Meet Mark

Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

Tell Me More
Stay Connected
March 24 2009

The Wonderful, Pungent World of Sauerkraut

By Worker Bee
69 Comments

Although fermented cabbage has been around in some form or another since ancient times – Roman author Pliny the Elder wrote of the stuff in the first century A.D. – modern methods for making sauerkraut were developed sometime between the 16th and 18th centuries. It’s primarily known as a German staple, but most other European countries use it in their traditional dishes. It’s pretty easy to understand why it was so popular: it keeps for a long time without refrigeration. Dutch, German, and English sailors found that the vitamin C-rich kraut prevented scurvy on the open seas, and the fact that it was salted and fermented made it ideal for long voyages without other preservation methods.

As the name would suggest, sauerkraut is quite literally sour cabbage. The sour flavor comes from the process of lacto-fermentation, similar to the pickling of cucumbers. But instead of soaking the cabbage in a vinegary brine solution, sauerkraut preparation requires only salt and the lactic acid bacteria already present on raw cabbage. More than just a delicious, tangy flavor, the beauty of sauerkraut also lies in its considerable health benefits. I already mentioned the great vitamin C content, but there’s also tons of lactobacilli, a healthy probiotic that aids in digestion and immunity. The fermentation also produces isothiocyanates, compounds shown to prevent cancer growth in animal tests. Even cabbage itself is a good source of manganese, vitamin B6 and folate.

But most of us get our kraut at the grocery store. Going that route means you’re probably losing all the good stuff through pasteurization, so why not make your own? It’s incredibly easy. All it takes is some cabbage, whatever other vegetables or fruits you’d like to include (carrots, different colored cabbage, garlic, onions, beets, even apples), a sealable storage vessel, a bit of sea salt, and patience.

The Basic Method

Gather the necessary items:

–    Cabbage (red and/or green)
–    Miscellaneous vegetables
–    Sea salt, fine (about 3 tablespoons is good for about 5 pounds of vegetables)
–    Storage vessel (ceramic crock, large glass jar – just no plastic or metal)
–    Mixing bowl

Begin by chopping up your cabbage. I used green, but you can throw in some red cabbage to make the batch pink. Include the heart or remove it. Chop it coarsely or finely; it’s your choice. What we’re going for is high surface area, because more surface area means more fermentation and exposure to the juices. Dump it into the mixing bowl and add salt as you go.

I’m including some carrots and garlic here. I like intense flavors, so I’m going to grate the carrots and dice the garlic to get the most out of both vegetables. I didn’t peel the carrots, but that’s just me. Peel the garlic though. Dump these into the bowl and add some salt as well.

Get in there with your hands and squeeze and press the ingredients together. Squeeze hard. You want to stimulate the natural juices of the vegetables, because they’re going to be your brine. The salt will already start pulling the moisture out, but you can certainly help the process.

Start packing your mix into your vessel. I used a mason jar, but you can use a larger ceramic crock for a bigger batch. Just make sure you can cover whatever vessel you use. Pack it down good and hard, going slowly to make sure each addition is completely compressed in the jar. This will extract water and ensure the fermentation process goes smoothly.

Cover it with a snug fitting cap, or a plate if you’re using a larger crock. Top that with something heavy to weight it down, like a bottle of water or a rock. You want to make sure the weight is enough to keep the mix packed tight and submerged in the brine. Cover the whole thing loosely with a cloth or towel to keep bugs out.

Every few hours for the next day or so, press down on the top and make sure the mix is submerged in brine. If it isn’t by the next day, you might have old cabbage. That’s fine. Just add a bit of water to cover everything, along with a teaspoon of salt.

Check your kraut every day or so. The volume will reduce as fermentation begins, and that’s exactly what you want. Mold or scum might appear on the surface every day; just skim that stuff off. As long as you stay on top of it, your sauerkraut is totally protected by the brine.

Start tasting your kraut after a few days. It should be tangy by now, and you can begin to gauge just how pungent you want it. The taste will get stronger as time increases. Every time you eat some, make sure you pack the rest of it in just like before: tightly packed, submerged, and with a weight pressing down. Though sauerkraut is usually ready to eat in 3-7 days, if it’s cool enough, like in a cold cellar, sauerkraut can improve for months. If you live in warmer climes, you might want to move your kraut into the fridge after a few weeks. Just stay on top of it, keep tasting it, and you’ll be able to decide what to do with it.

So really, it’s all about waiting. The actual preparation takes just a few minutes.

Stay tuned for some great sauerkraut recipes. Start making your own today so you’re ready!

Further Reading:

How to Make Dried Fruit

How to Make Your Own Jerky

10 Delicious DIY Salad Dressings

“Primalize” Your Pantry

10 Ways to Forage in the Modern World

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

69 thoughts on “The Wonderful, Pungent World of Sauerkraut”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. not gonna lie… the idea of scraping off mold/scum kind of makes me squirm, but I’m gonna definitely try this anyway!

  2. I eat kraut all the time. Can’t wait to make my own. I wonder, would this work with hot peppers included?

    1. I have made saurkraut with roasted jalapeno peppers and its turned out well.. i have not tried them uncooked tho.

  3. Everything sounds very appealing with all the benefits and what not. Then their is the mold scum. Yuck. I wish I could get over the fear of eating the stuff but every time I even try to eat any fermented food I almost barf thinking how it is made.

    Anyways that is a very cool recipe. Thanks

  4. Great post! I started making my own last year and will never go back. I use the Chinese Napa Cabbage which is a bit leafier than regular cabbage, and actually might qualify it as kimchee. I vary each batch, adding ginger, garlic, radish, daikon radish, carrots, hot peppers, various onions etc. I also prefer the crock method so I get several quart jars from a batch that I put in the fridge after a couple of weeks or so. Pushing down on the plate makes sure the kraut is covered in liquid and also lets you see the bubbles from fermentation so you know it is working. Experimenting is the key, and the taste is outstanding. Just remember not to heat it when you eat it if you want the good bacteria to survive.

    1. Yogurt has been something I’ve missed a lot since I went paleo last June. I’ve got my first batch of mostly-carrots kraut fermenting now! But I am a slave for variety – would this work with black kale or would that just be nasty?

  5. I have been making my own sauerkraut for about six months. It was good with all purple cabbage, green, or a mix. I also added a few carraway seeds and some grated carrot. Recipes like Polish Bigos and Choucroute Garnie can make eating it a epicurean delight.

    One question is about using a plastic container since the recipe above says no plastic. I got used 2.5 and 5 gallon food grade plastic containers from the grocery store bakery (frosting and cream cheese icing came in them) and have used them. Am I risking some kind of contamination issue from plastic outgassing or what?

    1. I know this is years late, but I just found this article and I’d love to see an answer to this question as well. Food grade buckets are very popular in the homebrewing/home winemaking community for fermentation. Why are they not recommended for sauerkraut?

  6. Sauerkraut goes on the SoG’s list of “just probably will never like”. I have never been a fan… which doesn’t sit well with my largely german family 😉 I may give it one last primal try but if it doesnt make it past that, I give up.

    The SoG

  7. Wow this reminds me of my grandparents house. Every autumn my grandmother would make these big ceramic pots of the sauerkraut and they would eat it all winter long. She also fermented cucumbers, not in vinegar but in water. I think that is the more traditional Polish way of doing it. And then the smell of bigos….YUMMY…and barszcz (fermented beetroot soup). So much fermentation and mould, yet sooooo delicious!

  8. Son of Grok, try to figure out what part you don’t like and eliminate that flavor/veggie. Try adding veggies and spices you do like and come up with your own non-traditional form of kraut or fermented veggies. Some people don’t like the caraway seed. If it’s just the taste in general then I would try adding lots of different veggies and spices and see how you like that.

  9. Here is probably my favorite recipe ever for it (it comes from a woman from Germany that I know). You can use Mark’s recipe to make the kraut and then try this:

    Ingredients

    2 28 oz. cans Sauerkraut (Anneliese prefers Weinkraut by Kuhne)
    1 medium-sized smoked ham hock
    1 medium white onion
    1 medium-sized red apple
    1 small potato
    1 Tbs olive oil
    1 tsp caraway seeds

    Preparation

    Dice the onion and sauté in the oil in a large pot until golden brown. Drain the cans of sauerkraut; if using the Kuhne kraut, keep the liquid and set it aside. Otherwise, discard the liquid. Add the drained sauerkraut to the onions in the pot and sauté briefly. Add liquid to the pot to cover the sauerkraut. (If using Kuhne kraut, add the drained liquid from the cans, plus about 8 oz. of water. If using a different kraut, add water equal to the amount drained, plus 8 oz.) Add smoked ham hock to the pot. Cover pot. Simmer at a low boil for about 1 and 1/2 hours. Core and quarter the apple and add to the pot. Peel the potato and add to the pot. Add the caraway seeds. Cover and simmer on low boil for 1 and 1/2 hours. Check occasionally and add water if needed for desired consistency.

    Guten apetit!

  10. I just started making kraut recently. The first batch was good but i think i refrigerated it too soon. Its flavor has developed, but slowly. I’m now making cortido wich is cabbage, onions, carrots, plus dried oregano and chili flakes, and sea salt. I’m planting a pickle garden this year to grow lots of stuff just for lactofermentation. I can’t wait to throw fresh cukes and dill into a crock and serve the picles with grilled brats.

    1. Yes you can make sauerkraut without salt. There are various stages in lacto-fermentation. The first stage the salt prohibits the growth of the unwanted bacteria while the lacto-fermenters get going. The second stage is the acid stage where the lactic acid keeps the bad guys down. You can skip the salt stage by adding some acid, like vinegar initially. I’ve not tried it and can not give you the specifics on how much exactly. But, it can be done.

  11. I had Romanian guests staying with me, and the older lady made me “varsa”. Romanian sauerkraut.
    3 jars in my fridge, I watched closely, when I run out I will make my own.
    Guys, this is delicious with some fried eggs in the morning.

    Marc

  12. I made my own kimchee a few months back and it was great, but I have been having issues with reflux so I have to try and keep spicy things (along with tomatoes, chocolate, and oil) out of my diet into we can figure out the cause of it.

    Glad to have this kraut recipe as a replacement! Looking forwards to the accompanying recipes!

  13. To do away with skimming off scum and fuzzies, make sauerkraut in a sealed container with an airlock. Two ready made products for this are Harsch crocks from Germany (the smallest of which, makes ten pound batches) and the PerfectPickler (perfectpickler.com), which is an airlock lid that you use on canning jars. The CO2 given off during the first couple days of fermentation purges the container of air. The scum and fuzzies are all aerobic organisms that can’t grow without oxygen. I have a Harsch crock, and it makes perfect kraut every time with 5 tablespoons of salt per 10 pounds of shredded cabbage. I once let the sealed crock sit in a cool room for four months, and when I opened it up, there was only perfect kraut, clear kraut juice, and zero scum or mold.

    As for salt-free sauerkraut, I know people do make it, but I have no experience with it. I did make one batch using only 3 tablespoons of salt instead of 5, and the resulting kraut tasted so bad I threw it away.

    1. After you have made the kraut how do you preserve the rest (like do you put the rest in canning jars and just seal them or is there another step to it?) I need to know. thank you, Deb.

  14. Good question, Lauren. I used a rock to push the kraut down so that it would be submerged in the water. The plastic is just used to distribute the weight evenly. Yes, kind of makeshift and there is probably a better way to do it…

  15. Instead of plastic, set aside enough of the large outer cabbage leaves to completely cover the shredded cabbage and put the weight on top of that.

  16. I have used a plastic bag and have had leakage problems so started double bagging and also used salt water in the bag so any leakage did not dilute the salt in the cabbage.

  17. Good stuff! Fermented veggies are a part of the Bulgarian cousine. A nice way to have variety in the long winter days.

    The good thing is spring is almost here so it’s fresh veggie time yay!

  18. That is a great one page intro to making sauerkraut. I used directions out of Nourishing Traditions last year. You got me inspired to try again.

  19. Made Kraut from cabbages in my garden, in plastic food grade tubs with sealable rimmed lids, put a bubbler from a wine kit in each, a make-shift screen with a weight on top of kraut inside the tub to hold it under the juice, and salted as recommended. Bottled same, in a boiling water bath, to preserve, and it was good for three years, on the shelf – no expensive fridge space needed! Will do again this year if cabbage crop is good, and want to reduce the salt slightly – are the recipes for “rounded tbsp”, or “Leveled Tbsp”? This year I will try “Leveled tbsp”!

  20. Gotta love them Global knives. Bought myself a couple just at the beginning of the month. Shame I didn’t get the cook’s knife out of the packaging without slicing my index finger open – seven stitches and a nice clean scar later, and the brand has won my respect!

  21. we make our own sauerkraut, but would like it more potent. any suggestions??? or is it just time that makes it so?? someone said wait until the first frost and then process some, but it didn’t seem to make much difference last year. what’cha think? thanks, bonnie

  22. bonnie, i think it is really about leaving it to ferment for a much longer time than mark suggests. i am trying to keep mine steeping for a month at least.

    1. Last time I made some, it was really really good at 3-4 months, I need to make more!

  23. I use a white pillow case (damp) and put my ingredients in it therefore there is no problem with the scum it is easily taken out of the pillow case.

  24. here’s a great video for visual and sound people that explains how to do it as well (no offense mark :D)

    1. hi there,
      if you don’t make your own sauerkraut
      – is bought sauerkraut an alternative? or unhealthy?
      greets!

      1. Bubbies is a good brand. Look for it in the cooler area at health stores. 3 ingredients: well water, salt, and cabbage

  25. bought saurkraut can be really great. you just need to make sure that it was made unheated, fermented and not just “pickled” cabbage. health food stores sell “bubbies” which is great or you can also look for…crap…i’m blanking on the name, but it uses an old “barrel” recipe.

  26. I cut up about 3 pounds of cabbage and used 1.5 tablespoons of salt. I’ve tasted it after 4 days and it just tastes like really salty cabbage. So salty that its almost inedible. Not sure if its done yet, but if the final product is meant to be this salty I can’t see myself eating it. Am I on the right track?

    1. I use 2 heads of cabbage and each handful, I add just enough salt on top that fits in between my forefinger and thumb. Comes out perfect (to my pallet).

  27. I’ve just made my first jar or sauerkraut thanks to your blog:) I’m excited to see how it turns out!

  28. Is this recipe safe to eat while pregnant? How about when breastfeeding?Ewa

  29. I check my fermenting kraut (kimchi) daily. After 10 days I found a dead fly in the brine. Will my kraut be OK or should I toss it and start over?

  30. I don’t believe a fly would hurt it. If you put enough salt in it, the pickling action kills most everything. You will definitely know if the saurekraut has gone bad because you will get a mold throughout the whole batch. Some mold on top is normal and can just be skimmed off. I know that possibly sounds weird but that is the world of fermented vegetables. Enjoy your kraut and check some other websites that are devoted to this subject for more info on fermented vegetables.

  31. My kraut had some of the brind escape. How much salt to add to it then fill with water? If it turns a little brown is that still o.k.?

  32. My kraut had some of the brine escape. How much salt to a 3/4 of a quart jar should I put in with the water to bring to the top or is it no longer any good?

  33. Another great way to make this is by using whey. Use enough shredded cabbage (or other veggies) to make one or two 750 ml jars. Add 2-3 tablespoons of liquid whey (you can obtain this by separating traditional plain yogurt with cheesecloth. The liquid that drips out is your whey and the solids left over are wonderfully thick and can be used like cream cheese). Along with this, add your salt and some caraway seeds if you like.
    Pound the vegetables until there’s plenty of liquid formed and tightly pack into sterilized jars using a mallet or rock. Leave an inch or two space from the top to allow for expansion. Cover and keep in a warm place for 3-4 days. Yummy, tangy and flavorful with zero scum 🙂

  34. thanks for the post. I want to make sauerkraut for the first time, and I want to make a small batch. I was wondering in I can add a layer of vegetable oil like olive oil as an oxygen barrier in addition to the heavy weight that keeps the sauerkraut down, would that way allow the formed gases to escape while preventing oxygen from the outside to come in? also if that is correct, should i still cover it with a tight lid or with a cheese cloth or gauze? thanks a lot

  35. Mark, I stumbled across your site when searching for a recipe for making sauerkraut with a small apple in the top of the jar. My mother was from Russia (German) and made lots of sauerkraut and when putting it in jars would put a small apple in the top. I don’t remember what she did at that point but it made the sauerkraut delicious. I didn’t like plain sauerkraut. Do you have any contacts who may know how to make it this way? Thanks!

  36. Cabbages have a “season” here, and during that season they are dirt cheap. Keeping cabbages in storage is almost impossible, but by krauting them, we make them last well into the winter, even some left in spring. Sauerkraut goes great with baked(carmalized) butternut squash and almost any cut of pork. A great choclate cake and be nad with suarkraut as an ingredient too! Love the stuff! eat it almost every day!
    Thanks for the great article, keep up the good work! Where’s the section on doing up pickles?

  37. This is an excellent tutorial – much in line with my both my grandmothers’ old tricks! I’m inspired to do my first fermentation – thank you!

  38. Anyone know the difference between the Perfect Pickler and the Pickle, Sauerkraut, Kim Chee maker?

  39. Hello I’m Polish and my mum is the saurekraut / fermented cucumbers and barszcz ( fermented betroot ) queen.
    For saurekraut – Mark’s recipe is good, My mum before stuffing the grated – or rather chopped thinly – cabbage into the jars, leaves it loose in a big bowl (plastic) mized with a bit of grated carrot, salt, spices ( juniper, bay leaves, caraway ( enhances digestion and fermentation!) – when the juices start to come out it’ tome to pack the stuff into the jar, make sure juices cover it all, put sth heavy on top to weight it – can be a ceramic, plate, we used to use piece of clean brick! and put aside in room temperature for a few days. From time to time it’s important to prick the cabbage with a long tool like the handle of the wooden spoon to let the gas come out. When after tasting you think it’s ready – move to the fridge.

    With barszcz, it’s wonderful and my favourite, i can always tell when people cheat by adding lemon to normal beet soup. The started is made of clean and sliced raw beets, boiled and chilled water, put a slice of sauerdough bread in, weigh with ceramic plate and wait for a few days. Mould – mentioned by someone is NOT A good sign. BIN it all if it appears as something must have gone wrong! start again.

    Cucumbers – you need the small ones with spiky pimples just like aloe vera. Clean, Add boiled chilled water, salt, horse raddish, whole dill, a few cloves of garlic, weigh down with ceramic plate, wait! If you take them out never ever use your hands. Use something sterile. Some like it less fermented, so make sure you taste them from time to time. Moving jar to the fridge will stop the process as well as closing tightly the jar and taking it to the larder – great for wintertime!

    Let me know if you have any questions, i can pass them onto my mum

    xx

  40. Chaqueta de color rosa pálido, diseño rosado del dobladillo con flecos, perverso sentido de la individualidad, dulce, lindo, poniendo de relieve el temperamento damas. Diseño Flecos dobladillo, una especie de sensación de saltar, muy inteligente, fresco, oh. Con polainas blancas, botas de nieve de peluche es muy agradable, y muy delgado.

  41. I am confused.
    The scum and mold on the top of sauerkraut is supposedly unhealthy.

    If heat destroys the enzymes and probiotics then what is the benefit of sauerkraut besides the fact that it is a yummy cruciferous?

    What on earth would you do with it if it can’t be cooked?

    If it is cooked, can the juices be reserved for the health benefits?

    Will the benefits be lost if it is rinsed and drained?

  42. This is really dumb, but what is the liquid in the jar? was the liquid in the mixing bowl to start with? I read through all of the directions, but the liquid is eluding me!

    1. The liquid you’re seeing is from the vegetables themselves, drawn out by the salt and squeezing. Cabbage especially is loaded with liquid.

  43. I love LF napa cabbage. Sometimes I do a mild kimchi (heat’s not the problem, garlic is) or just plain as in sauerkraut. I can always add to it later.

  44. It’s good to remind people that the stuff we buy in grocery stores doesn’t have the benefits the homemade version has. Good tips from Polish Fermentator – thanks.

  45. Then, after using the free trial you decide this is not the site for you.
    Again, remember these are first impressions – don’t scare them away with your written profile by getting too personal too quickly.

    I was a little thrown off that he called me four times in two hours, but I figured that since he was trying to set up
    a date, maybe that was normal.