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How to Make Real Sauerkraut, and Why You Really Should Do It

Updated on January 3, 2015

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Why Make Your Own Sauerkraut?

If you are just after sauerkraut for its deliciousness on hotdogs or with sausage, you might never have thought to make your own. You may even be wondering why on earth I would suggest taking the time to ferment something you have always so purchased so cheaply in a can.

Here's the deal. That sauerkraut you bought in a can (or jar) in the canned vegetable aisle is not real sauerkraut, at least not in the traditional sense. It most likely was actually pickled in a vinegar brine, a process that mimics the flavor of fermented vegetables in much shorter time. Store-bought sauerkraut has also been pasteurized during the canning process, virtually eliminating the incredible health benefits that sauerkraut has historically been so prized for.

What is "Fermented" Food

Traditionally, people didn't have access to food preservatives or preservation techniques such as freezing and canning. Instead, they relied on what we now call lacto-fermentation, the process by which healthy bacteria naturally found living things turns the starches and sugars in fruits and vegetables into lactic acid, inhibiting the growth of bad bacteria and turning those already good-for-you vegetables into super-foods.


  • 1/2 large cabbage head, cored and shredded
  • 1 TBSP caraway seeds
  • 1.25 TBSP sea salt


  1. Core and shred 3/4 of a large cabbage (The larger heads are sweeter and make for a better end product).
  2. Combine all ingredients in a bowl.
  3. Using a meat hammer or wooden pounder or what ever else *cleaned* you can find around your kitchen, pound the cabbage for several minutes to release the juices. Spoon the mixture into a sterilized 1-quart canning jar, packing the mixture in firmly as you go.
  4. Pour a enough olive oil over the mixture to form a thin layer over the mixture. (This is to keep the oxygen away from the kraut.) Cover tightly and leave out on the counter at least 3 days, up to 4 weeks (the longer the better). Check the jar once a day and remove any white film that starts to form at the top.
  5. After NO LONGER than 4 weeks, move the kraut to the refrigerator and enjoy. It will keep in the fridge up to 2 months.
What You Might See
Is it Safe?
What to do About it
White film at top
Simply scrap it off with a spoon
White film at bottom
leave it alone
brown, pink or fuzzy mold (rare)
throw it out and try again
The key to keeping the kraut from spoiling is to keep the oxygen out. A small amount of oil over the mixture will keep oxygen from touching the kraut and a tight fitting lid will reduce the amount of oxygen inside the container.

Fermentation: More than Preservation

What's amazing is that this ancient preparation technique not only preserves food, but changes it into a probiotic, making it even more beneficial to the body. Lacto-fermented foods promote friendly intestinal bacteria which aid digestion, help us absorb the nutrients in the food we eat and support immune function, fighting of harmful bacteria and even cancer cells and drawing out harmful toxins and heavy metals.


Variations of Sauer Kraut

Cortido (Latin American Sauerkraut):Omit the Caraway and add 2 grated carrot, 1 med onion, finely sliced, 3/4 TBSP dried oregano, and a pinch of red pepper flakes.

Kimchi: Omit Caraway and add 1 grated carrot, 3 chopped green onions, 4 grated radishes, 1-in piece of ginger, grated, 1 large garlic clove, minced, and a dash of red pepper.

Garlicky Kraut: Add 1-2 large garlic clove, grated

Experiment with different spices! Try replacing the caraway with mustard seed or cloves.

Learn More

If you are wanted to learn more about getting back to real foods or healing the body through real foods, I would suggest one of two books. Nourishing Traditions is a great resource for anyone wanting to learn more about the way peoples have traditionally eaten before modern day and is filled with easy, whole-foods,healthy recipes. GAPS explains how the health of our gut directly affects our mental, emotional and physical health and offers a specific diet to heal the gut. These links will take you to Amazon, where you can learn more about these amazing resources.

Why is Raw so Important, Anyway?

Yogurt, some sauerkrauts, cheeses, olives, pickles, condiments and other traditionally fermented foods can be found in your local grocery store, but beware: if they have been pasteurized after fermentation, they no longer contain the good bacteria that make them such an important health food.

Pasteurization preserves food by heating it to such a high temperature that bacteria are killed off. Unfortunately, this method does not discriminate that will kill off the healthy bacteria as well. Lacto-fermented foods must be eaten raw to get their full benefits.

Why do we Use Vinegar Now?

You may be wondering why, if fermented foods are so wonderful, is pickling the foods in vinegar the norm? Fermenting foods is an artisan craft, hard to standardize and hardly applicable for making super-sized batches to sell to the masses. Soaking foods in a vinegar brine mimics the flavor of fermenting, but is much faster. Large vats can be prepared with minimal risk of spoilage, making pickling a cheaper method than fermenting. Canned pickled foods, able to be left out at room temperature for many months, making food preservation much easier and safer in the days before refrigeration.

Now, science is showing us that the many benefits of pickling foods instead of fermenting them came with a great price--our health, but is it too late? Several generations have grown up hearing that pasteurization and refrigeration is critical to the health and safety of our food. The knowledge of how to ferment our foods and the desire to do so has all but disappear in our culture. We use pickling instead of fermenting because we don't know better, because we care more about our bottom line than we do about our health and because we have been lead to believe that all bacteria is harmful and must be avoided at all cost.

Because of our current heavily-processed, heat-preserved food culture and the frequent use of antibiotics--which kills even the healthy bacteria in our guts--we are greatly lacking the ability to properly absorb nutrients from our foods. Eating some kind of fermented food--krauts, traditionally fermented pickles and olives, raw cheese and yogurts (or kefer), raw mayonnaise, raw butter, traditionally fermented soy sauce, etc--at least every day, if not with each meal will replenish the healthy bacteria in your gut and improve your body's ability to use and absorb the nutrients, vitamins and minerals.

I want to encourage you to try making you own sauerkraut and see for yourself how easy and delicious really is!

© 2015 Sarah


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      Barbara Bethard 3 years ago from Tucson, Az

      I want to try this! I have a lot of mason jars and one head of cabbage is an easy thing to get regardless of budget!but how long to boil my jar or sterilizing?10minutes? and you wrote it so that anyone/even me! can follow along with your instructions!this is just an excellent hub Sarah!