Sauerkraut: the quintessential fermented food. And oh, what an easy one to make at home! Once you understand the basic process of making fermented cabbage, aka sauerkraut, you can get creative and add all sorts of fresh and dried seasonings to flavor it! But before we go down that road, let’s start by showing you the most simple sauerkraut recipe ever.
It’s literally just cabbage and salt. That’s all.
This article will simplify it even more, breaking down the process for you with step-by-step photos.
Not only is homemade sauerkraut easy to make ~ it is delicious! We enjoy a little side of sauerkraut to accompany most dinners, with everything from brown rice and sautéed vegetables, to lentils, eggs, salads, and veggie burgers or sandwiches. Fermenting veggies is also an excellent way to preserve homegrown harvests. Furthermore, it is ridiculously healthy for you, and your gut! Like all fermented foods, sauerkraut is rich in probiotics, beneficial enzymes, and antioxidants. To learn more about the health benefits of fermented foods, check out this post all about it.
Now it is time for the process of lacto-fermentation to turn our plain old cabbage to tangy, tasty sauerkraut. Ready to get choppin’ and massagin’?
Please note that using organic produce for fermentation and sauerkraut recipes is essential! Inorganic foods may have been treated with chemicals that kill bacteria, thus inhibit it from going through a safe and tasty fermentation process. In ferments, good bacteria are our friends.
We chose to use half green and half purple cabbage for this batch of kraut, simply because that is what we had to harvest from the garden at the moment! Generally speaking, green cabbage will yield a more tender finished kraut while purple cabbage can stay a bit more on the crunchy side. I suggest either doing half and half, or using only green cabbage with this sauerkraut recipe – if you have to choose just one.
The amount needed will vary on the size of the fermenting vessel you want to fill, discussed more below. If you follow our example here and want to use a half-gallon mason jar, we have found it takes about 4 pounds of chopped cabbage, tightly packed in there. If you don’t pack it quite as full as we do, a little under four pounds will do. This sauerkraut recipe is easy to scale up or down as needed! For a quart size jar, around 2 pounds of prepped cabbage would be best.
Keep in mind that this is the total prepared weight of the cabbage, excluding the hard butt end and core that won’t go into the kraut, so in reality we started with more like 5 to 6 pounds of cabbage.
The type of salt you use does matter. Iodized table salt is not recommended for fermenting, as the chemicals in it can actually inhibit the fermentation process, and produce an overly salty and off flavor.
The rad folks over at Kraut Source recently did an interesting experiment with salts! They made several batches of the exact same kraut recipe, but used a different type of salt in every batch. Next, they had a bunch of people do blind taste-tests to see which one was preferred. Celtic sea salt came out on top as the clear winner, along with black charcoal salt.
I was surprised to see that pink himalayan was ranked almost as low as table salt! We have occasionally used pink himalayan salt for our ferments and sourdough in the past, but will not any longer, after seeing those results! We’ve switched over to this celtic sea salt.
“Can I make a sauerkraut recipe without salt?”
I wouldn’t recommend it. If you are super salt-sensitive, you can try scaling down a tad and use close to 3/4 of a tablespoon of salt (rather than 1 tbsp) per 2 pounds of veggies. However, know that our sauerkraut recipe is already on the lower end of the salt spectrum for recommended safe fermentation practices. Also keep in mind that even though kraut can be a little salty, you usually only consume small portions at time.
Salt is what is helping preserve your cabbage! It is like what vinegar is to the pickling process. By salting vegetables, it inhibits the ability for harmful bacteria to grow and encourages the good guys – lactobacillus bacteria – to flourish. They change the pH of the food, creating lactic acid and an overall acidic environment that gives your kraut that nice tangy flavor – but also safely preserves it. Too little salt can result in mold development.
- A fermenting vessel – Some folks use ceramic crocks, but many homesteaders and herbalists these days simply use mason jars of varying sizes – us included. For smaller batches, you could use a pint or quart jar. Most often, we use these half-gallon mason jars. If we are making a really big batch of something, we will even fill two at a time and end up with a gallon of fermented goodness total!
- Fermenting lid or air lock device – The use of a lid made for the fermentation process is ideal, which makes the job much easier and pretty foolproof, though a regular jar lid can be used with a few tweaks. Examples of fermenting lids include an all-in-one device like a Kraut Source lid (which is what we love and use), or the use of a combination of items like a glass or ceramic weight along with another type of air lock lid. A further discussion of their reasoning and use will follow in the directions section below.
- A large bowl for mixing
- Kitchen scale – For this type of massaged ferment method, you’ll need to weigh your prepared cabbage. In contrast to making a salt water brine ferment, the amount of salt used in the recipe is dictated by the weight of vegetables used. Similarly to making sourdough, I cannot provide substitute measurements in cups or otherwise. Weight is key. Sorry! We use this trusty little digital scale for ferments and sourdough.
- Filtered water
- Optional: Kraut pounder
1) Clean your supplies
You want to make sure all of your supplies are clean. No, they don’t need to be insanely clean or “sterile” – you actually never want to use bleach, or even soap on your fermenting tools! The residual soap could stick around and really make things “off”. We spray our supplies with plain white vinegar, and then rinse well with hot water. That’s it.
2) Weigh and/or tare a large mixing bowl
As you chop up your cabbage, you’ll want to toss it into a big bowl as you go. But we don’t want to include the weight of the bowl in our final cabbage weight! So before adding cabbage to it, either weigh the mixing bowl so you can subtract its weight at the end, or tare the empty bowl on the scale so it is already zeroed. (Tip: There have been times we tared our scale but it turned off mid-process, so we lost the weight and our measurements got funky. I suggest jotting down the weight of the empty bowl somewhere, just in case!)
The wood bowl we use for making kraut is pretty damn large. If you want to make a half-gallon or more, you may find the need to divvy up your cabbage between two bowls instead. Also note that our bowl is really wide and shallow. This is great when it comes time to massage your kraut, along with a little wiggle room for mixing. Therefore, if you find your bowl is deep and overflowing, I definitely suggest splitting into two bowls to make mixing and massaging easier.
3) Prep the cabbage
Rinse your cabbage well. We remove the loose outer leaves and wash the exposed head. There is no need to wash the “inside” of a tight head of cabbage!
Next, chop up the cabbage. You can roughly chop it as we did, or slice it smaller for a more finely shredded style kraut. Your choice! I was just being lazy.
Add the chopped cabbage to your mixing bowl. Check the weight as you go. Keep adding cabbage until you either run out, or reach your desired weight. Remember, we are excluding the bowl weight here.
I should probably mention here that the weight doesn’t need to be precise. Sure, you’ll need to know your precise final weight of cabbage to determine the amount of salt to use… but when I mean is: that to fill a ½ gallon jar, you don’t need exactly 4 pounds of cabbage. Likewise, you don’t need exactly 2 pounds for a quart. A little under will work too.
The goal is to have enough to tightly pack your jar full of cabbage (pressing down with a pounder or other utensil, which we’ll get to) and not have a bunch of air space between or above it all. But to be honest, I have to pound it down dang hard to fit a full four pounds in.
4) Salt the Cabbage
Once your cabbage is chopped, weighed, and in bowls, sprinkle on 1 tablespoon of sea salt for every 2 pounds of cabbage. Therefore, we used 2 tbsp salt over our four pounds of cabbage here. This is the standard salt-to-veg ratio for all massaged-style kraut recipes. Scale up or down as needed, depending on how much cabbage you have. If you’re somewhere between measurements, err on the lighter side for salt.
To evenly coat the cabbage with salt, we find it helpful to add only half the salt at first, use tongs toss it all around a bit, and then add the remainder. Toss again.
5) Massage the Cabbage
In addition to preserving cabbage, salt also helps to draw moisture out of it. Especially when we massage it! Unlike our fermented radish recipe – where we mix water and salt to pour over the chopped vegetables – this style of ferment preparation does not call for any additional liquid added. Instead, by salting the cabbage and giving it a good rub down, it will release natural juice and moisture, creating its own brine to live in.
Once the cabbage is evenly coated with salt, massage and mash the cabbage for a minute or two. It will be very firm at this stage. It should go without saying, but…wash your hands very well before diving in! I even wash mine in white vinegar, and remove my rings since bacteria can often hide there. You could also use food service gloves if you prefer. Some folks use a wooden kraut pounder at this stage too! I generally wait and use the pounder later, for packing it in the jar.
Let the cabbage rest for 10 minutes after its first massage. The salt will really start to do its thing now.
Next, give it another good massage. You should really start to notice the development of a brine liquid now! It should also noticeably decrease in volume, condensing and becoming softer. Let rest for 5 more minutes, and then we’ll get it into its ferment vessel.
6 ) Pack the jar
It is time to fill your fermenting vessel with cabbage! We have found it easiest (and least messy) to fill jars with the aid of a wide-mouth canning funnel and tongs.
Fill the jar only halfway at first, then press it down and compact it as much as possible! Add more, press and compact. Repeat. This step is where a kraut pounder really comes in handy! Before we had one, I used the back of a spoon or even my fist, but I was never able to get it quite as packed in as I can now with a pounder. In addition to packing it in, the pounder is also further “massaging” the cabbage and creating more brine.
You’ll be surprised at just how much smushed cabbage can fit in a jar! Repeat this process until the jar is completely full and cannot hold any more, leaving no more than inch or so of empty space on top. As you press it down, you should notice a decent amount of liquid formed around the cabbage. The goal at the end is to have your cabbage completely submerged in its own juices, so pour any leftover brine from the bowl into the jar to accomplish this.
7) Add a weight
Once your jar is full, it is time to weigh it all down. The cabbage needs to stay submerged below the brine level. If cabbage bits are allowed to float and be in contact with air, mold can develop! The all-in-one stainless steel Kraut Source ferment lids we use have a flat plate and spring inside that help to easily accomplish this, acting as a weight to keep everything down. Another option is to use a ceramic or glass weight made for fermenting. Some people get resourceful and use other clean items that fit inside their vessel, like a boiled rock or smaller glass jar.
Helpful tip: Even if you use a weight or Kraut Source device, sometimes pieces of chopped veggies can still slip around them. This is particularly true with half-gallon jars, due to their larger size and “shoulders”. To keep the floaters at bay, we often use a large leaf of cabbage, collard green, or other hearty green to make a “cap”. This is placed on top of the veggies, below the weight, and keeps them trapped below. It should also be submerged as much as possible below the brine. The Kraut Source does a great job keeping floaters down in pint and quart size jars without the need for a cabbage cap.
Next, the jar or container you’re fermenting in needs to be covered with a tight fitting lid. The use of an air-lock lid made for fermenting is preferable. These specialized lids allow for the release of any excess air and carbon dioxide that is produced during fermentation, without allowing new air or anything else to come in. This is one more reason why we really love the Kraut Source lids! They not only have the spring and plate that keeps everything submerged, but also have a little moat on top that you fill with water, thus creating an air lock.
If you’re not using an air lock, you can tightly screw on a regular lid, but then make sure to quickly “burp” your jars every few days to release the built up carbon dioxide. I have heard and personally experienced mixed results with using regular lids for fermenting, which is why we suggest the use of an air-lock.
Once it’s all put together, let your concoction sit out at room temperature for 7-14 days to ferment. The time depends on your personal flavor preference, and the temperature of your house. We let most of our ferments go for about 10-14 days. Warmer conditions will ferment things more quickly, and cooler does just the opposite. The ideal fermentation temperature is around 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit. If it is summer time and your house is warmer than this, try to find a slightly cooler location for your vessel to hang out.
Notes during fermentation:
While it is fermenting, you will notice the veggies start to undergo change. The lactobacillus is working away to convert the starches in the food into lactic acid, preserving it. In the process, carbon dioxide is formed, so you’ll probably see some bubbling activity in there. The veggies will also start to change color. Colorful vegetables will start to bleed and dye everything various colors, like the purple cabbage did here! The brine itself gets cloudy, and this is totally normal!
If you are using a Kraut Source lid, keep an eye on its little water-filled moat, making sure it always has some clean water in there. It doesn’t dry out easily though. On the other hand, our vessels usually overflow from the lid for the first several days of fermentation. Be forewarned that yours may do the same! So we alway set the jars on a plate or in a bowl to catch the overflow. Once that initial burst of activity subsides (about 5 days later), the moat can dry up and you’ll want to add more water into it.
Another thing you may notice during fermentation may be a slightly odd odor. This is totally normal! To be honest, some ferments can smell pretty farty. I promise they taste better than they smell!
When the time is up, remove the “cabbage cap” and air-lock lid, replace it with a regular lid, and move your finished sauerkraut to the fridge. Most fermented foods are good for several months in the fridge, if not longer. We have enjoyed kraut nearly a year after it was made – though we usually eat it up quicker than that!
Now it is time to feed your belly with probiotic-rich home-fermented food! As I mentioned, we enjoy a little side of sauerkraut to accompany a variety of meals. Other ideas include adding it to egg salad, burgers, on an hor d’oeuvre plate with cheese and crackers, or just snacked on plain! How do you take your kraut?
See! That was super simple, right?
If this is your first time fermenting, I realize that may not have sounded all that simple. But trust me, fermenting foods at home is not as scary or complicated as it sounds! Not at all. You’ll get the hang of it in no time.
If you like this sauerkraut recipe, you’ll probably love our easy fermented “pickled” dilly radishes! If I may say so myself, they’re the bomb! Check out that recipe here.
Happy fermenting, and cheers to healthy bellies!
Super Simple Cabbage Sauerkraut Recipe
- Fermenting vessel, such as a mason jar (the amounts below fill one half-gallon jar, or two quart jars)
- Large mixing bowl (or two)
- Kitchen scale
- Fermentation weight and lid (or all-in-one device such as Kraut Source)
- Optional: Kraut pounder
- 4 pounds Chopped or shredded cabbage
- 2 tbsp Sea salt, kosher salt, or pickling salt
- Wash all of your supplies with hot water and possibly some plain white vinegar, but avoid using soap.
- Weigh and/or tare your mixing bowl (or two)
- Wash and chop or grate the cabbage into small pieces.
- Add prepped veggie material to the mixing bowl, until you reach the desired weight (4 pounds for a half-gallon batch, 2 pounds for quart)
- Sprinkle over 1 tbsp sea salt per 2 pounds cabbage. Toss and mix well.
- Using clean hands, massage the cabbage for a few minutes. Stop and wait for ten minutes, then massage again. The cabbage should be significantly compressed and also release liquid – the natural brine for the ferment.
- Pack all cabbage into the fermenting vessel (jar). Use a kraut pounder or other utensil to firmly press down to compact and remove excess air. Repeat and add more cabbage as needed until the jar is full to 1-2 inches from the top.
- Don't get rid of the excess liquid in the bowl! The cabbage should be fully submerged with brine. Add leftover liquid as needed to cover top.
- Add optional "cabbage cap" leaf, fermentation weight, and air lock lid.
- Allow to sit at room temperature (70-75F is ideal) for 7-10 days, depending on personal preference and temperature. Cooler temps = slower ferment activity.
- Your ferment should bubble slightly during this time, colors will bleed or dampen, and the brine will become cloudy.
- After 7-14 days at room temperature, remove the “cabbage cap” and air-lock lid, replace it with a regular lid, and move your finished simple cabbage sauerkraut to the fridge.
- Shelf life: Most fermented foods are good for several months in the fridge, if not longer. We have enjoyed sauerkraut nearly a year after it was made – though we usually eat it up far quicker than that! No, you don't want to hot-bath can this. It will kill all the good probiotics.