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How to Make Sauerkraut & Other Fermented Vegetables

Ever wondered how to make sauerkraut? It sounds so intimidating, doesn’t it? So scary. So hard. At least until you’ve made it once. Then you realize how ridiculously easy it is and wonder why you never did it before!

It doesn’t take that much time, particularly if you let a food processor do your chopping. And there are countless ways to vary it once you get the idea down. You can make your own lacto-fermented salsas, your own dill pickles, your own relishes. You can even make the most colorful sauerkraut on earth, just like Sandor Katz does in the video below.

Sandor is the author of Wild Fermentation (a Food Renegade Must Read) and an expert at fermenting vegetables. Watch his latest video clip as he makes sauerkraut.

You’ll notice the key elements right off the bat:

  • creating surface area by chopping the veggies any way you like,
  • mixing in salt (and sometimes whey when you’ve got it),
  • mashing the veggies until the liquid runs out,
  • transferring the veggies into a glass jar or crock,
  • making sure the liquid covers the veggies,
  • letting it sit.

How long you let it sit is up to you and your tastes, but for most vegetables 2-5 days seems to do the trick.

So, what do you want to ferment? (Or read this introduction to fermentation if you’re wondering why you should ferment food at all.)

(photo by cafemama)
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I am a passionate advocate for REAL FOOD -- food that's sustainable, organic, local, and traditionally-prepared according to the wisdom of our ancestors. I'm also an author and a nutrition educator. I enjoy playing in the rain, a good bottle of Caol Ila scotch, curling up with a page-turning book, sunbathing on my hammock, and watching my three children explore their world.

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35 Responses to How to Make Sauerkraut & Other Fermented Vegetables
  1. Nourished Kitchen
    March 3, 2009 | 10:40 am

    Sauerkraut is ridiculously easy to make – plus it tastes so good. Sometimes we’ll even eat it for breakfast – though that sourness coupled with saltiness is not for the faint of heart first thing in the morning! We love it though and do a lot of fermentation – plus fermented foods convey such clear benefits to our health. They’re essential, really. My 3-yo son cracks people up when he begs for sauerkraut or fermented turnips.

    Nourished Kitchen

  2. Michelle @ What Does Your Body Good?
    March 3, 2009 | 11:32 am

    Thanks for posting this. Fermenting is the next step for me but I think I’m ready for it!

    Michelle @ What Does Your Body Good?

  3. KristenM
    March 3, 2009 | 11:33 am

    Yes, I’ve been going on a fermented vegetable kick lately. My kids love them too. I think it helps if you get them accustomed to them early!

  4. Motherhen68
    March 3, 2009 | 11:58 am

    I made my first batch of lacto-fermented saurkraut this past weekend and we ate some with dinner last night. Here are my husband’s exact words: “I thought this would be really gross, but it’s actually really good!” My 9 yr old didn’t like it, but my 10 year old did. I knew he would because he loves pickles & he loves coleslaw.

    My next quest is lacto-fermented salsa or pickle relish. I’ve also got a 1/2 a bag of pearl onions in my freezer from Christmas. I’m thinking of fermenting that too.

    Thanks for such a great site and such great resources. I read Wild Fermenting this past weekend and I got a lot of great ideas.

    Motherhen68

  5. WilliamS
    March 3, 2009 | 1:19 pm

    Lacto-fermentation is definitely easy and fun. I laugh when I think back to the first time I made sauerkraut and how careful I was about following directions very specifically, fretting about whether every jar or utensil was clean enough (to the point of sterilizing everything with boiling water), etc.. That was a long time ago and now I just have a good time with it, don’t worry about amounts of this or that, and try new combinations all the time.

    My current favorites:

    Cabbage, shredded carrot, onion, raddish, and ginger

    and

    Cabbage, apple, cranberries (halved), and a bit of shallot

    Both of the above are excellent on rice crackers with a thin slice of sharp cheddar cheese, homemade mustard spread on a piece of lettuce, sometimes a small amount of turkey or chicken breast meat and topped with a forkful of the kraut.

    WilliamS

  6. Kelly the Kitchen Kop
    March 3, 2009 | 8:35 pm

    I wish someone would make me a few different kinds to try, so I can see if I like it before “wasting” everything in case I don’t.

    I’ve tried salsa, but thought it tasted like beer. (Nothing against beer, of course, but I’d rather my salsa just tasted like salsa.) I tried pickles and they were so bland – I never did get the flavor right on those. I tried pineapple chutney…again, I tasted the alcohol. I so badly wanted to love these, knowing how nutritious they are!

    I have a long way to go in the fermenting department, but oh how I want to get there!

    Kelly the Kitchen Kop

  7. Carrie at NaturalMomsTalkRadio
    March 3, 2009 | 10:29 pm

    OMG I am so excited that he totally just used his HANDS to punch down the vegetables. I totally thought that you weren’t supposed to touch them lest you introduce some funky bacteria that would mess up the lactofermentation process.

    That one tip has me totally stoked to try some new varieties now. Cause I never could figure out how to quite get all those fat veggies under the brine. Other than salsa, that’s easy because the tomatoes are so watery.

    Carrie at NaturalMomsTalkRadio

  8. KristenM
    March 3, 2009 | 10:55 pm

    Motherhen68 — It’s a great book, isn’t it? Very inspiring.

    William S — Those both sound delicious. YAY for experimenting. I’m inspired in new directions now.

    Kelly — Sounds like your alcohol-ish ferments had too much sugar or starch in them, not enough salt or whey. Which recipes did you use? Not to sound harsh, but I really don’t like the fermentation recipes from Nourishing Traditions (except the raisin chutney, that’s a winner!). Plus, many fermentations do get a slight yeasty smell to them. Perhaps that’s what you’re identifying as a beer taste?

    Carrie — I know! Sandor teaches that all the bacteria and yeast on our hands, in the air, and on the vegetables is enough to start the lacto-fermentation process (without adding whey), so he’s all about getting your hands dirty. But adding the whey does jump start the process and make it quicker.

  9. Kyle
    March 3, 2009 | 10:56 pm

    Wow, thank you!

  10. Julie
    March 4, 2009 | 7:44 am

    Very good. I also like his hands on way of getting the juice out of the vegetables. It seems more effective and a whole lot easier on the arms and shoulders than pounding with a wooden dowel (this is what I had been doing). Very inspirational. Thank you !

  11. [...] Lastly, Jenny over at The Nourished Kitchen spells out the health benefits of fermented foods, which I thought segueyed rather well into my post on how to make sauerkraut. [...]

  12. Weekend Link Love | Mark's Daily Apple
    March 8, 2009 | 10:25 am

    [...] Renegade has a delicious post on making your own sauerkraut. The DIY video features previous MDA guest blogger Sandor [...]

  13. Ed Bruske
    March 8, 2009 | 6:07 pm

    I’m with Sandor. I don’t like cleaning the food processor. I’d rather chop by hand.

    Ed Bruske

  14. KristenM
    March 8, 2009 | 10:13 pm

    Ed — Yeah, I would probably cut the cabbage by hand. But I *hate* grating of any kind and save all that for the food processor. Cheese, carrots, whatever. If it’s grated, I use the food processor to do it.

  15. Paul
    January 12, 2010 | 4:41 pm

    Just getting started with the fermenting process, how does this equate with long term storage of vegies like canning and root cellers.

  16. Bernadette
    May 30, 2010 | 11:46 pm

    Can’t wait to try this!! Sauerkraut will be my first home made fermented food and I hope to be making many more!

  17. Connie
    June 25, 2010 | 7:26 am

    I will be trying the sauerkraut. I have been suffering from c.difficule infection for over a year and prescription drugs aren’t doing their magic in this over-processed food world. I’ve asked doctor(s) numerous times to tell me what to eat, so, I’m going it on my own to get as many good bacterias in my system to combat the bad one that’s taken off my lower intestines. Thank you for making this website available.

  18. Nan
    September 12, 2010 | 8:55 pm

    Ah, I needed to see this. Inspired, I filled two mason jars with cabbage, carrots, salt. I’m using water filled Ziplocs to hold it down though I know plastic isn’t ideal. I had a plate covering the mixture in a crock, but then the juice covered the plate, but the plate wasn’t submerged; it looked like it separated the juice from the cabbage. I might have to buy some fermenting jars. –THanks!–

    Do you know how long whey lasts in the fridge? I have some 2 month-old whey.

    William, your mixture with cranberries sounds divine, especially with cheddar cheese. Yum!

    Connie, would love to hear your progress.

  19. Joyce Bradford
    June 12, 2011 | 7:56 am

    Dear F.R. I have just made my first batch of S. K. and it seems to be great. Do you have to vent the jar daily? Does the fermentation process continue? Does the food eventually need to be stored in the fridg.? Blessings, Joyce.

  20. kevin corbett
    May 5, 2012 | 3:53 pm

    I’m trying the sauerkraut fermentation for the first time.I packed an 80oz glass pickle jar and had a lot of pressure,causing juices to come out on it’s own. After 16 hours{had jar setting in a large bowl to catch overflow} I then drain some of the juices out so it wasn’t so full.Is it okay that i did this, and is it okay that I have enough juices just covering and room to spare to the lid? Is my fermentation process still okay and safe to continue?

  21. Lee
    September 10, 2012 | 8:00 am

    Hi

    My question is exactly as per Joyce’s above. how often does the jar need to be vented, i.e. could it explode if not vented for 24 hours?

    Also, does it need to be stored in the fridge *during* the fermentation and following it?

    Thanks

  22. eva
    October 17, 2012 | 6:41 pm

    First year making sauerkraut on my own…Mom’s gone. I don’t know how long to let it ferment. HOw long do I let it ferment? book says 10-12 days. So what will I see to know it’s done fermenting?

  23. Evelyn
    December 30, 2012 | 12:32 pm

    Hi,
    I prepared some fermented vegetables (sauerkraut), but instead of getting a vinegar flavor, it went into alcoholic fermentation. Can you tell me what I did wrong and is it OK to eat it like this? Does it still have good bacteria in it?
    e

  24. Larry
    January 12, 2013 | 1:45 pm

    I have a harsch crock and love it. Question, is it possible to take out small amounts of finished kraut and add fresh cabbage to keep the process going or do I have to start the process over each time?

  25. mhikl
    February 17, 2013 | 8:02 pm

    Forgot that commercial sauerkraut was pasteurised; well, the jar will come in handy. This does look so easy. Though I don’t do well eating much carb I do like a a couple of Tbs to add to my chopped celery gracing my raw Paleo and what a great way to get a boost of beneficial lactic acid bacteria.

    William, apple, ginger, cranberries—great idea.

  26. david Gorsuch
    December 25, 2013 | 9:23 am

    Fermented vegetables are awesome!! they contain about 1 trillion good bacteria (when made with a culture starter) so if anyone is new to eating fermented vegetables make sure you eat small amounts to start with like 1-2oz a day or every other day and then work up to 2oz with with every meal because it causes what is called die off meaning it kill the bad and removes it from your body so you could feel sick if you consume too much starting out if you digestion system is compromised at all. so happy healthy eating!!
    david

  27. Bob Snitchler via Facebook
    June 23, 2014 | 7:04 pm

    I just started my first ever sauerkraut on Saturday. I thought I should be seeing bubbles by now but I’m not. And the liquid above the cabbage is dark. Is it bad??

  28. Kristin Lindsey via Facebook
    June 23, 2014 | 7:13 pm

    I have been eating homemade krauts for two years now. I am NEVER sick.

  29. Kristin Lindsey via Facebook
    June 23, 2014 | 7:16 pm

    @Bob – As in two days ago? Maybe not after just two days. The skin at the top of the water can be scummy but it shouldn’t get moldy.

    • Bob Snitchler
      June 23, 2014 | 9:46 pm

      @Kristin Lindsey – Yes, two days ago. I don’t see any mold, but the water above the cabbage is dark. I haven’t opened it to check, I’ll wait a few more days before I do that.

  30. Kristin Lindsey via Facebook
    June 23, 2014 | 7:18 pm

    I don’t know about the color of the water since I make mine in stone crocks. I can’t see the liquid while it is brewing…

  31. Irene Refe Lindquist via Facebook
    June 23, 2014 | 7:27 pm

    Hoping to make soon my own version made out of “unripe, green papaya” called Atsara. Thanx for the reminder (y)

  32. Corie O'Neal via Facebook
    June 23, 2014 | 8:02 pm

    Last time I tried to make sour kraut it blew the lid off! Sour kraut everywhere! I think my jar was too small. Hopefully with these tips I’ll have better luck :)

  33. Amanda Woods-Osman via Facebook
    June 24, 2014 | 5:25 am

    Kombucha was my first

  34. Linda Garrison via Facebook
    June 24, 2014 | 5:10 pm

    How long can they be stored in the refrigerator?

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Who Am I?

My name is Kristen Michaelis. I'm a nutrition educator, author, and mother of three. I adore hats, happy skirts, horizons full of storm clouds, the full-bodied feel of wind as I ride motorcylces, reading in my hammock, and a hearty shot of Caol Ila scotch. I'm also a rebel with a cause.