Traditional European Sauerkraut Recipe

Sauerkraut, which means “sour cabbage” in German, is an ingredient that is rich in probiotics and is often consumed raw or cooked in various dishes. My recipe for homemade sauerkraut follows the authentic European tradition and provides an easy recipe to make at home in jars or crocks.

Three large jars full of homemade fermented green, red, and green with carrot cabbage sauerkraut.

Fall is the best time to grow cabbage, and fall cabbage makes for the best sauerkraut.

Sauerkraut is traditionally made each fall in huge quantities to last families throughout the winter. It is a source of probiotics, vitamins, and just a fresh tangy flavor to pair with heavier dishes of meats and preserved foods.

Sauerkraut is survival food and a culinary delight that can be eaten raw or in recipes like German sauerkraut soup or Segedinsky Goulash.

My recipe for sauerkraut is the authentic way it has always been made. It’s so simple. Use mason jars or use a fermentation crock. This is a great beginner-friendly entry into making your own safe and healthy fermented foods.

Check out my red cabbage sauerkraut recipe too.

Basic Ingredients + Extras

All of the basic ingredients you need to make homemade sauerkraut successfully. I’ll also give you a list of optional extra ingredients, like spices and herbs, as well as common and tasty flavor pairings you can try.

A large green cabbage head with the outer leaves removed sitting on a wooden cutting board.
  • Cabbage | Outer leaves removed, cored, very thinly shredded. You can use any type of cabbage, including red cabbage or Asian varieties.
  • Salt | You can use any salt to make sauerkraut, except for iodized salt. Coarse or fine salt works, so does canning salt; please note in the instructions below that if you do not want to weigh your cabbage and salt and insist on using teaspoons and tablespoons, there are some big discrepancies between salt brands and types. Salt is the single most crucial aspect of making a successful and safe ferment like sauerkraut.

And that is it as far as ingredients go.

But what can you add to sauerkraut to make it taste better or more interesting?

Let’s get on to extra and optional additional ingredients and flavor pairings.

  • Caraway Seeds | Traditional German sauerkraut frequently contains caraway seeds. Add 1 to 1.5 teaspoons per pound of cabbage if using.
  • Juniper Berries | Another German staple frequently paired with cabbage recipes, sauerkraut, meats, and more. They can be expensive to buy but are easy to forage pretty much year-round. Add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon per pound of cabbage if using.
  • Fresh Ginger | Fresh ginger adds so much flavor to sauerkraut! Add a finely diced or minced 1-inch piece of ginger per 1 pound of cabbage.
  • Apples | Cut an apple into matchsticks and add them to sauerkraut. 1/2 of an apple per 1 pound of cabbage and any variety you have works. My Slovak mother-in-law remembers doing this in childhood when her family would make huge crocks of sauerkraut to last the winter.
  • Carrots | Finely shredded carrots add sweetness and color to sauerkraut. You can see I’m using carrots in one of my jars in the photos. Use 1 medium carrot or more per pound of cabbage.
  • Beets | Beets will add sweetness, earthiness, and color your sauerkraut pink. Add 1/2 of a medium shredded beet per pound of cabbage.
  • Root Vegetables | spice radishes, sweet parsnips, and more — all can be added to sauerkraut. Start with a small amount and consider making multiple small mason jars of kraut where you can experiment with flavors.
  • Hot Peppers | Like it hot? Add a single hot pepper per jar of sauerkraut for some flavor and spice. Jalapeno peppers are a popular choice.
  • Fresh Herbs | bay leaf, dill, lovage, and more — add some to your kraut — just keep it submerged below he brine to avoid mold and spoiling.

Flavor pairings that work:

  • Ginger, carrot + beet.
  • Apple, carrot, ginger + beet.
  • Ginger + hot pepper.
  • Ginger + Lemon peel + beet.

See the printable recipe card below for more information.

Sauerkraut Instructions (Step-by-Step)

Use these photos as a guide for how your sauerkraut should look as you make it.

A green head of cabbage cut in half with the core removed.

Step 1: Cabbage does not need to be washed. Remove the outer leaves and compost them, or feed them to your chickens.

Cut the head of cabbage in half and remove the tough inner core as pictured above. Your core may be bigger or smaller depending on the variety of cabbage.

Discard the core as well in your preferred way.

Thinly sliced and shredded cabbage on a wooden cutting board.

Step 2: Now, it’s time to shred the cabbage. A large chef’s knife is best suited for this job, but they also make specialty cabbage slicers, which do the job quicker and much finer.

We have a vintage one, but you can find them online in places too. If you plan to make a large quantity of sauerkraut, it may be worth investing in one.

You want to take the time and effort to slice the cabbage as thinly as possible for true German sauerkraut. It’s worth it.

Shredded cabbage in a large wooden bowl with salt being added.

Step 3: Adding salt.

This is the most crucial step and will make or break your ferment. Too little salt can cause issues like mold or a failed ferment; too much salt will ruin the flavor.

The standard formula is that for every 5 pounds of shredded cabbage, you add in 3 tablespoons of fine salt.

(Or 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons of fine salt per 1 pound of cabbage.)

The problem with this is that each type of salt has its own volume and weight, and not every tablespoon and teaspoon measuring tool is accurate or even the same amount in each country!

Frustrating, isn’t it?

Your best bet is to weigh the cabbage and the salt to avoid confusion or ruined ingredients. A digital kitchen scale can be had for so cheap and is a very useful tool.

The most widely used ratio of 2.00%–2.25% weight of salt to weight of cabbage gives the best results.

I prefer to use 2% in my sauerkraut.

Here is how you do that calculation correctly.

Shredded and salted cabbage in a large wooden bowl.

Step 4: Weigh your cabbage and note the total amount in grams.

If you have 1134 grams of cabbage in total, multiply by .020, and you will get the exact quantity of salt you need.

1340 x 0.020 = 26.8 grams of salt, which can be rounded up to 27 grams.

Easy!

Unlike many other ferments, the amount of salt added to cabbage to turn it into sauerkraut is based on the weight of the cabbage itself (and any other ingredients you’re using, like carrots or jalapenos or spices)and not the weight of the water.

The cabbage and salt mixture will release water from the cabbage cells and make the brine. You’re not adding any extra brine or water unless your cabbage is dry, old, and really needs it.

More on that below.

And if you want to use teaspoons and tablespoons, go ahead; people have been successfully making sauerkraut for a long time.

One final note about coarse salt:

If you want to use coarse salt without weighing the salt, use double the amount of teaspoons or tablespoons. The large crystals of coarser salts take up more space, and the same amounts when weighed, will be drastically different.

A wooden spoon is pounding the green cabbage into a mason jar.

Step 5: Once you have added the correct amount of salt to your sauerkraut, cover it and leave it alone for about an hour at room temperature.

The salt will start to release the liquid from the cabbage, making the next step much easier.

After that hour, it’s time to start pounding your cabbage.

Use a mallet built for this purpose, or a wooden spoon and begin to really pound and work the cabbage.

You want to keep pounding the cabbage until all of the liquid that can be released is released. This can take 20 minutes.

The brine should cover the very top of your cabbage by 1/2 an inch or more.

If the brine does not cover the cabbage, you must make an additional brine.

Three large jars full of homemade fermented green, red, and green with carrot cabbage sauerkraut.

Step 6: If you need to make extra brine to keep your sauerkraut submerged. Dissolve 1.5 teaspoons of fine salt per 1 cup of water.

I don’t bother weighing at this point.

Top up the sauerkraut so that there is at least 1/2 an inch of brine above the cabbage.

The final step is the second most crucial: make sure your cabbage and any other spices, herbs, vegetables, etc. you’re using stay beneath the brine and stay there the entire time the cabbage is fermenting.

You can achieve this by using fermentation weights specially designed for this purpose. If you’re going to ferment a lot (and it is addictive and easy) it may be worth investing in some, or you can rig up a simple system.

A ziplock bag full of water can be placed on top. A clean rock (boil it for a few minutes and let it cool) can also be used.

If using the bag and water method, you may want to create a brine (as described above) in case your bag breaks and the water runs into your sauerkraut.

This way, the water won’t dilute the sauerkraut and ruin it from lack of saltiness.

Sauerkraut will ferment in anywhere from 3 weeks to 8 weeks.

Check on it and taste it after the first two weeks and decide if it needs to go longer. The flavor should be pleasantly salty and sour.

Hint: Make multiple small mason jars of sauerkraut with different additions of spices, herbs, and vegetables to have a wide variety of tastes and flavors all winter. We have a big family-sized fermentation crock (up to 20 heads of cabbage) and use it for plain, simple kraut, but I’ll also keep smaller jars of different flavors.

A large jar full of homemade fermented green cabbage sauerkraut with carrot strips.

Using Sauerkraut In Recipes

Cabbage is cheap, tasty, healthy, and so versatile.

And sauerkraut is not just for eating raw; it’s an incredible ingredient used in a wide array of traditional recipes. In Central European and Slavic cuisine, sauerkraut is frequently added to soups and stews, braised with roasted meats and sausages, and stewed or braised to make a delicious side dish.

Here are some of my recipes featuring sauerkraut:

And check out this list of 7 Sauerkraut Recipes for Sauerkraut Enthusiasts.

If you love cabbage in general (and I do very much) try my recipes for Rotkohl (German braised red cabbage), red cabbage soup with bacon.

I also have a list of 7 Delicious Red Cabbage Recipes and 9 Cabbage Recipes Showcasing the Versatility of this Tasty Veggie.

Equipment

  • Mason jars or a fermentation crock with lids. It must be nonreactive; you cannot use steel to make ferments, as the food will have an unpleasant metallic flavor. Glass or glazed clay is best. Oak casks also work beautifully and impart a unique flavor.
  • A wooden mallet or spoon to pound the cabbage into submission.
  • A sharp chef’s knife or specialty cabbage slicer.
  • Fermentation weights, thick Ziplock bags filled with water or brine, or a clean stone or other type of weight to hold the cabbage below the brine.

Here is what I have and use myself for my fermented foods:

OXO Good Grips 11-Pound Stainless Steel Food Scale with Pull-Out Display | The exact scale I have used for years for everything from fermented foods to sourdough bread. It’s accurate, affordable, and built to last.

Fermentation Crock 1/2 Gallon/2 Quart – Sauerkraut Crock with Lid, Weights & Pounder. A small table-top fermentation crock that can be used for any ferment.

26 L (6.9 Gal) K&K Keramik German-Made Fermenting Crock Pot – I have and LOVE this. It holds about 20 heads of cabbage which is enough to last my family the entire winter. This is probably too big for most people but it can be used to ferment anything and is a lifetime purchase that will last forever.

10-Pack Glass Fermentation Weights Large Wide Mouth Mason Jars | These come in handy and will last you forever. As you get into fermenting kraut and more, these become indispensable. There are many varieties on the market so shop around for the best price.

Traditional Wooden Cabbage Shredder Slicer with Hand Guard for Finely Cut Sauerkraut and Coleslaw – We have a vintage version that my husband found in a thrift store for $10. These are pricey but beautiful and built to last forever. This one is made in Europe. Not necessary unless you make as much sauerkraut as we do.

Sauerkraut Pounder Extra Long 16″ | I prefer a longer wooden pounder for my sauerkraut. You may be comfortable with a smaller mallet. Or just use a wooden spoon or clean broomstick.

Proper Sauerkraut Storage

Once your sauerkraut is fermented to your desired level of sourness after 3-8 weeks, it is easy to place it in the refrigerator or your cold room or cellar, where the temperatures will halt fermentation. Enjoy your sauerkraut for many, many months raw and in recipes.

If using a large fermentation crock, you can transfer the contents to smaller jars to make it easier.

Food Safety

When in doubt, throw it out! If your sauerkraut develops mold, strange colors, or smells off — do not risk illness. Safely fermented food is SO easy to make, but mistakes do happen. Luckily, they are easier to spot than with canned food, where botulism (an odorless, colorless toxin) is a much higher risk (though still rare) with improper procedures. Botulism is not a risk in properly prepared lacto-fermented recipes due to the salt content.

A large jar full of homemade fermented green cabbage sauerkraut.

Traditional European Sauerkraut

My recipe for homemade sauerkraut follows the authentic European tradition and provides an easy recipe to make at home in jars or crocks.
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Fermentation Time: 30 days
Total Time: 30 days 30 minutes
Course: Condiment
Cuisine: German
Servings: 20
Calories: 28kcal
Author: Jana Dziak

Equipment

Ingredients

  • 5 lbs cabbage Thinly and finely shredded. While any type of cabbage can be used, fresh fall cabbage (within two days of being picked) is always best.
  • 3 tablespoons fine sea salt Double the amount for coarse salt, do not use iodized salt. Or 45 grams for the recipe amount of cabbage if using a scale (recommended).

Instructions

  • Remove the outer leaves from your cabbage. Cabbage does not need to be washed.
  • Slice the cabbage head in half and remove the tough inner core. Compost the outer leaves and inner core.
  • Using a sharp knife or cabbage slicer, slice the cabbage very thin and fine, as thinly as possible.
  • Weigh the cabbage until you reach 5 lbs or the desired amount that you are making for yourself.
  • Add the salt and massage it into the shredded cabbage until coated. Cover the bowl and leave it alone for about an hour.
  • After the hour has passed, place your shredded cabbage into the fermentation crock or mason jars and start pounding the cabbage for about 15-20 minutes or until all the water has been released from the cabbage and it is submerged by about 1/2 an inch of liquid.
  • If the cabbage is older and dry, there may not be enough brine released to submerge it, so dissolve 1.5 teaspoons of fine salt per 1 cup of water. Double that amount for coarse salt.
  • Add your weight of choice to the jar or crock to keep everything fully under water for the entire time of fermentation.
  • Cover jar or crock and leave it somewhere cool and dark (like your pantry or basement) to ferment. Taste it after two weeks and let it keep fermenting for as many as 8 weeks until a pleasantly sour and salty sauerkraut is achieved. Store in cold root cellar or refrigerator afterwards indefininetly.
  • Double this recipe up as required and add any other ingredients you wish as per the notes.
  • Weighing your cabbage is the best way to achieve great and consistent results that are not too salty. The fermentation ratio I use is 2.00% weight of salt to weight of cabbage. So 5 lbs of cabbage is 2268 grams, which means the calculation is 2,268 multiplied by .020 for a total of 45 grams of salt.

Notes

Once your sauerkraut is fermented to your desired level of sourness after 3-8 weeks, it is easy to place it in the refrigerator or your cold room or cellar, where the temperatures will halt fermentation. Enjoy your sauerkraut for many, many months raw and in recipes.
If using a large fermentation crock, you can transfer the contents to smaller jars to make it easier.
Hint: Make multiple small mason jars of sauerkraut with different additions of spices, herbs, and vegetables to have a wide variety of tastes and flavors all winter. We have a big family-sized fermentation crock (up to 20 heads of cabbage) and use it for plain, simple kraut, but I’ll also keep smaller jars of different flavors.
Let’s get on to extra and optional additional ingredients and flavor pairings.
  • Caraway Seeds | Traditional German sauerkraut frequently contains caraway seeds. Add 1 to 1.5 teaspoons per pound of cabbage if using.
  • Juniper Berries | Another German staple frequently paired with cabbage recipes, sauerkraut, meats, and more. They can be expensive to buy but are easy to forage pretty much year-round. Add ½ to 1 teaspoon per pound of cabbage if using.
  • Fresh Ginger | Fresh ginger adds so much flavor to sauerkraut! Add a finely diced or minced 1-inch piece of ginger per 1 pound of cabbage.
  • Apples | Cut an apple into matchsticks and add them to sauerkraut. ½ of an apple per 1 pound of cabbage and any variety you have works. My Slovak mother-in-law remembers doing this in childhood when her family would make huge crocks of sauerkraut to last the winter.
  • Carrots | Finely shredded carrots add sweetness and color to sauerkraut. You can see I’m using carrots in one of my jars in the photos. Use 1 medium carrot or more per pound of cabbage.
  • Beets | Beets will add sweetness, earthiness, and color your sauerkraut pink. Add ½ of a medium shredded beet per pound of cabbage.
  • Root Vegetables | spice radishes, sweet parsnips, and more — all can be added to sauerkraut. Start with a small amount and consider making multiple small mason jars of kraut where you can experiment with flavors.
  • Hot Peppers | Like it hot? Add a single hot pepper per jar of sauerkraut for some flavor and spice. Jalapeno peppers are a popular choice.
  • Fresh Herbs | bay leaf, dill, lovage, and more — add some to your kraut — just keep it submerged below he brine to avoid mold and spoiling.
Flavor pairings that work:
  • Ginger, carrot + beet.
  • Apple, carrot, ginger + beet.
  • Ginger + hot pepper.
  • Ginger + Lemon peel + beet.
When in doubt, throw it out! If your sauerkraut develops mold, strange colors, or smells off — do not risk illness.

Nutrition

Calories: 28kcal | Carbohydrates: 7g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 0.1g | Saturated Fat: 0.04g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.02g | Monounsaturated Fat: 0.02g | Sodium: 1067mg | Potassium: 193mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 111IU | Vitamin C: 42mg | Calcium: 46mg | Iron: 1mg
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

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2 Comments

  1. The math is wrong. 1340 x 0.020 = 26.8 grams of salt, not 22.6.
    Enjoyed the article. The 50:1 ratio for salt works for me too but I think kraut is a little better fermented at about 65°F.