brine.
- Other lid options. If you can’t find the white plastic storage caps, you can use the rim and lid that comes with canning jars. I just prefer the white plastic caps because they don’t discolor like the metal ones do when coming in contact with the sauerkraut.
- Keep your hands warm. So you don’t have to work your hands in a bowl of cold cabbage, you’ll find it useful to pull your cabbage out of the refrigerator the day before you plan to make your sauerkraut.
- Make sure your salt does not contain iodine, sugar or anti-caking agents that may interfere with the fermentation process. What is the Best Salt for Making Fermented Sauerkraut? I use Himalayan Pink Salt in all my recipes.
- You do not need to sterilize your jar, just wash with dish soap and rinse thoroughly.
You will need 1¾ pounds (28 ounces, 800 grams) of vegetables and cabbage in your bowl. When making sauerkraut, you first prepare the flavoring ingredients – carrots, ginger, radish, caraway seeds or whatnot – then add sliced cabbage. This allows you to add only as much sliced cabbage as necessary to hit 1¾ pounds on the scale.
Why? 1¾ pounds (28 ounces, 800 grams) is the perfect amount of cabbage and vegetables to mix with 1 tablespoon of salt to create the right saltiness of brine to ensure perfectly fermented sauerkraut. And, it’s the perfect amount of sauerkraut to pack into a 1-quart jar. So, we always slice just enough cabbage to have 1 3/4 pounds of vegetables AND cabbage.
Peel and grate two to three carrots. Add these to the bowl. Finely mince two to three garlic cloves and add these to the bowl too.
Discard the limp outer leaves of the cabbage, setting aside one of the cleaner ones for use at the end of STEP 5: SUBMERGE & SEAL. Quarter the cabbage, leaving the core in. The core helps hold the layers of cabbage together, making the slicing job easier.
Place a cabbage quarter on one of its sides and slice the cabbage crosswise. I like thin ribbons; you may like a coarser texture. Just keep in mind that narrow ribbons will ferment more quickly than wider cut ribbons.
When you get to the core, turn it onto its round back and slice until just thick sections of core remain. (I don’t use the core, but instead feed it to the worms in my compost pile.)
Other Ways to Slice Cabbage
Can I use a food processor? Personally speaking, I don’t find a food processor helpful for slicing the cabbage. By the time I set it up and cut the cabbage to just the right-sized chunks to fit in the feed tube, I could have finished slicing with my knife.
However, if you’re looking for a handy tool, I highly recommend buying a wide mandolin for slicing cabbage effortlessly into beautiful thin slices. I bought one a few years back and it’s now the way I slice all my cabbage. See Resources – Tools of the Trade for a recommended brand.
Add the sliced cabbage to your bowl until the weight of vegetables and cabbage is 1¾ pounds (28 ounces, 800 grams).
You are now ready for the magic.
Prep Notes and Tips
- Leave the core in. I find it easier to slice my cabbage if the core is not removed. It serves to hold the layers of cabbage together and make the job of slicing easier.
- Slice towards the core until it gets too thick and then toss the core. Often the core is not as sweet as the rest of the cabbage and can be a bit tough, so I compost the cabbage core. Plus, I like thin, even threads. Slices from the core end up being too chunky for me.
- Food processor? Some fermenters love to use a food processor to slice their cabbage. If you do, the feed tube will result in nicer slices than the S-blade. If you use the S-blade, be sure to not over-process the cabbage. Some readers have had success with the large grating disc.
- Consider a mandolin for slicing your cabbage. I recommend the wide-body Benriner. Here is a quick video on how to use it. I leave the core in; no need for the ice bath. A mandolin makes it so easy to get thin, ribbon-like slices.
- When to use the food processor? When making large batches, the food processor is handy for grating large amounts of carrots, mincing lots of garlic and prepping quantities of other vegetables in your recipe.
- Follow the 75-25 Rule. When creating your own recipes, keep at least 75% of the weight in cabbage and no more than 25% of the total weight as “flavoring” ingredients. This makes for a nice flavor balance and a healthy ferment.
💕 Invite this simple art of fermentation into other homes by sharing this recipe on your favorite social media channels. ~ THANK YOU! 😀
Create the brine in which your sauerkraut will ferment. For this you need salt. Salt pulls water out of the cabbage and vegetables to create an environment where the good bacteria (mainly lactobacillus) can grow and proliferate and the bad bacteria die off.
Sprinkle vegetables and cabbage with 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of salt and mix well.
Massage and squeeze the vegetables with strong hands until moist, creating the brine. You should be able to tilt the bowl to the side and see a good-sized puddle of brine, about 2–3 inches in diameter. This process can take anywhere from 2 to 10 minutes.
Salt Notes and Tips
- No-Pound Sauerkraut. If you want the salt to work for you, or are feeling lazy and want to put your feet up and sip on a cup of Joe, you can leave the salted cabbage alone for 20 minutes to an hour. Return later and you’ll notice the cabbage is glistening with “sweat.” (Look closely at the cabbage mixture in the upper, left-hand picture above.) This is the brine-making process already in progress. You will not have to massage the cabbage as much now.
- Fresh cabbage. The fresher the cabbage and the higher the moisture content, the quicker the brine will be created. If you’re making sauerkraut in the fall with fresh cabbage, you’ll see this for sure. On the other hand, if you’re making sauerkraut with cabbage that has been stored for months, you’ll find it harder to create the brine and there’ll be less of it.
- Weigh you salt. If you have a digital scale and the personality for exactness, you can use your scale to weigh the correct amount of salt. Salt by Weight for Delicious Sauerkraut… Batch after Batch
Now that you have a puddle of brine, it’s time to pack the cabbage mixture into your jar.
Grab handfuls of the salty, juicy cabbage mixture and pack them into your quart-sized wide-mouth canning jar, periodically pressing the mixture down tightly with your fist or a large spoon so that the brine rises above the top of the mixture and no air pockets remain.
Be sure to leave at least 1 inch of space between the top of the cabbage and the top of the jar. Because we weighed out just the right amount of cabbage to fit in your jar, this should happen automatically.
Pour any brine left in your mixing bowl into the jar and scrape out any loose bits stuck to the sides of the bowl.
It helps to hold the jar in one hand – my clean hand – and pack with the other hand, holding everything over the bowl. This helps to keep the mess to a minimum.
Lastly, wipe down the outside of the jar and push down any tidbits on the inside of the jar that may remain above your packed ferment. Remember: “Under the brine, makes it fine!” 🙂
Pack Notes and Tips
- Kraut Pounder. If your hand is too large to fit into the jar, a kraut pounder can be used as well as a large spoon, the end of a rolling pin, or a meat pounder. I share some options on my fermenting supplies page. Also, if you are making a lot of sauerkraut or have sensitive hands, you may not want to have your hands irritated by the salty brine.
- Funnel. One of my readers shared how useful this funnel has been for filling her jars.
Now make sure your fermenting mixture is in a safe anaerobic (no air) environment. This means that you need to keep the cabbage mixture submerged in the brine while it ferments. Air is bad for the fermenting sauerkraut and can enable the bad bacteria to grow and proliferate, creating mold and other undesirable by-products.
Floaties Trap. Take that cabbage leaf you saved in Step 1, tear it down (Or, be a bit obsessive. Trace the jar lid and cut cabbage leaf to size.) to just fit in the jar. Forgot to save a cabbage leaf? No problem. You can fold a narrow piece of parchment paper to size or even cut an old plastic lid to size.
To prevents bits floating to the surface, place your torn cabbage leaf over the surface of the packed cabbage.
To hold the vegetables below the brine, place the 4-ounce jelly jar on top of the cabbage leaf, right side up with its lid removed. The jar might stick out of the top of the jar a bit. Don’t worry: when you screw on the lid, it will get pressed down into place.
Lightly screw the white plastic storage lid onto the jar. By leaving the lid on somewhat loose, CO2 gases that will build up during the fermentation process can escape.
If you have lots of brine in the jar, you may have to pour some of it out to get the lid on without the liquid overflowing.
I like to label my jars using green or blue painter’s tape and a permanent marker. I note the flavor of sauerkraut I made and the date I started fermenting.
Submerge Notes and Tips
- Floaties Trap. If you forgot to save a few cabbage leaves for your Floaties Trap, sift through your cabbage scraps and see if you can retrieve some. If that doesn’t pan out, a piece of parchment paper, cut to size, works well. Wax paper should also do the trick.
- Other ideas for Weight? If don’t have access to the small “jelly” jar for a weight, search your house for other small jars: a shot glass or perhaps a small mushroom jar. Some use a clean rock. You can also use a food-grade freezer bags filled with salt water (1 tablespoon salt to 2 cups water). I haven’t tried this idea yet, but have read of others cutting bamboo skewers to just the right size to push against the edge of the jar and crisscross the packed ferment. More ideas in Fermentation Weights: Keep Your Ferment Below the Brine.
- If there is not enough brine to cover your packed cabbage mixture by 1 inch, go ahead and put the lid on your jar and check it the next day. If there is still not enough brine, dissolve 1 tablespoon salt in 2 cups water and pour this in.
It is time now for the friendly bacteria to do their work while you watch and wait. They know how to make sauerkraut FOR YOU! 🙂
Can you wait seven days to taste the tangy crunch?
During this time, the friendly bacteria that live on the vegetables will be eating the sugars in the cabbage and carrots, multiplying and releasing copious amounts of lactic acid that act as a “poison” for any of the bad bacteria. Let them work while you rest.
Place your jar of fermenting sauerkraut in a shallow bowl (to catch the brine that may leak out during the first week of fermentation), out of direct sunlight. Cover it with a towel if you’d like to, although I don’t. I enjoy watching the changes my beautiful kraut artwork undergoes over the ensuing days or weeks. I just finished packing the jar on the left; the jar on the right shows how much brine was created in just 24 hours.
The ideal fermentation temperature is between 65 and 75°F (18–23°C). The lower the temperature, the slower the fermentation. The higher the temperature, the faster the fermentation. Ideally, you want the temperature to be somewhat stable, not fluctuating more than 5 degrees in either direction.
The first week is when you’ll see the most action in the jar. The mixture will get bubbly and the brine will rise in the jar, likely seeping out from under the lid. Your home may even start to smell like sauerkraut! During this first week, keep an eye on the level of the brine. It will rise and fall with the temperature in the house.
If the lid is bulging or you don’t see brine seeping out, carefully loosen the lid just a tad, stopping the second you hear gases escaping or see liquid seeping.
Should the brine level fall (very unlikely) and remain below the level of the sauerkraut during this first week, dilute 1 tablespoon of salt in 2 cups of water
and pour some of this brine over the sauerkraut (removing the little jar first) until it just covers the mixture. Put the little jar back in, screw the lid on lightly and let the fermentation continue.
Don’t worry if the brine disappears after the 7- to 10-day mark. By this time, you’ve created a safe environment in which the bacteria that would cause mold or slime has been chased away by the beneficial bacteria produced during the fermentation process. Here’s how my jar of sauerkraut looks over time:
At the 1-week period, open the jar, pull out the small jar, and smell and taste your sauerkraut. At this point, you can decide to start eating it or let it ferment for bit longer.
You can ferment your sauerkraut for up to 4 weeks. The longer you ferment it, the greater the number and variety of beneficial bacteria that can be produced. Research that I’ve come across indicates that bacteria numbers peak at 21 days. Keep that in mind, but ferment for flavor. You have to like the stuff to eat it. 😀
I suggest that people ferment their first jar for 1 week, and then the next jar for 2–4 weeks, tasting it at 1-week intervals to determine the level of tang and crunch they personally prefer. See How Long to Ferment Sauerkraut?
Ferment Notes and Tips
- If the brine in your jar seems to suddenly disappear, don’t panic. This is due to a few things. Cooler temperatures can pull the brine back into the sauerkraut. When the house warms up, brine levels usually rise again. Atmospheric pressure will also affect brine levels.
- Should the brine level fall (very unlikely) and remain below the level of the sauerkraut during the first week, dilute 1 tablespoon of salt in 2 cups of water and pour some of this brine over the sauerkraut (removing the little jar first) until it just covers the mixture. Put the little jar back in, screw the lid on lightly and let the fermentation continue.
- To protect your kitchen counter and save cleaning up a mess, be sure to keep your fermenting jar in a shallow dish of some sort.
- Don’t worry if the brine disappears after the 7- to 10-day mark. By this time, you’ve created a safe environment in which the bacteria that would cause mold or slime has been chased away by the beneficial bacteria produced during the fermentation process.
I’m finding that there can be so many air bubbles mixed in with the fermenting sauerkraut that it expands, making it look like there is no brine. Pushing down on the weight, sliding a butter knife along the inside of the jar or poking the sauerkraut with a bamboo skewer will release all the air bubbles and allow the sauerkraut to condense back down into the jar and brine to recover the top of it.
- Music and Bubbles. You will hear an occasional fizzy sound from air escaping the jar. This is normal, and is caused by carbon dioxide escaping the jar. It is one sign that fermentation is happening.
What follows are some images readers left in the comments below for you to see the many ways that your jar of sauerkraut may look.
After fermenting your sauerkraut, it’s time to move it to the refrigerator and is ready to be eaten. Refrigeration slows the fermentation process to the point where you won’t notice significant changes in texture.
Rinse off the outside of the jar. You can take the little jar out. Clean the rim if necessary (sometimes it can get sticky from the brine that overflows), and screw the lid back on tightly.
Add to your label how long you fermented the contents.
Enjoy a forkful or two of your sauerkraut with your meals. It will continue to ferment – aging like a fine wine – but at a much slower rate that before. If the flavors are too intense, leave it – in your refrigerator – for a month or two and then sample it. You will be amazed at how the flavors have changed.
If successfully fermented (tastes and smells good), your sauerkraut can be kept preserved in your refrigerator for up to a year.
Store Notes and Tips
- The ideal temperature at which to store sauerkraut is 35-38°F (2-3°C) which happens to be the typical temperature of a refrigerator. With these temperatures, you won’t notice much change in the texture over a 12-month period, the typical storage length for sauerkraut. If you store your sauerkraut in a cool basement 55°F (12.7°C), you will notice your sauerkraut getting softer as the months progress.
- Not enough room in your refrigerator? Consider a second refrigerator – even a small dormitory-sized one – if you have a place for it.
- Clean up your refrigerator. Doing so makes for a less-expensive solution. There is more room in there than you realize. Toss out old or moldy mystery jars and organize. With today’s deeper refrigerators you’ll find a goldmine of space at the back side. This is where I can store 7-10 jars of sauerkraut.
- Canning is not recommended for fermented foods. The high heat destroys most, if not all, of the beneficial bacteria.
- Refrigerated jar of sauerkraut looks dry. You may notice that there is not always brine covering your jars of sauerkraut in the refrigerator. This leaves the top portion of your sauerkraut exposed to air and possible loss of nutrients. I notice this happens when the sauerkraut is cold, as it seems to contract and “drink” up all the brine. You may add more brine as I used to, but I found it dilutes the flavors I work so hard to create. An upcoming post will cover this in detail.
I’m experimenting around with using ViscoDisc Canning Buddies to hold everything below the brine during storage.
- DIY Root Cellar? Freeze? Dehydrate? See: 5 Ways to Store Fermented Sauerkraut [One is Controversial]
💕 Invite this simple art of fermentation into other homes by sharing this recipe on your favorite social media channels. ~ THANK YOU! 🙂
When trying to incorporate sauerkraut into your diet, keep it simple. And remember, if you want to take advantage the benefits of lacto-fermented sauerkraut, don’t destroy the good enzymes and probiotics by heating your sauerkraut. It’s fine to stir sauerkraut into a warm bowl of soup or sprinkle some on the top of your meal, you just don’t want to cook or bake with it. Or… if your favorite recipe calls for sauerkraut, just be sure to serve some uncooked sauerkraut alongside it. The best of both worlds.
Here are a few ways to enjoy your tasty, probiotic-rich sauerkraut!
Condiment to the Main Meal
The easiest way to add sauerkraut to your diet is as a condiment. It pairs well with almost anything.
Don’t like cold sauerkraut? Try to remember to pull it out of the refrigerator as you begin to prepare the meal.
Almost Instant Salad
In a bowl, mix lettuce, a few forkfuls of sauerkraut, some brine, a splash of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and a fresh ground black pepper. For a more filling salad, add chunks of cheese or leftover meat.
Have that afternoon slump and wish you could take a nap? Try a few bites of sauerkraut – yes, you can eat it right out of the jar – and see if you are soon re-energized.
Last, but not least: add sauerkraut to that hot dog for the classic combination.
For more than 7 – it’s an ever expanding list – ideas see: 7 Easy Ways to Eat Sauerkraut
Enjoy Notes and Tips
- Keep it simple. You can come up with all sorts of creative ways to eat sauerkraut, but the simplest is either as a condiment with your meal or mixed into a salad. You’ll find it quite easy to raise the bar on your meals when you have flavorful sauerkraut on hand.
- Serve straight from the jar. Place a couple jars of sauerkraut on the table and let each member of your family use their clean fork to put some of their favorite sauerkraut on their plate. If you’re lucky enough to still have brine when you to the bottom of the jar, drink it’s probiotic-rich goodness or pour it into another finished ferment in your fridge.
- Don’t like to eat cold sauerkraut? Either remember to remove it from the refrigerator an hour before the meal, or at the beginning of your meal place it on your plate and give it some time to come to room temperature. Placing it on top of a warm dish is another way to take the chill out.
- Eat your probiotic-rich sauerkraut within a year. If properly fermented, it can last much longer, but you’ll start to see browning in the top layer of the jar, especially with sauerkraut containing beets. This browning indicates loss of vitamins; mainly Vitamin C.
- Enjoy the subtle health benefits. Improved digestion, better energy and a stronger immune system can all be yours as you nourish your body with sauerkraut, the fermented foods Superstar.
- If this is the first time for you to eat sauerkraut, go slow especially if you have compromised digestion. You can start with just a sip or two of the brine and then move on to eating a small bite of the sauerkraut watching for symptoms. Take about a month to work your way up to two small (1/4 cup) servings per day.
- Experiencing gas, diarrhea or other digestive symptoms? Most likely, you’ve introduced more bacteria and fiber into your diet than your body could handle. See the previous tip and scale back on your consumption.
- Salty sauerkraut? The type of salt you use will determine how salty your finished sauerkraut tastes. I use Himalayan Pink Salt in all my recipes. Himalayan Pink Salt – and Real Salt – are mineral-rich salts that contain 84% sodium chloride; commercial table salt contains 98% sodium chloride. The sodium content of mineral-rich salts still creates the proper brine for a safe ferment but with a greater depth of flavor and less salty taste to the finished product than table salt.
Successes? Failures? Questions? Clarifications? Share them in the comment section below.
I’m in the process of developing an easy way for you to share a picture of your first jar of fermented sauerkraut. I’m wanting some type of clickable world map to attached jars of sauerkraut, made by YOU! Once up and running, there will be a counter at the top of the page indicating current number of jars made. My goal: 100,000 jars!
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