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Extension > Food Safety > Preserving and Preparing > Fruits, vegetables, and herbs > How to Make Your Own Sauerkraut

Vegetables and Herbs

How to Make Your Own Sauerkraut

Debbie Botzek-Linn, Extension Educator — Food Safety

Reviewed 2012 by Suzanne Driessen, Extension Educator — Food Safety.

Definition of Sauerkraut and Fermentation

The word sauerkraut means "sour cabbage" in German — it's naturally fermented cabbage. Natural fermentation is one of the oldest means of food preservation, and it reduces the risk of foodborne illness and food spoilage.

Nutritional Value of Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is a low-calorie food — only 42 calories per cup. It's a good source of vitamin C. It is high in sodium because of the salt used in fermentation. Reduce the sodium content, as well as the tartness, by rinsing sauerkraut in cold water before using.

Ingredients Needed to Make Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut can easily be made and preserved at home with its basic ingredients of cabbage and salt. Use a researched tested recipe, as the proportion of salt to cabbage is the critical to quality and safety of sauerkraut.

To make good sauerkraut, begin by selecting disease-free, firm, sweet, mature heads of cabbage from mid- and late-season crops. Plan to begin cleaning and shredding the cabbage within 24 to 48 hours of harvest. A kraut cutter is the traditional way to shred the cabbage, but a modern-day food processor moves the process along and saves on the fingers.

A kraut cutter is the traditional way
to shred the cabbage, but a modern-
day food processor moves the process
along and saves on the fingers.

Canning or pickling salt draws out the cabbage juice so it can be fermented. Using too little salt not only softens the cabbage, but also yields a product lacking in flavor. Too much salt delays the natural fermentation process. For every five pounds of shredded cabbage, mix in three tablespoons of canning salt.

Choose the Right Container to Ferment the Cabbage

The choice of container to pack the cabbage in is important. Old-fashioned earthenware crocks are traditional, and are still a good choice as long as they are not cracked or chipped. Food-grade plastic pails that are sturdy and rigid make excellent containers. You do not want to make sauerkraut in metal containers of any type, or in plastic containers that were never intended for food use.

Pack Tightly and Cover the Cabbage

Once the cabbage and salt mixture is packed tightly into a suitable container, it's essential that you cover the cabbage and liquid to exclude air, since the fermentation process requires an anaerobic (air-tight) condition. A salt-water (brine-filled), food-grade plastic bag is one of the easiest and best ways to both cover and weigh down the cabbage.

Temperature Range Needed for Fermentation of Sauerkraut

Store the container at 68 to 74 degrees F while fermenting. At these temperatures, the sauerkraut should be ready in three to four weeks.

Fully Fermented Sauerkraut May be Canned or Frozen

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