June 2015
Homeplace & Community

Fermenting Cabbage

Sauerkraut is a low calorie, fat-free food first made in China about 2,000 years ago.

Sauerkraut is something we all need a little of every day or several times a week to keep our digestive systems running smoother. Fermented fruits and vegetables are making a big comeback because they are so healthy for us. Many people on Paleo and more natural and organic diets try to include these kinds of foods in their diets every day. If you have never eaten or tried making sauerkraut, this should be the year to try it. Sauerkraut is made from thinly shredded cabbage that is salted and then fermented in its own juice. The first sauerkraut was made in China, about 2,000 years ago, during the building of the Great Wall. The Germans, however, are known for their kraut. In the 16th century, they perfected the fermenting process of mixing salt and cabbage and allowing it to ferment. This process is still used today to make kraut around the world.

Small Batch

5 pounds shredded cabbage

3 Tablespoons canning salt or pink Himalaya fine sea salt

Large Batch

25 pounds shredded cabbage

1 cup canning salt or pink Himalaya fine sea salt

Equipment Needed

Fermenting containers should be food grade. One-gallon glass jars work well for a 5-pound batch. Larger crocks or food-grade plastic buckets can be used for larger batches. (Do not use copper, iron or galvanized-metal containers or garbage bags and trash liners.) Use a very large stainless steel or plastic bowl for mixing cabbage and salt before putting into fermenting container.

Making the Sauerkraut

Select mature heads of cabbage that are disease free. The best kraut is made from the mid- to late-season crop. When picking fresh, it is best to wait 1-2 days after harvesting to make the kraut. Kraut can be made from both red and green varieties.

For 5 pounds of shredded cabbage, you will need between 6-7 pounds of fresh cabbage. Remove outer leaves and rinse heads with cold water and drain. Cut the heads in halves or quarters and remove the cores, trim and discard any damaged tissues.

Shred or slice cabbage using a sharp knife or kraut cutter. The shreds should be long and thin, about the thickness of a quarter. Place 5 pounds of shredded cabbage in a large bowl and sprinkle 3 tablespoons salt evenly over cabbage. With clean hands, thoroughly mix the salt into the cabbage. You will notice cabbage will begin to wilt as the salt is mixed in. When all the salt is dissolved and the cabbage is juicy, begin packing the cabbage firmly into the food-grade fermenting container. Use your fist or wooden mallet to firmly and evenly press the cabbage into the jar or crock. As you pack, you will notice the juice coming from the cabbage. You will need enough juice to cover the cabbage. It is important to leave at least 4-5 inches of head space.

For larger batches repeat the steps above in 5 pound batches and continue pressing the kraut into the crock leaving 4-5 inches of head space between the cabbage and the top of the crock.

Once the fermenting container is adequately filled and the juice is covering the cabbage, you are ready to put a weight on the kraut to keep the liquid covering the cabbage during the fermentation period. Be sure to wipe the edges of the jar or crock before putting the weight on top.

When fermenting in a glass jar, you can weigh down the kraut using a freezer-weight plastic bag filled with brine made of 1.5 tablespoons salt to 1 quart of water. For crocks, use a plate and weigh it down with a jar of water or a plastic bag filled with brine. The amount of brine in the plastic bag can be adjusted to give enough pressure to keep the fermenting cabbage covered with brine.

Once the weight is in place, cover the fermenting container with a clean tea towel or cheesecloth to reduce mold growth. For glass containers, you can cover the jar with a brown paper bag to keep the light off the kraut while it is fermenting. This helps retain nutrients and also preserves the color of the kraut.

Fermentation Temperature and Management

While fermenting, store at 70-75 degrees. At temperatures between 70-75 degrees, sauerkraut will be fully fermented in about 3-4 weeks; at 60-65 degrees, fermentation may take 5-6 weeks. At temperatures lower than 60 degrees, sauerkraut may not ferment. Above 75 degrees, sauerkraut may become soft. The smaller the fermenting container the faster it will ferment.

If you weigh the cabbage down with a brine-filled bag, do not disturb the crock until normal fermentation is completed. If you use a plate and jar as weight, you will have to check the sauerkraut two to three times each week and remove scum if it forms. A good test to see if kraut is ready is to smell and taste it. It should smell and taste like kraut, not sour cabbage.

Preserving Kraut

When kraut is fermented, it is ready to eat. Fully fermented sauerkraut may be kept tightly covered in the refrigerator for several months or it may be canned or frozen for long term storage.

Canning and Freezing


Hot Pack: Bring sauerkraut and liquid slowly to a boil in a large kettle, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and fill jars rather firmly with sauerkraut and juices, leaving half-inch headspace. Adjust lids and process in boiling water canner: pints, 10 minutes; quarts, 15 minutes.

Raw Pack: Fill jars firmly with cold sauerkraut, and cover with juices, leaving half-inch headspace. Adjust lids and process in a boiling water canner: pints, 20 minutes; quarts, 25 minutes.

Freezing: Pack kraut into freezer bags or containers, label and freeze.


Never reduce the salt when making kraut. If the finished product is too salty, it can be rinsed in cold water before serving.

Drain well before using.

Store canned sauerkraut in a cool, dark place.

Using Kraut

Sauerkraut is low in calories and fat free. One cup of undrained sauerkraut has 44 calories and one cup of sauerkraut juice has 22 calories. It provides almost one-third of the U.S. recommended daily allowance for vitamin C, plus other important nutrients including iron, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, thiamin, riboflavin and niacin. One cup also provides approximately 8 grams of fiber.

Sauerkraut can be served in many ways. It is often eaten with hot dogs and sausages. It can be served cooked with one or two tart apples that have been peeled, cored and chopped into small pieces and heated with the kraut. Another way to serve kraut is to mash it with potatoes and serve as a side dish.


1 (2½-3 pound) fryer, cut up

6 medium red potatoes, quartered

2 cups sauerkraut, rinsed and drained

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 cup apple juice

½ teaspoon curry powder

½ teaspoon ginger

¼ cup brown sugar

Fry chicken in a small amount of oil until brown. Drain fat. Add potatoes, sauerkraut, salt and pepper. Mix apple juice with curry powder, ginger and brown sugar. Pour over chicken and simmer for 45 minutes or until chicken is tender.


1 tart cooking apple, cored and thinly sliced

1 lean boneless chuck roast (about 3 pounds)

1 (28-ounce) can tomatoes

2 cups sauerkraut, rinsed and drained

¼ cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1 (10-ounce) envelope onion gravy mix or brown gravy mix*

Slow Cooker

Place apple slices in bottom of cooker. Remove visible fat from roast. Cut roast in half and place on top of apples. Add tomatoes, sauerkraut and brown sugar. Cover tightly and cook on high 1-2 hours. Reduce heat to low. Cook 5-6 hours or until meat is tender. Skim off excess fat. Stir in gravy mix and heat, covered, 15 minutes. Stir once or twice. Yields 6-8 servings.

Range top

Remove visible fat from roast. Place roast in Dutch oven. Add tomatoes, sauerkraut, brown sugar and apple; cover and simmer 2½-3 hours or until meat is tender. Remove from heat; skim off excess fat. Stir in gravy mix; heat to boiling, stirring, until gravy thickens. Add a little more water if gravy is too thick.


Use range top directions, except bake covered at 350° for 2½-3 hours.

*Can also thicken with flour and water mixture and season with beef bouillon or au jus mix.


2 cups chicken broth

½ cup onion

¼ cup green peppers

½ cup celery

¼ cup butter

3 Tablespoons flour

2 cups half-n-half

1 cup sauerkraut

1 cup cooked corned beef

1 cup cheese, grated

Put broth, onion, celery and peppers in a pan and cook for 10-20 minutes or until vegetables are tender. In another pan, melt butter and mix in flour and add half-n-half until creamy. Add hot broth mixture, sauerkraut, corned beef and cheese. Simmer for 5 minutes.

Recipe courtesy of Donna Crosiar, OSU Extension Service Family Food Education Volunteer


1 large onion, chopped

3 slices bacon, diced

4 large potatoes, diced

3 cups water

2 cups sauerkraut, rinsed, drained and chopped

½ teaspoon caraway seeds

1 teaspoon sugar

Salt, to taste

2 cups dairy sour cream

1 Tablespoon flour

Sauté onion and bacon. Drain fat. Add potatoes and water. Bring to boil and simmer until tender. Add sauerkraut, caraway seeds, sugar and salt. Boil for 15 minutes. Mix sour cream and flour together. Fold sour cream mixture into soup and simmer until thickened. (Do not boil.)


4 medium potatoes, cooked, cubed

2 cups red or white sauerkraut, rinsed & drained

½ teaspoon salt

2 (6½-ounce) cans tuna, drained

¼ teaspoon dill weed

4 cups lettuce, chopped

2 medium tomatoes, chopped

1 large cucumber, diced

1 cup dressing

Combine potatoes and sauerkraut. Sprinkle with salt. Refrigerate. Toss tuna with dill weed and refrigerate. Layer lettuce, cooled potato/sauerkraut mixture, tuna, tomatoes and cucumbers. Top with dressing (recipe follows). Serve remaining dressing in bowl. (Salad can also be served tossed and not layered.)


1 cup salad dressing or mayonnaise

½ teaspoon dry mustard

1 cup sour cream

½ teaspoon dill weed

½ cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon salt

½ cup dill pickles, chopped

¼ teaspoon pepper

2 Tablespoons onion, grated

Mix and pour over salad. Makes about 2½ cups.

Angela Treadaway is a Regional Extension Agent in Food Safety. For any questions on food safety or preparation of vegetables, contact her at 205-410-3696 or your local county Extension office.