NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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Sauerkraut Is Not Just For Hot Dogs

Sauerkraut Is Not Just For Hot Dogs

If you enjoy hotdogs or bratwurst topped with sauerkraut, you aren't alone. People around the world like the distinctive flavor and texture of sauerkraut.  You’ll also find sauerkraut added to sandwiches, pitas and even pizza.

Sauerkraut, the German word for "sour cabbage," is produced by a fermentation process using salt and natural lactic acid bacteria found on cabbage. These bacteria break down the natural sugars in cabbage, which results in the unique product.

For the best sauerkraut, use firm heads of fresh, disease-free cabbage. Shred cabbage and start sauerkraut between 24 and 48 hours after harvest.  To make about 9 quarts of sauerkraut, use the following ingredient proportions:

25 pounds cabbage
3/4 cup canning or pickling salt

Work with about 5 pounds of cabbage at a time. Discard outer leaves. Rinse heads under cold running water and drain. Cut heads in quarters and remove cores. Shred or slice to a thickness of a quarter.  For each 5 pounds of cabbage, add about 3 tablespoons of salt. Mix thoroughly, using clean hands. Pack firmly until salt draws juices from cabbage. Repeat shredding, salting and packing until all cabbage is in the container. Be sure the container is deep enough so that its rim is at least 4 or 5 inches above the cabbage.

A 1-gallon container is needed for each 5 pounds of fresh vegetables. Meaning a 5-gallon stone crock is the ideal size for fermenting about 25 pounds of fresh cabbage. If a stone crock is not part of your kitchen equipment list, food-grade plastic and glass containers are excellent substitutes for stone crocks. (For example, the 5-gallon plastic buckets that restaurants receive pickles in make excellent fermentation containers.) Caution: Be certain that foods contact only food-grade plastics. Do not use garbage bags or trash liners.

Keep cabbage 1 to 2 inches under brine while fermenting. After adding prepared cabbage and brine, insert a suitably sized glass dinner plate or glass pie plate inside the fermentation container. The plate must be slightly smaller than the container opening, yet large enough to cover most of the shredded cabbage or cucumbers. To keep the plate under the brine, weight it down with two to three sealed quart jars filled with water. Covering the container opening with a clean, heavy bath towel helps prevent contamination from insects and molds while the cabbage is fermenting.  If juice does not cover the cabbage, add boiled and cooled brine (1 1/2 tablespoons of salt per quart of water). Add the plate and weights; cover the container with a clean bath towel.

Store the fermentation container at 70 to 75 F while fermenting. At temperatures between 70 and 75 F, sauerkraut will be fully fermented in about three to four weeks; at 60 to 65 F, fermentation may take five to six weeks. At temperatures lower than 60 F, sauerkraut may not ferment. Above 75 F, sauerkraut may become soft.  Temperature variations are the most common cause for “kraut gone bad” so check the temperature often.  Finished sauerkraut should have a firm texture, and the brine should not be cloudy. If you smell a bad odor, see mold or note a slimy texture, discard and do NOT taste.

When making additional batches, wash the fermentation container, plate and jars in hot, sudsy water and rinse well with very hot water before use.

Fully fermented sauerkraut may be kept tightly covered in the refrigerator for several months or it may be frozen or canned. To freeze sauerkraut, fill pint- or quart-size bags to about 3 inches from the top of the bag. Squeeze out air, label and freeze. Bags may be placed inside rigid plastic containers for extra protection from leakage.

Sauerkraut may be canned using either of these two methods:

  • Hot pack: Bring sauerkraut and liquid slowly to a boil in a large kettle, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and fill jars rather firmly with sauerkraut and juices, leaving 1/2-inch head space.  Process hot packed quarts in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes.
  • Raw pack: Fill jars firmly with sauerkraut and cover with juices, leaving 1/2-inch head space. Process raw packed quarts for 30 minutes in a boiling water bath.
  • For best quality, store canned sauerkraut in a cool, dark place and use within one year.  A half-cup of sauerkraut has just 20 calories and provides 25 percent of the daily recommendation for vitamin C. If you are watching your sodium intake, however, remember that sauerkraut is fairly high in sodium.


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