How do you preserve homemade sauerkraut?

What is sauerkraut?

Sauerkraut is finely shredded cabbage that has been fermented by various lactic acid bacteria. It has a sour, salty flavor and is commonly used as a condiment or side dish. Sauerkraut is a good source of vitamins C and K, as well as providing probiotics that support digestive health.

Traditional sauerkraut is made by layering shredded cabbage and salt in a crock, jar, or other container. The salt helps draw moisture out of the cabbage to create a brine, which prevents harmful bacteria from growing. The lactic acid bacteria already present on the cabbage will begin to ferment the cabbage, turning it into sour sauerkraut over the course of 4-6 weeks.

Benefits of homemade sauerkraut

Making sauerkraut at home has several advantages over buying it pre-made:

– You can control the ingredients. Store-bought sauerkraut often contains preservatives, whereas homemade allows you to avoid additives.

– It costs a fraction of the price. Homemade sauerkraut just requires cabbage, salt, and spices versus expensive jars from the grocery store.

– You get a more potent product. The active cultures in homemade sauerkraut are much stronger and healthful than pasteurized versions.

– It has a fresher flavor. Nothing beats the taste of sauerkraut straight from your own kitchen. The flavor and crunch are superior.

– You can customize it. Add different spices like caraway, juniper berries, or garlic to suit your taste preferences.

How to make sauerkraut

Making basic sauerkraut involves just a few steps:

– 5 lbs cabbage
– 3-4 tbsp kosher salt or pickling salt
– Spices like caraway seeds, juniper berries, or garlic cloves (optional)

– Cutting board and knife
– Large bowl
– Mason jar, crock, or food-grade plastic bucket (1 gallon capacity)
– Canning jar and airlock system or cheesecloth and rubber band (for covering)


1. Thoroughly clean all equipment that will touch the sauerkraut. Wash the cabbage clean as well.

2. Shred the cabbage into thin strips, about 1/4 inch thick. A food processor with a shredding blade makes quick work of this.

3. Place the shredded cabbage in a large bowl. Sprinkle on the salt and massage it into the cabbage until it starts to release liquid. Let it rest for 15-30 minutes. The salt will draw water out of the cabbage.

4. Pack the cabbage tightly into your fermentation vessel, pressing down to remove air pockets. Add any spices as you go for even distribution. Pour over any liquid released by the cabbage while salting.

5. Once the vessel is full, weigh it down using a jar filled with brine or clean rocks to keep the cabbage submerged. Cabbage must stay under the brine to ferment properly.

6. Cover the vessel with a lid, airlock, or cheesecloth secured with a rubber band. This allows gases to escape while keeping air out.

7. Ferment at cool room temperature (60-75°F) for 3-6 weeks until it reaches desired sourness, tasting regularly. Temperatures over 80°F can cause spoilage.

8. Once the sauerkraut is finished, transfer to jars and refrigerate for long term storage. Make sure the sauerkraut is fully submerged for preservation.

How long does homemade sauerkraut last?

When properly fermented and stored, homemade sauerkraut can last between 6 months to 2 years in the refrigerator. Over time it may start to soften or develop stronger sour flavors as fermentation continues slowly. But it remains safe to eat.

Here are some guidelines for maximizing the shelf life of your homemade sauerkraut:

– Ferment for at least 3 weeks to fully acidify and create an environment inhospitable to pathogens. Measure the final pH – it should be 3.2 to 3.5.

– Store in clean, airtight glass jars or crocks with tight fitting lids. Make sure the sauerkraut is fully submerged in brine with 1-2 inches of headspace.

– Refrigerate immediately at temperatures below 40°F. This significantly slows fermentation and preservation.

– Use a clean spoon to remove portions to avoid introducing new bacteria. Never take straight from the jar with hands.

– If any mold develops on the surface, simply skim it off and the sauerkraut underneath is still good. Discard any with extensive mold.

– As it ages, check regularly for visible signs of spoilage like unpleasant odors, soft slimy texture, or change from orange to blue-green color.

Can you freeze sauerkraut?

Freezing is not recommended for long term storage of homemade sauerkraut. The freezing process damages the cell structure of the cabbage, leading to significant texture and flavor changes once thawed.

However, sauerkraut can be frozen for short term storage of 1-3 months. Here are some tips if you wish to freeze your leftover sauerkraut:

– Freeze sauerkraut immediately after the initial fermentation when it is freshly crunchy. Older sauerkraut does not hold up as well.

– Portion into usable amounts like 1 or 2 cup portions. Exclude as much air as possible and seal tightly.

– Use durable freezer bags, plastic containers, or glass jars. Do not use thin plastic bags prone to tears.

– Add a bit of the salty brine to each container before freezing to keep it from drying out.

– Label bags with content and freeze-by date. Place in a stable 0°F freezer.

– Once thawed, use frozen sauerkraut within 3-5 days and do not refreeze.

– Expect noticeably softer texture and diminished flavor compared to never-frozen.

Can you pressure can sauerkraut?

Pressure canning is not recommended for sauerkraut because the required high temperatures destroy the beneficial live cultures produced by lactic acid bacteria during fermentation. This eliminates the probiotic value of the sauerkraut.

The USDA and other food safety authorities advise refrigeration as the best method for long term storage of fermented foods like sauerkraut. Canning stops the natural fermentation process.

If you wish to stop active fermentation, you can freeze or pasteurize sauerkraut instead of pressure canning:

– To freeze, allow to fully ferment, portion into containers leaving 1 inch headspace, and freeze up to 3 months.

– To pasteurize, pour sauerkraut and brine into jars leaving 1 inch headspace. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Store up to 6 months refrigerated.

While freezing and pasteurization methods result in some loss of probiotics, they are gentler methods than pressure canning if you wish to stabilize sauerkraut. Always discard any jars showing signs of spoilage.

How to tell if sauerkraut has gone bad

Because sauerkraut is a fermented product, it can sometimes be difficult to identify when it is no longer safe to eat. Here are some signs your sauerkraut has spoiled and should be thrown out:

– Unpleasant odors – Sauerkraut should smell tangy, without any foul or rotten scents

– Mold growth – Surface mold should be skimmed off, but deep or extensive mold is a sign of spoilage

– Very soft texture – Sauerkraut loses crispness over time but should not be completely mushy

– Pink, blue-green, or black discoloration – Properly fermented sauerkraut should maintain an orange color

– Ropy, slimy strands in the brine – Presence of these strands indicates harmful bacteria

– Bubbling or bulging jar – Continuous bubbling and expansion can mean yeasts or gas-producing bacteria

– High pH – Well-preserved sauerkraut should show an acidic pH around 3.2 to 3.5

– Yeasty taste or carbonation – These flavors point to yeast fermentation, not lactic acid bacteria

When in doubt, remember this simple rule: “When in doubt, throw it out.” Dispose of sauerkraut that looks or smells suspicious to you. Botulism is rare but very dangerous, so don’t take risks.

How to use up sauerkraut before it goes bad

To use up sauerkraut quickly before it spoils, here are some delicious ways to eat it:

– Sauerkraut fritters or pancakes – Combine shredded sauerkraut with eggs, flour, and spices and pan fry.

– Add to soups – Sauerkraut brightens minestrone, borscht, miso soup, and more.

– Sandwiches and wraps – Pair sauerkraut with corned beef or sausages for classic combos.

– Salads – Toss shredded sauerkraut with tangy vinaigrettes and seasonal veggies.

– Baked potatoes or casseroles – Use sauerkraut as a flavor-packed topping.

– Grain bowls – Spoon sauerkraut over quinoa or farro for an extra punch.

– Tacos and tostadas – Sauerkraut adds crispness and acidity to tacos de papa, carnitas, or fish.

– Power bowl smoothies – Blend small amounts of sauerkraut with fruit and protein powder.

– Sauerkraut balls – Make fried meatballs or falafel encrusted with sauerkraut.

With just a few extra ingredients, it’s easy to transform sauerkraut into all kinds of delicious meals before it goes to waste. Get creative with recipes!

How to store sauerkraut long term

Here are some tips for maximizing the shelf life of homemade sauerkraut for long term storage:

– Ferment the sauerkraut for at least 3 full weeks at cool room temperatures until fully acidic. This prevents spoilage.

– Use a pH meter to test the final acidity. Well-preserved sauerkraut should show a pH around 3.2 to 3.5.

– Pack sauerkraut and brine into very clean, sterile glass jars or crocks leaving 1-2 inches of headspace. Do not overfill.

– Ensure the sauerkraut is completely submerged in its brine with no air pockets to prevent mold growth.

– Wipe rims clean, seal lids tightly, and refrigerate immediately at temperatures below 40°F to slow fermentation.

– Use sauerkraut within 6 months for peak quality and up to 1 year for safety, especially if using larger vessels.

– Freeze for longer term storage of 1-3 years. Portion into usable amounts and exclude air during freezing.

– Label jars with date and inspect regularly for any signs of spoilage. Discard if any mold, smell, or bubbling occurs.

– Always use clean utensils to remove portions to avoid introducing new bacteria into the jar. Never take sauerkraut out with bare hands.

Following these best practices will help your homemade sauerkraut stay crunchy and delicious for many months to come!

Common mistakes people make preserving homemade sauerkraut

Fermenting sauerkraut seems simple but there are some key mistakes to avoid for successful preservation:

– Not salting the cabbage enough – Sauerkraut needs 2-3% salt content to prevent harmful bacteria. Don’t skimp on the salt when massaging cabbage leaves.

– Uneven distribution of salt – Mixing salt unevenly leads to inconsistent fermentation. Take time to distribute salt thoroughly through the cabbage.

– Using non-canning salt – Don’t use salts with anti-caking agents or iodine which can inhibit fermentation. Use kosher or pickling salt.

– Not packing cabbage tightly enough – Air pockets allow mold to develop. Really tamp down the cabbage to remove bubbles and gaps.

– Insufficient liquid cover – Cabbage must stay submerged in brine, its own juices or added liquid like whey. Weigh down if needed.

– Water not excluded from airlock – Avoid siphoning liquid into the ferment from airlocks. Use a solid stopper if needed.

– Fermenting at warm temperatures – Ideal is 60-75°F. Above 80°F can encourage yeasts and mold. Choose a cool spot.

– Using poor quality vessels – Don’t use chipped crocks or jars. Stick to food-grade containers to discourage contamination.

– Adding too many untested ingredients – Adding juices or sugars can throw off the perfect environment for lactic acid bacteria.

– Not waiting long enough – Ferment at least 3 weeks for food safety, testing the pH to be sure it’s acidic enough before refrigerating.

Avoid these mistakes and you’ll be rewarded with the best tasting and safest homemade sauerkraut around!

Frequently asked questions about preserving homemade sauerkraut

Does sauerkraut need to be refrigerated?

Yes, proper storage of sauerkraut requires refrigeration. After the fermentation process, sauerkraut must be promptly refrigerated at temperatures below 40°F to slow further fermentation and prevent spoilage. Refrigeration gives sauerkraut a shelf life of 6 months up to 1 year. Leaving sauerkraut unrefrigerated after opening will allow it to over-ferment and deteriorate quickly. Always keep sauerkraut refrigerated for food safety and quality.

Can I freeze sauerkraut for longer storage?

Freezing is not ideal for sauerkraut. The freezing process damages the cabbage’s cell structure, leading to significant texture and flavor changes once thawed. However, sauerkraut can be frozen for short term storage of 1-3 months if properly portioned and sealed to minimize air exposure. Refrigeration remains the best method for long term storage.

What does surface mold on sauerkraut mean?

It’s common to see a thin layer of white or gray mold develop on the surface of fermenting or stored sauerkraut. This is generally harmless. Simply use a clean spoon to skim off and discard any surface mold. The sauerkraut underneath is still safe to eat. But if you see extensive mold throughout the sauerkraut, deeper discoloration, or anything suspicious, it’s best to discard the entire batch. When in doubt, throw it out.

Can I reuse sauerkraut brine?

It’s not recommended to reuse brine from fermented sauerkraut. The make-up of bacteria can change over time and lead to an imbalance. Each batch of sauerkraut ferments best in fresh brine. However, you can use sauerkraut brine to jump start the fermentation of other vegetables like carrots or beets. Add a few spoonfuls of sauerkraut brine to your next vegetable ferment for a probiotic boost!

Why does my sauerkraut have a yeasty flavor?

A yeasty taste or visible bubbles in sauerkraut typically means it fermented too warm, allowing yeasts to thrive. Slow fermentation at cooler 60-75°F temperatures gives lactic acid bacteria the upper hand. Prevent yeast overgrowths by monitoring temperatures and acidic pH levels. Yeasty sauerkraut is still safe to eat but best used up quickly.


Preserving the bounty of homemade sauerkraut requires care and some basic guidelines. Provide optimal salinity, temperature, and anaerobic conditions during initial fermentation. Then refrigerate fully acidified sauerkraut promptly in clean containers for 6-12 months of tasty tangy storage. Avoid common errors like air gaps, using table salt, or insufficient fermentation time. Master these best practices for enjoying your homemade sauerkraut all year long.

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