Homemade sauerkraut recipe

Homemade sauerkraut

Many of you searching for healthy options may be wondering how to make healthy probiotics at home from scratch. Well, this article is for you. It is going to address a simple step-by-step process of how to make a sauerkraut batch at the comfort of your home, which you can prepare using only a handful of fresh ingredients.

Before starting it is important to note that there can be different recipes of the same dish, depending on the country of origin or particular taste of an individual. It is more than possible to do different types of sauerkraut from various sorts of cabbage. Here we are going to focus on a basic recipe, calling for white cabbage, carrot, sea salt, spices and maybe water. Nothing else is required, no nasty chemicals, or vinegars, which actually kill the probiotic bacteria, ruining the entire purpose of preparing sauerkraut.

Here we are going to use a Russian-style recipe, which is probably the simplest and does not involve additional processing steps, like pasteurisation. This type of a sauerkraut or ‘kvashenaya kapusta’ as it is called in Russia fully corresponds to the definition of a raw vegan product with living bacteria in it.

Benefits of home preparation

Let us list the benefits of preparing this type of sauerkraut at home.

  1. First and foremost, you control what goes into the final product in terms of ingredients, taking only the best and the healthiest products for your preparation. You can fine-tune them according to your liking – that is putting less salt or more salt, unlike the store bought versions.
  2. Secondly you can play with the intensity of the taste by leaving the sauerkraut to ferment for more or less time (number of days).
  3. Thirdly, the same way by adjusting the number of days you can regulate its softness/hardness according to your liking. For example, a German or Polish recipe resembles a more soft sauerkraut, while a Russian one produces a more crunchy version. The German or Polish ones usually ferment longer.
  4. Lastly, you can make batches as big or small as you wish, since cabbage, carrot and salt are really affordable ingredients practically in any country.

Choosing the right container

If making bigger portions, the best container for the sauerkraut is a wooden barrel, then enameled tank or bucket or 10 litre pots, if you can not find any of that you can use 10 litre glass jars. It is not the best idea to use plastic containers, because the cabbage brine is chemically active and can interfere with the plastic, however nowadays there are some modern plastic containers, which may be better adapted for food.

Adding spices and other vegetables

The most simple sauerkraut recipe requires only cabbage and salt. However, often spices and other vegetables are used if one wants to achieve a different taste. Added vegetables and spices don not play any negative role in the fermentation process, but can help you achieve the taste that you like. You can add carrots, pieces of apples, pears, beetroot, plums, grapes, dill, parsley, cumin, seeds of dill, mustard, garlic, horseradish, honey and much more, it all depends on your taste preference.


For 2,5 L of sauerkraut you are going to need:

  • 2 large heads of ‘mature’ white cabbage

Choosing the right type of cabbage is important. For this recipe you will need a dense and heavy white cabbage. This will ensure that the sauerkraut will stay crunchy have a firm texture. It is really important that its leaves are whitish and not green in colour. We need the type, which has maximum of sugars for the bacteria on cabbage leaves to eat them and produce probiotics. The green varieties are not as rich in sugars, they are called ‘young’ and are not considered to be good for fermentation. What we are looking for is a so-called ‘mature’ cabbage, which is white in colour and has really dense leaves with no air gaps in between, which makes it naturally quite heavy. Other types of cabbages, such as the Chinese (Beijing) one used for Kimchi is light in weight and thus do not suit our purpose for this particular recipe.

  • 1 small carrot

We do not need a lot of the carrots in this recipe. This is a typical ingredient in the Russian version of the product. German sauerkraut does not usually call for carrots. A little goes a long way in this case, because it rather serves as a flavour additive and as a yellow colourant, rather than the food for your lacto bacteria to eat and produce probiotics.

  • 20 g of sea salt (or two tablespoons) per two cabbages or per kg

It is important to use the best quality salt you can get. There are many options currently available. My preferred is the 100% sea salt, since it is both natural and affordable for any quantities of sauerkraut produced. It is key to watch out for and avoid anti-caking agents and artificially iodised salt, since these seriously impede the process of fermentation. The fewer ingredients, the better. Just salt, that’s it.

As for the quantity, a tablespoon for each large cabbage would do. You can add less of course (as low as 10 g per kg), depending on how you want it to taste and whether you want it to be low in sodium content. However if done with less salt, it will have to be fermented for a longer period of time to fully prepare.

  • Glass jars to fit all the final product for fermentation
  • Spices – optional

The process step-by-step

Before starting the sauerkraut preparation process, we should ensure our hands are properly washed and dried, since we want to avoid any unnecessary bacteria as much as possible. Our healthy cabbage leaf bacteria should be the only ones taking part in the fermentation process. We do not want any other bacteria from our hands involved.

Having bought the cabbage heads, we should take off a couple of first leaves and throw them away, since they are usually spoilt and/or dirty. Then, we need to wash the cabbages. Cutting each of the cabbages into halves or quarters can ease the process of further slicing. Using a vegetable peeler or a julienne slicer, we can start to thinly slice the cabbages into a deep bowl. When slicing and approaching the middle of the cabbage, we need to avoid the core, and once reached, throw it away.

After slicing the cabbage we can finely julienne slice the carrot also into the same bowl, mixing it in with the sliced cabbage. If we decide to add spices we can also do this on this stage.

Having done that, we can add in the salt and mix it in really well. We need to thoroughly massage the cabbage, making it really soft and then leave it until it develops its juice from the salt in a bowl. Salt will make the sliced cabbage and carrot soak in liquid juice in about 30-40 minutes after it being added. During this time it should be left alone in the bowl to let these juices out. After the 30-40 minutes of waiting, when the juice is visible at the bottom of the bowl, we can start the process of transferring the cabbage into glass jars of choice.

Jars should be clean and sterile, meaning no additional bacteria in them. Boiling some water and pouring into and out of the jars, then letting them dry can help achieve just that. After this step we can start putting our sauerkraut into the jars using our clean hands. When putting in the cabbage we need to ensure we push it in the jars as tightly as possible to avoid any air building up in the jars in between the layers. You can press it in using your fist to let the extra air escape. Once done the juice left in the bottom of the bowl should go into the jar also to cover all the pieces of the cabbage. The jars with cabbage and water should remain only 80-90% full to allow for the fermentation to happen afterwards.

None of the cabbage pieces should be left uncovered with liquid. Ideally this liquid should be the juice from the same cabbage being prepared. However, in the case where there is not enough juice, you can use some (only a little bit) of water to top up the liquid level just to ensure that the entire mass of cabbage in the jar is covered.

As for this recipe, we normally use two 900 ml jars to evenly spread the cabbage. It also comes in handy to use a number of smaller jars instead of one big one for this particular recipe volume, when it comes to piercing the cabbage later on.

So we have put the cabbage and its juice into the jars. So what is next? The biggest mistake on this stage would be to tightly cover the containers or jars with lids. That is a big no no. We are dealing here with living organisms, the friendly bacteria which live on the cabbage leaves. They must have access to air to breathe and let out their exhaustion gases. Without this the product will not develop correctly. Therefore we are not putting lids. Instead we we can cover the jars with a breathable clean cloth to avoid any dust particles penetrating the product. Alternatively, if your kitchen or storing environment is quite clean you can leave the jars open.

Fermentation process

Now we have entered the stage of fermentation. There are a couple of rules here. Firstly, it is necessary to leave the jars alone in a dry, room temperature place, away from sunlight. From now onwards we shall touch the jars only a couple of times a day, not very frequently. The sauerkraut in the process of its fermentation does not like to be interfered with and touched, it also does not like to be exposed to cold. It needs a calm environment for the good bacteria to work though the fiber and sugars to produce a nice tasty end result for us. In some cases Russians go a step further and even wrap the jars nicely with dry cosy towels in order for the cabbage to be further protected from external factors such as light and winds. This is because we are not dealing with a static product here, we are dealing with a living culture of microorganisms. Yes, theoretically and practically real raw sauerkraut, as described in this article, is not vegan, nor vegetarian. The cooked one and the pasteurised one isn’t either.

Next, we leave the jars in this safe place to ferment from three to four days. After about 24h, the cabbage will begin to ferment and release juices with foam. This is a completely normal process and as a result the entire cabbage should be covered with juices. The cabbage will ferment quicker if it is summer and hot outside, if the room temperature is higher, if the cabbage was sliced really thinly and if you have added more salt. However, we recommend to let it sit for at least three full days, given the amounts in this recipe, for full fermentation to take place. You can let it sit longer if you want a more sour flavour and a softer texture.

During these 3-4 days, after first 24 hours, it is important to pierce it with a long thin stick twice a day, in order to let the fermentation gas bubbles out from the bottom layers of the jar. We usually use a chopstick which is very convenient to get to the very bottom of the jar. Smaller jars are therefore earier to use for piercing. Just do 3-4 piercings across the area evenly right to the bottom, using the full length of the stick. If done correctly, you will see carbon dioxide bubbles coming up the jar and escaping to the top. Your job is to let all the gas out. You may also see foam at the top, which you can remove with a spoon. This is the most you should interact with your cabbage on a daily basis to get good tasty sauerkraut.

During fermentation you could face a situation when the juices start leaking from the top. In this case we can recommend just to put a plate underneath the jar, so that it captures the excessive liquid. It can be emptied daily during the piercing process.

When you notice that there are no more new carbon dioxide bubbles forming and the foam stoppead appearing, it means that the fermentation process has ended and the sauerkraut is ready. It usually takes 3-4 days to complete. Now during your first attempts of making sauerkraut you can be unsure if all goes well, in that case I advise you to read the does sauerkraut goes bad ?

After 3-4 days of fermentation, for maximum flavour and for preserving, you can put the end product into the fridge. From here onwards you can start eating it anytime! It is best to store it in the fridge and never with a tight lid on for it not to suffocate. Being chilled the microorganisms (bacteria) slow down and do not further ferment the product as much.

Now you can enjoy your very own sauerkraut! It is really easy and quick to make this basic sauerkraut recipe once you get the hang of it.