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How to Make Perfect Sauerkraut—It’s All in the Temperature!

Who Doesn’t Love Homemade Sauerkraut?

Did I mention that I love fresh, homemade, fermented sauerkraut? It’s tangy, crispy, and uber-flavorful. When I was a little girl, I remember my dad buying canned sauerkraut at the store and eating it. He always offered me some, and I ate it once in a while because it tasted like pickles, and I liked pickles. But I was not in love with canned sauerkraut.

Fast forward about 20 years, and I invested in my first German crock for making sauerkraut because I had heard it was really good for a body and I was doing everything I could to be healthy. Following the recipe that came with the crock, I was able to produce some of the best, most mouthwatering deliciousness I had ever tasted. So, I was hooked on home-fermented sauerkraut. Luckily my first attempt was in the winter because, unbeknownst to me at the time, turning out great sauerkraut all depends on the room temperature.

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Perfect Sauerkraut Is All in the Temperature

perfect-home-fermented-sauerkraut

I turned out multiple batches of extraordinary sauerkraut over the winter and spring, but by the time summer rolled around, the heat was hitting temps of 90–100°F outside. Even though our straw bale house maintained temperatures that were comfortable for us, and far below the extreme temperatures outside, it was still in the range of 80–83°F indoors. So when my sauerkraut failed to blurp like normal, I suspected something was not right. After 3 weeks had passed, I opened my crock. I was not a happy camper to find moldy, slimy, disgusting yuck. It was disappointing to say the least. So I did some research to find out what had happened. That is when I found out that the room temperatures for fermenting sauerkraut must be in the range of 65–72°F degrees, constantly. Now, I am not a pessimist, so I will not say that you cannot make sauerkraut in the summertime. But you will have to make sure you can maintain the ideal temperature to do it. We live in a Mediterranean climate, with cool winters and hot summers. We also live off grid. But everyone doesn’t live in that kind of climate or situation, so if you live in a place that maintains nice cool temperatures year-round, you could probably ferment your sauerkraut all year long. And likewise, if you live in a hot, humid climate, but you keep your air conditioning nice and cool all year long, you probably wouldn’t have any problems, either.

In our Mediterranean climate, we have a hard time growing cabbage in the summer. It just gets too hot, so cabbage availability is limited or nil if we home-grow it. The good news is that cabbage is always available in the stores. It usually takes about 6 heads of cabbage to make a crock full, so it is not too pricey to purchase the cabbage at the store. In the cooler climates where cabbage does grow well in summer, it should be possible to make sauerkraut all year long right from the cabbage you grow in your own garden.

I usually make up a tightly packed gallon of sauerkraut for each batch, and it keeps well in the fridge for 2+ months. I’m not sure how much longer it will last, because it never lasts that long at our house before it is all gobbled up.

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How to Make the Perfect Home-Fermented Sauerkraut, With or Without a Crock

If you are thinking about trying to ferment your own sauerkraut, but you are a little hesitant about investing in a crock because of the price, there is a good homemade option. Try using a glass canning jar with a plastic screw-on lid. You can drill a hole in the lid and use a gasket to secure a fermenting airlock device like the ones used to ferment alcohol. The airlock can be purchased online, and they are very cheap. You can put together a homemade solution like this for under $5, or you can pick up a Perfect Pickler that is already put together. I use this method frequently, especially if I don’t want to wait the 3–4 weeks it takes in the crock. This method takes about 4 days of fermenting time outside the fridge, and then it gets refrigerated for another week, and it continues to ferment in the fridge. The flavor is really good, but not quite the same as you get with true crock-fermented sauerkraut.

different-methods-for-making-sauerkrautAnother trick I learned while making sauerkraut is that when I am preparing the cabbage, I make sure to slice it thin, and then I add 1-1/2 teaspoons of pink Himalayan salt to each head of cabbage, after shredding it. The salt cannot have iodine in it, so regular table salt will not work. Iodine discourages the growth of the good bacteria. Plus, the Himalayan salt has lots of good minerals in it.

First, I slice up the cabbage. You can use a mandolin, a food processor, or just a knife and a cutting board. Just make sure it is not all chunky and somewhat uniform in size. Uniformity makes for good consistency in the finished product.

Now at this point, I used to just stuff the shredded cabbage into the crock, sprinkle salt over it, and then use a tamper to tamp it down—but the juices were never released adequately. After finishing the cabbage and placing the stones on top, I always ended up having to make up a brine water and pour it over the finished cabbage and stones to submerge them under the brine.

But now, since being enlightened by some seasoned sauerkraut makers, I put the shredded cabbage in a big bowl and sprinkle the salt over the cabbage. Then I begin to knead and massage the salt into the cabbage. It doesn’t take long, maybe a few minutes, and you will notice the cabbage begin to wilt as the juices start to flow. At that point, I put the cabbage into the crock with all the juice that has come out. After repeating this with all the heads of cabbage (I only do one at a time), I put the stones on top of the cabbage in the crock and cover it with the lid for a few hours.

Lo and behold, the juice starts to cover the stones. Now, if needed, I still pour a little brine water in to make sure there is at least 1 inch of juice/brine over the stones before I put the lid on for the final time and pour water into the reservoir of the crock to seal it. The flavor of this non-watered-down version is so good because it ferments in almost pure juices. And the nutrient density is so much better than just using salted water.

Listen for the blurp sounds as it begins to ferment—this is a very good sign. I like to think of it as my sauerkraut singing.

The sauerkraut I make in the jar usually has enough juice without adding any brine because there are no stones to cover. But I shred, salt, and knead/massage the cabbage the same as I do when I am using the crock. I leave a tiny bit of head space and then put on the airlock, filling it to the proper line with water. Voila, it is ready to ferment in a nice cool place for 4 days. Remember to set it on a plate, as sometimes juice will overflow from the airlock as oxygen escapes from the jar. This is normal.

You can get creative with your sauerkraut by adding purple cabbage to give it a lovely pink color. You can also add spices such as dill seed, mustard seed, coriander, thyme, bay leaf, marjoram, garlic, onions, horseradish, and more. I enjoy making it a little differently each time, for variety. That way no one gets tired of eating it.

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Health Benefits of Home-Fermented Sauerkraut

As far as the health aspects of sauerkraut goes, it is one of the best sources of probiotics you can get. Alive and thriving, it will do your body good—not to mention the savings of not having to purchase questionable probiotics, which can be costly and not always viable.

“Sauerkraut is probably one of the healthiest foods,” writes vicar Sebastian Kneipp. Captain James Cook introduced sauerkraut for the health of entire ship crews. Thanks to the high content of vitamin C, this fermented vegetable protected quite a number of sailors against scurvy, the “plague of the seas.”

The latest scientific studies confirm the age-old experience of natural and popular medicine: fiber keeps a healthy digestion going and lowers the cholesterol levels. Lactic bacteria are important for the buildup and maintenance of a healthy intestinal flora. The anti-ulcer factor protects the digestive system against stomach and intestinal ulcers. So making sauerkraut will be something that I will continue to do for the rest of my life. You see, it is a win-win. It tastes divine, and it is good for me, too!

What Do You Think? 

What are your best tips and tricks for making delicious homemade sauerkraut? Let me know in the comments below!

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This is an updated version of an article that was originally published on June 24, 2015. The author may not currently be available to respond to comments, however we encourage our Community members to chime in to share their experiences and answer questions!

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COMMENTS(41)

  • Karen Monteith says:

    How long do you ferment the cabbage in a crock? I saw 4 days for the jar type but maybe missed the time for a crock.

    1. Charlene Gile says:

      Fermenting in the crock takes 4-6 weeks. I usually take mine out at 4 weeks since I get tired of waiting.

  • Janie says:

    I make sauerkraut every year and love it too. I have a large German crock that holds 30 lbs of cabbage. I’ve never tried adding herbs. How much dill or other herbs would I add per pound or quart?

    1. Charlene Gile says:

      I usually just add a pinch of this a pinch of that. There really isn’t a science to it. I try to err in using too little rather than too much because dried herbs once rehydrated can taste a bit strong. If it needs more I adjust the amount the next time I make it.

  • Zoe says:

    Hello Charlene,
    Where did you get your German Sauerkraut crock to make this delicious healthful version of it? I live in Quebec, and the temperatures are dropping every summer. Must be the “climate change!”
    Sincerely,
    Zoe

    1. Charlene Gile says:

      Hi Zoe
      I ordered my crock online several years ago. It is a Harsch stoneware fermentation pot made in Germany. I have seen them in natural food stores before. It is a purchase that I have never regretted.

  • Lynn Parker says:

    I have the German crock for sauerkraut. You mentioned 4 days before refrigeration. I’m assuming that’s for the jar sauerkraut not the crock.
    How long do you ferment with the crock before transferring to fridge?

    1. Charlene Gile says:

      Yes the 4 days fermentation is for the jar method. The crock method takes 4-6 weeks. I usually open it closer to 4 weeks than 6 because we get tired of waiting.

  • Joe says:

    Home fermented sauerkraut is awesome! Your article really did a nice job of outlining the process. I’ve made sauerkraut in the summer, with good results, but I put my fermenting pail on the basement floor, which is always less than 70 degrees. I also appreciate that you also spoke of the health benefits of sauerkraut, not just how to make it. Yes, fermented vegetables are tasty and healthy! Hey, do you have a recipe for fermented beets?

    1. Charlene Gile says:

      I haven’t developed a fermented beet recipe yet, but my son puts beets in his fermented kimchi and it tastes really great. Nice and crunchy.

  • Jane Fairchild says:

    Cannot get this material to print. Print friendly button does nothing.

    1. Michael Ford says:

      Hi Jane – The PrintFriendly button works fine for me, I checked in IE, Firefox, and Chrome. I would guess that you have a pop-up blocker installed. You’ll need to turn that off or bypass it to use the PrintFriendly button (it’s a pop-up). You can bypass some pop-up blockers by holding down the CTRL key when you click the button. Otherwise, you can just right-click on the page and choose “Print” from the right-click menu. Good luck.

  • Ronda says:

    Charlene,
    I make kraut in much the same way, only putting it into pint jars to ferment for about 6 weeks and then can it in the same jar,after changing out the lid of course. Do you think canning the kraut destroys it health benefits?

    1. Charlene Gile says:

      Yes canning the kraut does destroy its health benefits. The high heat which is necessary to can in jars, kills all the live beneficial bacteria in the ferment. The only remaining benefits would be the fiber and long term storage.

  • Dmitri says:

    Fermented cabbage is widely popular here, in Belarus and Russia. My family usually makes and consumes around 100 kg in wintertime! Also, as lore says, it is better done during a waxing moon, before its 1st quarter… However, after crock is full, it is placed inside, in a warm place for a few days, until it starts to bubble and give out sour smell, then it is places outside on a balcony or other cool place. Our favorite add-on is cranberry and caraway seeds.

    1. Michael Ford says:

      Thanks Dmitri – That’s really interesting about the waxing moon. It’s always cool to hear the folklore from different areas!

    2. Charlene Gile says:

      Caraway seeds are yummy in sauerkraut!

  • Ramona says:

    Charlene, what a nicely written article! Thanks for all the info. Last year was the 1st time we tried our hand at kraut. It was fabulous! What a great flavor! It says you love to write about your experiences. Where can we read about them? Thank you.

  • Thanks so much for this info! I never could figure out why one time when I made sauerkraut it was great, and the next time not so much. Now I know the reason and will keep that in mind for the future. You’ve saved me a lot of time, trouble and money and I appreciate it.

  • Jim Kirby says:

    Dose anyone have a recipe for homemade Kick? Like sauerkraut, it is a lacto-ferment, and is a very healthful addition to anyone’s diet.

  • I have my mom’s crock and my husband’s dad’s crock. I made this in Colorado, and loved it. Now we live in AZ and the temp would only be good in the winter. I can buy the cabbage cheaply year round. I grow a few things in spring. Now the temp is 105 to 110. Thanks for the info.

  • A measurement of salt per head of cabbage doesn’t mean much since heads vary so much in size. I use 2 tsp Real Salt (better than Himalayan, IMO) per pound of cabbage—which seems like a lot more than you call for, unless you’re using tiny heads. I then let the salted cabbage sit for a few hours or overnight before kneading it, which makes the kneading much easier.

    1. Charlene Gile says:

      I know the salt I use is less than most, but I am trying to watch my salt intake so for me less is better and since it still taste wonderful and turns out great I don’t worry. I did experiment to get to this amount so it wasn’t just a shot in the dark. Real Salt is lovely but I am able to get Himalayan salt for less expense in bulk so I use it. It taste just as good as the Real Salt. But any salt that you love is great as long as it does not have iodine in it. Since I only do one head at a time and the store bought heads are not really huge the amount works fine. Massaging in the salt just as soon as I salt it works well for me, but if waiting a few hours or overnight works well for you then wonderful. You know the old saying, “There is more than one way to skin a cat.” I am sure there are many ways to make sauerkraut and they are all successful. This is just the way I have come to do it, and it works well for me. Thanks for your comments and happy kraut making.

  • Jackie says:

    How do you keep it from going mouldy without canning it. I don’t want to can it because the probiotics would be killed. I don’t have lots of room in my fridge to keep it at an even cool temp.

  • cat says:

    FYI: You can make saltless sauerkraut. Here’s a free recipe on my website for anyone interested:
    http://www.gowildbefree.com/go-wild-be-free-recipes/apple-parsnip-ginger-sauerkraut

  • judy says:

    Do you ever use an inoculant?

    1. GTH says:

      You can use an inoculant or starter but doing so will not give you the full range of probiotic that will naturally occur during the fermentation process. As the vegetables ferment different bacteria are more active as the acidity level changes producing more diversity in bacteria. Using the inoculant cuts short this process leaving you with basically only the bacteria strain you added.

  • TheMatrix says:

    Found a video on making kraut with chopped cabbage, sea salt, and kneading 5-10 min & keeping weighted. Must be stirred daily (or it will spoil); tastes slightly fermented after 3 days in the crock, 5 is good. The malolactic fermentation is from bacteria already on the cabbage. No starter is needed. I put 3 cloves chopped garlic in the last batch and it seems to have largely prevented fermentation!

  • marg says:

    Winter is cold here. Have you ever used a heating pad with a temperature control gauge? If so what brand?

  • Carole says:

    I made Kimchi once (good) and fermented cabbage once and it was great but 2nd batch spoiled.
    I have no idea what you mean when you mentioned “airlock”. WHAT IS IT AND HOW DO YOU DO IT AND WHAT DO YOU USE? Since I don’t know what it means probably tells you reason I had a batch to spoil. I was using 3 C size wide mouthed Canning jars. I would use larger jar but can’t find one with wide mouth. I don’t use stones on top, only put cabbage leaf to cover top with juice covering it but seems you don’t do that. Thanks for the Post. Carole

  • Carole says:

    That squiggly looking thing on top of jar is probably what you use but WHAT IS IT CALLED AND WHERE DO YOU PURCHASE IT?
    Carole

    1. Linda says:

      Help! I live in Cocoa Beach, FLORIDA. I’ve tried to make sauerkraut with the airlock but always on the morning of the 4th day, the top 2 inches have started turning light brownish. No mold but the smell is not enjoyable. I’m quite sure I’m using the right amount of good Himalayan pink salt and I only use organic green cabbage. Can’t really describe it. I’m not concerned about taste or crunchiness! I just want it to have some good probiotics in it to help my damaged intestinal tract. If I only leave it on the counter for 2-3 days, (in 78 degree heat) ( in the summer), will it form any good bacteria?
      Tomorrow I’m going to go buy a small refrigerator specifically for maintaining fermenting sauerkraut jars.
      Please help me with any advice.. I’m desperate to make it work NOW, because it won’t be cool here for another 4-5 months( in January). I’ve made this about 10 times now in the last 2 years, and it always fails. I’ve got all the correct equipment and ratios, and I’ve spent hours and hours searching the internet for info, asking questions, and looking at videos.

    2. Linda says:

      Carole, it’s called an ” airlock”.

  • Elizabeth says:

    I was blessed to purchase a Harsh crock several years ago. Since it is always hot here in central Texas, I use an ice chest to control the temperature. Setting the crock on a towel keeps the stoneware from scratching the ice chest. Then I use frozen 1 liter plastic bottles I’ve filled with water to keep the temperature around 50 degrees. They need to be changed every morning and evening to keep the temperature more consistent and produce a better s’kraut. I usually put two bottles of ice at one end and the crock at the other end of a 48 qt or larger cooler, then refreeze the two water bottles I just took out. Leave room for the air to circulate all around the crock. An outdoor thermometer is handy to monitor the temp. Seems that after just a couple of weeks it is ready, so I’ll bottle it up, add a top up of brine if needed and then put it in the frig to continue getting better, or eaten. It is not finished if it is still bubbling, so don’t bottle until then. One year a bottle got lost in the back of the frig and was surprisingly good almost a year later !! I would not recommend longer than a year, but that was a nice surprise. BTW – never, never, never drink the water after it has been frozen in plastic. It gets very toxic with chemicals that precipitate out of the plastic into the water.

  • Eva says:

    When making s’kraut in bottles do you put the cover on loosely?

  • DISPENSER says:

    I know it isn’t rocket science, and the salt to cabbage ratio is somewhat forgiving, but a teaspoon of salt can vary in amount, depending on how fine, or how coarse the grains are. A head of cabbage can be anything from 2-6 lbs, or more. If you have a digital scale, weigh your prepared cabbage in grams, then multiply that weight by 0.02. That is how many grams of salt you need for a 2% solution. Yes, I know people have done this for a zillion years without weighing things, but for a beginner, it is intimidating to guess.
    Thank you, for your information, on temperatures.

  • Scott Sexton says:

    This is EXACTLY what I needed right now! I’ve got 4 heads of cabbage in my refrigerator and I’m about to go on an extended fast. I’ll prepare a bunch of sauerkraut to help rebuild my gut microbes after they all starve during the fast. This is gonna be great!

  • Vicky Morris says:

    For those who want to supplement vitamin C naturally, eat sauerkraut it has about 700 milligrams of vitamin C per cup.

  • Declan says:

    I have been using a crock from a broken crock pot with a carefully chosen perfectly sized plate
    (all from the thrift store) with a jar of water on top to weigh it down. It works well for me.

  • Sandy says:

    Very much appreciate the tip about proper temperature! Where I live, the temperature drops quite a bit at night. So that explains my funky kraut experiences! Also a tip about another favorite pickling herb, dill leaf: I love this herb and use a lot of it. Whis winter our coop ran out of it, and when we asked when there would be more, they said that they have been told that the worldwide supply of dill leaf had run out. No more until maybe this summer! In the past, I just buy it and use the space in my garden to grow more obscure herbs. This year, we all may want to be sure to plant our own dill patches!

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