How To Make Sauerkraut At Home

September 7th, 2010 - filed under: The Food » Recipes


Sauerkraut is a traditional dish of lacto-fermented cabbage. But don’t let the ‘lacto’ fool you – there’s no dairy in there! Lactobacilli are the bacteria that lend the name, and they live on raw cabbage leaves. When encouraged under the correct conditions, these bacteria begin the incredible fermentation process that turns a moderately healthy food into a nutritional goldmine!

Raw unpasteurized sauerkraut is incredibly high in vitamin C, probiotics, digestive enzymes, and cancer-fighting compounds. For a more thorough discussion of the fantastic, fabulous affects of fermented foods, you can read my article. Otherwise, just trust me when I say that sauerkraut is super delicious, super nutritious, and super easy to make at home.

To culture a batch of cabbage, all you’ll need is:

  • cabbage, green or purple, as much as you want
  • sea salt, about 1 tablespoon per 2 pounds cabbage
  • a sharp knife + cutting board OR a food processor
  • a very, very large bowl
  • large glass jars or a glazed ceramic (lead-free) crock
  • coffee filter/rag/wash cloth + rubber band

IMG_1708Step One
First, peel a few of the outer leaves from each head and set them aside. Then, cut the cabbage! You can thin slice it by hand (my preference) or you can use a food processor for a more diced, ‘fluffy’ affect. Surface area is crucial so try to slice as thinly as possible.

IMG_1711Step Two
Put all your cabbage in a very big bowl. It looks like a ton but it shrinks up, I promise. Sprinkle the salt over the cabbage. My general guide is 1 tablespoon per 2 pounds, but there’s lots of wiggle room. You *do* need enough salt though, as it draws the moisture out of the leaves via osmosis, and it also keeps the fermenting liquid inhospitable to ‘bad’ bacteria. Make sure you use sea salt, not table salt.

IMG_1715Step Three
Give it a good massage! I like to use my hands but you can use a potato masher or even the blunt bottom of a cup or jar. What you’re doing is breaking down the cell walls and extracting moisture. You’ll see the cabbage go from crisp to limp, and the volume will significantly decrease.


IMG_1729Step Four
Now it’s time to pack it in. Use a very clean glass jar or glazed ceramic (lead-free) crock. Handfull by handfull, stuff the soggy cabbage in and press it down hard. If you do it right you’ll be able to get a big head of cabbage into a very small space. Tamp it down after each handful and notice how the liquid always rises above the solids. Top it off with the last of the cabbage and the last of the liquid.

IMG_1732IMG_1737Step Five
Now, take one of those large outer leaves and press it down on top of the shredded cabbage (shown left) . You may have to tear it into a few pieces to get it to fit, but basically you’re making a little hat to keep all the shreds submerged.

Then, you need to weight it down to keep it from floating. I use a smaller jar filled with water (shown right), but you can also use a ziplock bag of water, a small plate – whatever works with your setup.

Finally, cover the top with a breathable barrier – something to keep out dust and bugs but to allow air flow as well. I prefer coffee filters (shown at top), which I can use again and again. Secure with a rubber band and set in a coolish spot to ferment.

Check every day to make sure the shreds stay under, and use a clean hand to push them back down if necessary. Taste test every few days – it’s done when you think it tastes yummy! Kraut can ferment anywhere from 5 days to 5 weeks and will then store in the fridge for months. Enjoy!


For more instruction here’s an awesome video from the fermenting master himself, Mr Sandor Ellix Katz (aka Sandorkraut). Check it out – he’s the shizzie y’all.


Also! I thought it would be fun to share this little ‘behind-the-scenes’ photo. People always ask me how in the world I find the time to get all this stuff done. The answer is simple: I am a crazy person. Ha! But here’s the proof. Working spread out on my kitchen floor, wearing my baby (who is totally passed out!), up to my elbows in experiments, catching up on my animal rights podcasts . . . and grinning like a mad woman, because I’m LOVING IT!



  • Shangtastic

    This is totally on my list for this weekend now. Thanks for doing all the homework for me and breaking it down. That last pic with your sleepy little man is priceless. =)

  • Betsy

    Ooh, I love sauerkraut! I don’t know if I’ve ever had any that wasn’t from a jar or plastic packet, though. I have high hopes for homemade being much better, and more fun, too! I’ve bookmarked this to try at some point, thanks :)

  • Minna

    Is extremely tasty when fermented with caraway/cumin seeds! I love sauerkraut =)

  • Charlotte

    Ahh, my daughter often sleeps like that as well.

  • Nathalie

    Great post, Sayward! (Of course I love the behind-the-scenes photo). I’m looking into buying a crock- let me know if you have any suggestions about finding a good one!

    For those who are interested in learning more about fermented foods, Sandor Katz has a fantastic book called Wild Fermentation.

    …Sandor is a fellow Tennessean and we’re lucky to have him around for workshops, etc. :)He’s a very inspiring guy!

    I hope your sauerkraut is delicious!

  • ff

    I highly recommend this! It’s easy, healthy, and delicious. (Be warned that the process can get a little stinky, ha ha.)

  • wendi

    love the post, I saw your cute little one in a duck outfit. Thought I would share :)!/photo.php?pid=6491162&id=625540991&ref=fbx_album

  • Melissa

    I made kraut for the first time this year…yum!!
    I think your descriptions and pictures are awesome and a great guide. I am definitely going to use the coffee filters next time as I had some problems keeping the fruit flies away:)
    Love that photo of you and your gorgeous baby..awesome:)

  • Autumnlover

    Great tutorial and that last picture is absolutely adorable!

  • Tine

    Oh my goodness I for one am insanely surprised how easy sauerkraut is to make. I mean GOODNESS I feel like I’ve been just throwing money out the window from always buying it in jars.

    Yay new weekend project!

  • Sayward
  • sarah

    I’ve made a crapton of lacto-fermented dill pickles this year from the garden (the best!) and quite a few other things, but alas, I have never liked sauerkraut. I keep wanting to try this because I think the only time I tried sauerkraut was when I was a kid and I might like it now. (I’m also sure it was NOT homemade). I just hate to waste a cabbage if I end up not being a fan. But still… I’ll have to try it eventually.

    Also – coffee filters = brilliant! I’ve always used small kitchen towels but this seems a lot more breathable.

  • Annie

    Home-made saurekraut is awesome.
    I’ve started making a sort-of Kimchi recently. I guess it’s not right to call it Kimchi, it’s sort of sauerkraut-kimchi-my love of Thai food… thing. But it is delicious, good for you and easy.
    You pretty much do everything the same, but when you’re massaging the cabbge you mix in:
    Fresh, finely minced ginger.
    Fresh, finely minced garlic.
    Thinly sliced chillies(preferably birds eye) – to the extent you see fit.
    a piece of lemon grass root, ‘bruised’.
    A small sprinkle of Raw Sugar, or a sweetner would work fine I suppose.
    Shredded Coriander (Cilantro – the herb, not the seed/spice)
    A squeeze of lime juice… Lemon or rice wine vinegar would probably be just as good.
    Everything else is the same.

    Coffee filters are SUCH a good idea. I have heard of people putting a balloon on top – when it has filled up and deflated again, it’s ready.

  • Annie

    Forgot to say, maybe a good idea to wear gloves because if you forget you’ve been dealing with chillies and scratch your eye? It sucks really bad.
    Also, lemon juice has a way of finding every single cut you may have on your cuticles.

  • Stephanie J.

    Just wanted to tell you that I’m in love with the last picture.
    You are going to have his whole life documented and adorably at that.

  • Mama Monique

    Yes, yes, yes! Thank you!! I really lóve Sauerkraut (zuurkool in Holland) but haven’t made it myself yet.
    Thank you for this post, I sure am going to try this at home ;o)

    Great weekend!

  • Sayward

    @ sarah – I’m doing pickles this weekend! So excited to try my hand at it!

    @ Annie – Sounds like kimchi to me! My recipe is very similar. =)

    @ Stephanie J. – Aww, thanks lady. I feel really lucky that we’ve been so diligent with the camera. Hoping we can keep it up!

    @ Mama Monique – Zuurkool!!! OMG I love that! =D

  • Shango

    Has anyone tried making this and then hot water canning? How would that influence the recipe? I have enough jamming up my fridge. =)

  • Sayward

    @ Shango – I’m afraid the heat would kill the beneficial bacteria, and the raw ‘live’ enzymes, and come to think of it, heat destroys vitamin C as well! So yeah, I’m not sure this is a recipe for canning. But it does keep in the fridge for a *really* long time, if you can just make the room in your fridge. Hope that helps!

  • Minna

    @ Mama Monique – “zuurkool” sounds really cool :D I know in Swedish sauerkraut is “surkål”, a bit similar to the Dutch zuurkool. In Estonian it’s called “hapukapsas” – a totally different word :) Ah, I love languages!


    We just finished making our first batch of sauerkraut! It was so much fun, the perfect Friday night!! It actually took quite a lot of strength to push it down and get the liquid out – we used a glass bottle as a masher.

    (While mashing the cabbage, it came to my boyfriend’s mind how as a little kid he sat on the kitchen floor and helped his mom tamp sauerkraut. Now he’s all grown up and making his own! Hehehee.)

    So excited to see how it turns out!

    Thanks so much for this manual and for the inspiration, Sayward :)

  • Sayward

    @ Minna – That’s so awesome that your boyfriend remembers that! I hope the sauerkraut comes out awesome! Good luck, and let me know!

  • Court

    i tried to do this, but my sauerkraut got moldy? where did i go wrong? :(

    either way, love you and what you do.

    i am going to give it another try…can yall give any tips?

  • Sayward

    @ Court – Two main possibilities. One, the brine wasn’t salty enough (you didn’t use table salt did you? must be sea salt) Or two, the kraut didn’t stay submerged. If any is poking out it’s subject to mold, so be wary of that.

    Don’t give up though! Good luck with your next try!

  • erik nobs

    Hello, I just made my second batch of Kraut in my harsh crock but it came out really soft, almost soggy. Has a great taste but the texture isn’t where I want it to be. Any ideas? All I used was organic cabbage and sea salt. Thanks.

  • Sayward

    @ erik nobs – Two things could have gone wrong: either there wasn’t enough salt or the temperature got too high. If it wasn’t especially hot in your house just try adding more salt next time. Luck!

  • erik

    @Sayward, Thank you. I think the salt was right so it must be the temperature where I failed. Well, getting more cabbage this weekend to do my third round. Can’t get enough of this stuff. -Erik

  • Meghan

    I just got a big jar from freecycle and now I’m super excited to try this! Almost excited enough to go out and buy cabbage and coffee filters right now, but I think I’ll wait until I’m out. :-)

    This post also reminded me of the pickle post, which reminded me to order dill seeds!

  • Meghan

    Okay, so, now I’m nervous, because some of the Internet is telling me that fermented food is bad for you. Like Now, I know I shouldn’t just believe everything I read on the Internet. Are there legit scientific studies about this? I have access to a university library, but being a musicologist i don’t really know what journals or databases to search. I’m happy to don some research, but could you point Me in the right direction of… Field at least? Medical? Biology? I dunno!

  • Sayward

    @ Meghan – Oh man, my first thought is “Finally!” As far as I’m concerned if someone isn’t hating on it, it’s not actually happening. Ha! But seriously, as fermented foods become more mainstream there will definitely be a push back. Just like as veganism gains traction, we see the rise of ‘paleo’ and other meat-centric diets. Doesn’t mean veganism is wrong, it just means that popularity breeds detractors.

    I read through that site (actually spent quite some time exploring – there’s a lot of info there!) and I have to say, for me *personally*, I don’t jibe with what they’re promoting (some examples – cooking makes food toxic, vegans ‘adapt’ to not need B12 [within their own lifetime - essentially instant evolution?], salt is poison, herbal teas are dangerous, etc) The site advocates Natural Hygiene, which is a raw diet of no added oils or high-protein foods; a fruitarian diet. To each their own of course, but pure fruit is not in line with my perspective on optimal health so I have to take everything else from them with a (toxic!!1) grain of salt. ;-)

    If you Google scholar search ‘probiotic’ you’ll get a lot of research. Much of it involves cultured dairy because yogurt is the most common fermented food in the west, but the same principles apply. If you have access to University library, I’d check the nutrition journals.

  • Meghan

    Thanks! I will definitely do some research on google scholar and in nutrition journals. In the meantime though, I’ve started my first batch! :-) I’m a little weirded out because there are a bunch of white floaties in the brine, but I just started it today, and it isn’t hot at all, so I assume it would be way to soon to have a mold issue. Maybe I just massaged too vigorously, and the poor cabbage guts are floating around!

  • Emily

    Ooh, I really want to try making sauerkraut or pickles now! I don’t know that my roommates would be okay with the smell.. My seventh grade science class made sauerkraut, and our classroom smelled like it for weeks! I do remember it being pretty tasty, though.

    I have to say, reading through your blog makes me want to make tons of tasty from-scratch things. Nom nom.

  • Meghan

    OMG! I just tasted my sauerkraut (I started it Sunday) and it is pretty much amazing! But now I have more questions.

    1. When I store it in the fridge, do I still need to make sure that everything is below the brine?

    2. I have it in a Ball canning jar… can I use the regular lid once it is done and in the fridge, or not, because it is metal? If not, what should I cover it with?

    3. Stupid question, but can I like… EAT IT with a metal fork? I only have a few plastic utensils and eating it with my hand will make my fingers perpetually stinky. :-)


  • Sayward

    @ Meghan – YAY! So glad it turned out!

    In the fridge it would be better if everything were submerged, but I speak from experience that it’s not necessary. Mine is almost brine-less by now because I keep stealing brine to use in other recipes! It’s doing just fine. =)

    Metal is fine once it’s in the fridge. Same goes for metal utensils. I stick metal forks straight in the jar ALL the time, muahaha.

  • Meghan

    Good. Digging kraut out with a plastic fork was annoying. :-)

    Right now I just have quart sized jars (the only bigger jar I have is a gallon, and I’m not quite ready to make that jump yet!) so it probably won’t last too long in the fridge anyway!

  • Eva Rawposa

    Oh my! Love this one too! And aren’t you lovely!! Got to love the kangaroo pouch and bright-eyed momma! Pregnant and sooo looking forward to this kind of happy momma-dom! I can’t tell you how happy I am to have discovered you and your site! Inspired 1000 times over! :)

  • Travis

    Great recipe! This is my first attempt at the sauerkraut. I tried the sriracha with much success, thank-you! I used purple cabbage for the material and followed your instructions. I am 6 days in and I just looked at it. All of the shreds are submerged and there is a layer of what looks like purple mold on the top of the liquid and it is quite stinky. Is this normal during the process or has the batch been contaminated somehow? Thanks for your help!!

  • Sayward

    @ Travis – Sounds like that batch might be a goner! Usually a little mold on top is okay to just pluck off, but when you’ve got a stinky smell I’d say it’s a lost cause. All part of the learning process! =)

  • Suzn

    Go Momma Go-! Too many people take the easy way out and never get to enjoy the fruits of their own labors-!

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  • monkey tree

    great and sweet photos u have a cute son

  • Katy D

    I just started a batch last night and mixed red and green cabbages. I hope that’s not a problem because mine foamed up quite a bit as it was wilting down. After I packed it in the jar, I had about 3/4 inch worth of foam on top of the liquid. Is that bad? I don’t see any foam in your pictures.

    Thanks so much and I adore your blog!

  • happyhippy1000

    thank you so much for not only making this sound so easy but also the photos! me being german i always thought making sauerkraut requires all kinds of contraptions but in fact it seems super easy! just made my first batch, using your 2-jar method. took no time at all! now i have to be patient… wait a few days… or weeks… and see how it turns out.
    i think your web site is awesome! i already found so many more things to dry, definitely the deodorant. will comment on that experiment once i have tried it.
    all the best to you from the south of france!

  • LinneaBarnes

    Your website was so helpful…thank you also for posting the video. I sure hope my new, first batch comes out!!! 5 days to go

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Foam is totally fine!

  • Flttrby42

    I have been looking up homemade slaw recipes, this is the best yet! Thank you for making it simple. :)

  • Paigetruax

    Have to admit, the baby pic makes is all so real. My daughter and I are enjoying this together, (via cyber space), thanks so much for not only the recipe but the inspiration. I have been there, and my daughter is not far behind.

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  • erika

    Just tagged your how-to in a blog post on 10 days into cabbage fermentation. Thanks for the tips!

  • Lina

    I love this video!!! The style of his kitchen is my favorite part:-) thank you for sharing and YES i’m so excited for my sauerkraut to be ready in a few days. I was also worried about food poisoning since I’m new to making fermented foods. So thank you for putting that information in your video.
    I do have a question about fermented cashew cheese. DOES FERMENTING CASHEWS KILL THE MOLD AND FUNGUS IN CASHEWS? If anyone can let me know I’d greatly appreciate it.

  • Judy

    I have to limit salt consumption because of high blood pressure. Would this work without salt?