Easy Homemade Sauerkraut in a Jar

As I’m a total wide-eyed newbie in the world of fermented foods and beverages, I decided to try my hand at what’s probably the easiest fermented food in the world to make — sauerkraut.

I wanted all the health benefits of fermented foods but I wasn’t quite ready to jump into pickling yet (although I will just about kill for a well-done, crisp dill pickle), and homemade yogurt takes too long for my already time-crunched schedule.

Enter sauerkraut. There are just two ingredients: cabbage and salt. Some recipes advocate the use of whey, but again, my time-crunched schedule does not allow me to gallivant around town searching for organic whey, much less make my own!! Someday though, someday.

I used good quality salt this time and the end product tastes just like the expensive gourmet brand!

To be upfront, my first attempt at making sauerkraut was a total flop. I used a really small head of cabbage and WAY too much cheap bulk sea salt, and the resulting batch was inedible. Much, much too salty. No amount of rinsing would reduce the straight-from-the-Pacific-Ocean briney-ness. It was like gobbling up liquefied salt by the tablespoonful. Yuck.

THIS time, I used a much larger head of cabbage (if I had to guess, it was probably about 8 or 9 inches in diameter), and a much higher quality salt. Now, I don’t know much about all the different grades of salt, but here’s how this bag of Himalayan “culinary mineral salt” touted itself: “These gourmet salt crystals are ideal for seasonings and brines as well as creating luxurious bath salts, body scrubs and more.” 

You mean I can eat it and then exfoliate my knees with it, too? What a deal! Sold!


Here’s how I made my second batch of sauerkraut:

Recipe for Homemade Sauerkraut in a Jar

This is a blend of recipes I found online, but mostly inspired by the recipe in Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions cookbook.

1 medium head of organic cabbage

1 – 2 level tablespoons of high quality sea salt (I used 1 1/2 Tbsp.)

Wash cabbage thoroughly. Remove and discard outer layers of cabbage. Cut cabbage into large wedges at first, discarding core. Then slice cabbage wedges into very thin strips (or use a food processor to shred coarsely — not too finely!). Place sliced cabbage into large bowl. Sprinkle with salt. Using your CLEAN hands, massage the salt into the cabbage until cabbage begins to release juices. Warning: This part takes a few minutes and your fingers may start to freeze if you’ve left your cabbage in the fridge (where else would you keep cabbage??). Or, you can always use a thick wooden spoon or pestle to mash the cabbage instead.

Cover bowl loosely with paper towel and let sit for about an hour until the cabbage begins to soften and most of the water is released.

Again, with CLEAN hands continue massaging cabbage until there’s a good amount of juice in the bottom of the bowl. Pack cabbage firmly into clean quart-sized mason jar — some sources even say you should sterilize (boil) the jar before fermenting to (ostensibly) prevent the growth of botulism and other mold (shhhh….I didn’t! This guy says botulism via fermenting is virtually unheard of. Despite the crazy hairdo, I believe him!). Cabbage should be completely covered by liquid. Leave about two inches of empty space between the top of the liquid and the top of the jar (fermenting expands the cabbage). Seal jar with NEW lid and band.

Let sit on countertop undisturbed for at least 3 days. On the third day, take a bit out to taste. If it tastes ready — salty, tangy, oh so good! — go ahead and put the jar into the fridge. Enjoy cold, room temperature, or infuse your stew or soup with tons of flavor!

Have you made sauerkraut at home? Do you use jars or a special crock? Do you seal to ferment or leave exposed to air? How long do you let yours ferment? Let’s share ‘kraut stories!


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21 Responses to Easy Homemade Sauerkraut in a Jar

  1. Pingback: Benefits of Cabbage « Reflections with Rhonda

  2. Josh says:

    I just put a batch into a jar…..in 3-7 days i’ll let you know how it turned out. thanks for the simple recipe….my mind is already turning for things i can put in the kraut before i ferment it….i hope it turns out as good as it looks

  3. MamaSayMamaSo says:

    Josh, thanks for chiming in. Hope your batch turns out good. Mine always take 3 days exactly and then I put it in the fridge to stop fermenting. I put it in the top shelf of one of my kitchen cabinets — it gets pretty warm there, around 76 deg (not bad for January). Your ferment time will depend in how warm/cool your fermentation spot is. Come back and let me know how it goes! Fermenting is SO addicting!

    • Josh says:

      I think mine will take a couple more days than that as we keep our house a little chilly at night (down to about 67), but maybe i will move it up to a top shelf in the cupboard. I will for sure check it at 3 days, and report to you when it is complete! Once it is complete and I move it to the fridge, how long will it last in there before it does bad (i’m new to this process, so for all I know it will live infinitely in the fridge!) Thanks!

      • MamaSayMamaSo says:

        I’m new to all this, too. Only been fermenting for about 6 months. I only make a quart of sauerkraut at a time but it goes pretty quickly. Doesn’t last longer than a week in our fridge because it gets eaten every day. My kids love it and ask for it all the time. So… I guess how long it “lasts” will depend on how frequently you eat it. :o ) My hunch is that it lasts for quite a while. And you’d probably know if it goes off. Look for fuzzy mold. Blech.

  4. Josh says:

    So here I am a week into the fermentation process….i took it out and tasted some today….still tastes like raw cabbage to me. And way to salty. Do I let it go for another week and see if it tastes more like sauerkraut, or is this the taste of homemade sauerkraut? The cabbage part….next time I will use less salt (I think I used 1Tbsp for a medium head of cabbage) to take out some of that saltiness. Any thoughts? I know it is all trial and error, but thought I would check in and let you know how it is going and see if you have any suggestions.


    • MamaSayMamaSo says:

      Shoot, I don’t have experience in letting my sauerkraut ferment for longer than 3 days but I’ve read online that one can ferment for much longer and with better taste/benefits. Are there any bubbles at all? Do you know the (average) temperature of your fermentation site? Perhaps it’s too cold (I’m thinking in the 60′s)? If that’s the case, can you find a warmer locale?

      There’s definitely a learning curve, and I am still plugging along that path. As I am still very new to this whole fermentation thing myself, I am bummed I can’t give you better advice. I can only suggest doing a search online and maybe finding a fermentation forum to ask some questions.

      I *will* say (and I’ve been meaning to blog about this but haven’t found the time)… I recently did a batch of sauerkraut with WHEY for the first time, and it made ALL the difference in fermentation (there were VISIBLE bubbles on the 2nd and 3rd days) as well as the taste. The whey, which has tons of probiotics, gives the batch a “headstart” in the fermentation process. I used a level tablespoon of salt, about 1/8 cup of whey, and a large head of cabbage, that when sliced and bruised/mashed, filled the quart mason jar to within 1 1/2″ from the top. It was very tasty and not as salty.

      My first couple of batches were sketchy, way salty, and I wound up tossing the first because it was basically brine. The second botched batch wasn’t so bad and I was able to add it to stews as a garnish/flavor. I also used it during the cooking process of my soups, which imparts unparalleled flavor, but loses the probiotics during the heating process.

      Trial and error, for sure. Keep me posted. I’m curious as to how it turns out, whether you choose to continue fermenting this batch or start a new one.

      • Josh says:

        I did have some bubbles around day 3 when I did my first taste. There were a few more at day 7 at second taste. I think I will let it go another week. I read some places online that let the fermentation go for a month or so. I think the texture is currently about right, just looking for a little different taste i guess. So up to 1 more week of ferment for this batch before I scrap it and go for try #2. Maybe I will check out the whey next time I am out and about shopping and contemplate it at that point.

        No problem not having any further advice for me. I know you are new to this as well….just thought I would check in with you first….

        I’ll post again next Thursday or Friday

      • MamaSayMamaSo says:

        Josh, can’t wait to see how it goes. Just to clarify, we’re talking about LIQUID whey here. Liquid whey is the watery runoff you sometimes see in yogurt. I have never seen liquid whey for sale at a grocery story, even a health food store. This liquid whey is not to be confused with the powdered whey that’s all the rage now. Liquid whey…you have to make it. A quick Google search gave me this link to show you how: http://www.salad-in-a-jar.com/family-recipes/how-to-strain-yogurt-the-easy-way

        Initially it seems like a pain in the arse, which is why I didn’t use it the first few times I made sauerkraut but really, after you do it once, it’s not a big deal. And now I won’t make sauerkraut without it!!

        My super lazy, no-fancy-gadgets but effective method to “making” liquid whey:

        Place a coffee filter in your typical metal food strainer

        Place the filter-lined strainer in a slightly larger bowl or pot so that it sits snugly inside with enough space between the bottom of the strainer and bottom of bowl/pot for the liquid whey to pool up in (I know…a picture would be nice here. I swear I’m going to blog about this soon with pics and you can see what I mean!)

        Put about a cup of yogurt (homemade or store-bought organic PLAIN whole milk yogurt) in the coffee filter (which is still lining the strainer… you with me?)

        Cover the yogurt/filter strainer contraption with some saran wrap just because you don’t weird stuff floating onto your yogurt/whey.

        Place in fridge and wait about 6 hours.

        When all is said and done, you should have about 1/4 cup or more of pure yellowish liquid whey, packed with probiotics and protein. It’s tangy just like yogurt and can be stored in the fridge in a mason jar for at least a month (how long I’ve stored it before it’s been used up). THIS is the stuff you use to give the sauerkraut the fermenting “boost” it needs.

        P.S. The strained yogurt is nothing to sneeze at either. It’s basically thick, Greek yogurt. Delicious!

        Hope that helps.

  5. Josh says:

    Never would have thought….thanks for the clarification, I most certainly would have gotten some in powdered form. The liquid process seems doable, especially if I put it together before bedtime or before I go to work, and then it will be ready when I wake up or get home.

  6. Pingback: Easy Homemade Sauerkraut in a Jar (WHEY version) » MamaSayMamaSo

  7. Chris says:

    What you’re making is not Sauerkraut. The process of fermenting cabbage with only salt (the traditional way of making sauerkraut) takes anywhere from 4-6 weeks depending on how much cabbage you’re using. You’re concoction is closer to Kimchi, but even that takes longer to pickle than 3 days.

    • MamaSayMamaSo says:

      Chris, thanks for your comment. I’ve always wondered if I could go longer (let it ferment longer) with this jar method. Do you have any additional tips for me? Can I simply leave it longer or must I use a different vessel, such as a crock? Btw, I got this method from a book called Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon.

  8. Jody says:

    Where did you find that salt?

    • MamaSayMamaSo says:

      Hi Jody, got it at our local food co-op, but I’m sure you can find something similar at a health food store. It’s delicious. And a little goes a long way.

  9. Al says:

    I agree with Chris. I let my sauerkraut sit for a minimum of 2 weeks. I do like it at 1 week, but I like to make sure that the fermentation is in full swing. Also, if you have your jar sealed correctly, the lid should be popping outward and by 3-7 days it should fizzle just like a beer when you open it. We always open ours above the kitchen sink. Also, eating it at this highly carbonated stage is a different experience than normal kraut and we always looks forward to it. Once we start eating out of a jar we usually put it in the fridge which will stop the fermentation and carbonation. For my last batch I used all jars from store-bought items. I think I had a couple pickle jars, pasta sauce jars and an olive jar.

    • MamaSayMamaSo says:

      Al, thanks for chiming in. I like the beer analogy! I have been doing more experimenting and will definitely post an amendment to my original post above. It’s been a learning experience for me, but I think I need to A) find a way to keep my cabbage submerged and B) ferment it for a longer period of time. Ideally 2 weeks, like you. I recently bought a “kraut kap” off Amazon. Have you heard of this? It allows the kraut to “burp” without letting oxygen sneak in. I’m excited to try it. As for keeping the kraut under the liquid, I’m thinking of using a glass jar (still trying to find one that will fit inside my quart mason).

      • Jody says:

        Dont know if this would work for you, but when my Amish gram used to make kraut, she found a plate that was just bit smaller than the crock and would weight it down with a throughly scrubbed field stone. Worked great. She used to put hers into the window well of her basement to ferment.

      • MamaSayMamaSo says:

        Jody, I love that idea. I am having trouble finding an itty bitty plate that will fit in my wide-mouth half gallon mason jar though. Will keep looking. Thanks for the tip! (So cool to have an Amish gram in your family – you must have learned a lot about living the simple life.)

  10. John says:

    Question for you. When you make it, is there any odor during the fermenting process? If so, how much. My wife doesn’t like cabbage, and I love saurkraut, and have always wanted to try making my own. She will definitely not go for this, if the basement is going to smell like fermenting cabbage…

    • MamaSayMamaSo says:

      Hey John, I’ve only ever fermented in a closed mason jar, that I “burp” once or twice during the very short (2-3 days) fermentation period. Since I’ve only fermented a quart jar at a time, the odor is barely noticeable. And, as other comments have pointed out, this method that I got from Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions cookbook isn’t “true” sauerkraut (I didn’t know any better at the time of original posting….). However, I do believe it still has beneficial bacteria but probably nowhere near the amounts that a kraut which has been fermented for weeks (or months!) has. My next experiment is to try a one-way-burping cap that fits on wide-mouthed mason jars (I think they’re called “kraut caps” on Amazon.com). It lets the gases release (but no oxygen in) and I do not believe it emits odor. Hope that helps!

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